Andrew Traver, the man the White House nominated last November to head up ATF, is in Washington Tuesday to speak to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.
His arrival comes in the midst of a major controversy — or screw up as some might say — involving ATF’s “Operation Fast and Furious”, which encouraged gun dealers to sell to “straw purchasers” — all with the hopes of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartels.
What’s expected to happen is that Traver, who heads up the Chicago ATF office, will be appointed acting director of ATF, replacing the acting head Kenneth Melson, who will likely be pressured to resign.
After that, what’s also likely to happen is that Traver will never be confirmed. I could be wrong. But the NRA has launched an aggressive campaign to block his confirmation, claiming he’s very anti-gun rights. The confirmation has been stalled in the Senate.
The Obama White House doesn’t seem to have the appetite for a fight like that. And it’s not likely to want to spend it’s political capital on Traver — at least not until the 2012 election is over.
So Traver will remain acting chief, certainly past the election. Should Obama win re-election, then he might go for a recess appointment, or just let Traver remain as acting. Or maybe he’ll find someone who is more acceptable to the NRA, though I think that’s not likely — not if you’re looking for someone to aggressively enforce gun laws.
Unfortunately, acting directors never have the same clout,the same sway as a permanent director. And just in case they still have a shot at confirmation, they have to be extra careful as to what they say or what initiatives they launch or who they appoint to executive spots. They can become overly cautious. That can be very stifling and bad for the agency.
But politically, they never want to give Congress ammunition to sabotage the confirmation.
As for Meslon. Well, he was decent guy and a smart one at that. But agents thought the ex-federal prosecutor didn’t really understand the agency culture and the agents’ mindset.
As one veteran ATF agent told me: “A lot of guys thought he wasn’t the best fit. He was a nice man, but at times he could be arrogant. I don’t think he intended to come across that way. I kind of feel sorry for him.”