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As Jones tried to emphasize the importance of violent crimes and white-collar cases with stiffer penalties, Cruz responded, “Mr. Jones, I would note you chose not to answer my question.”
‘An agency in distress’
Jumping to Jones’ defense, Klobuchar noted that violent crime has dropped under Jones’ tenure as U.S. attorney. She also pointed out that Texas’ crime rate is twice that of Minnesota’s. Cruz had walked out of the room by then.
The gun debate also came up with Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, who is also on the Judiciary panel. Franken asked if it would help to expand the system of background checks for firearms purchases, one of Obama’s proposals after the Newtown shootings.
“I can tell you the current system is very effective,” Jones said, “but there is always room for improvement.”
Democrats have the votes to pass Jones through the committee, but it remains to be seen whether Grassley, the ranking Republican on the panel, will try to block the nomination on the Senate floor. Democrats would need six Republican votes to break a GOP filibuster.
In a possible effort to reach out to Republican moderates, Jones made much of his background as a lawyer in the Marines, his close-knit family and his deep roots in the Senate, where he once worked for Minnesota Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey, an icon of bipartisan comity.
Jones also offered up an unvarnished appraisal of low morale at the ATF, which he described as “an agency in distress” when he came on as interim director in September 2011.
Although Jones has been criticized for a “militaristic” management style in the U.S. attorney’s office, Grassley faulted him for failing to exert enough discipline at ATF, where some of the key figures in the Fast and Furious scandal apparently escaped punishment through retirement and transfers.
Grassley expressed frustration at Jones’ inability to discuss personnel issues at ATF in detail. But the Senate is likely to hear more about the Minnesota whistleblower case involving Paulsen, who according to Grassley has consented to open his case to the committee.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which has been investigating the case, recently informed the Senate that because of insufficient evidence it has dismissed Paulsen’s allegations of gross mismanagement and abuse of authority. Paulsen declined to comment for this story. His charge of retaliation has been referred for mediation.
Staff writer Paul McEnroe contributed to this report. Follow Kevin Diaz on Twitter at @StribDiaz.