A ‘very difficult’ process
Two factors influenced Jones’ decision to let the confirmation process play out.
“One was, I do love public service. It’s a life of purpose. It’s one where you get to do good things that really help people. It’s why I went to law school and why I was in the service, so I could carry that on.
“The other is, at ATF, in two years as acting director, it really educated me about what a great organization it is and how unfair it has been treated for the six years that they did not have a confirmed director. … It is such a special organization, with great people that do some hard work in areas that aren’t necessarily fun. It’s guns. It’s the gun control.”
The battle came to a head at a Senate judiciary hearing in June, where he was grilled for 2½ hours in what he said felt like a trial.
Asked about Grassley, who led the fight to prevent him from becoming director, Jones said, “Washington is a tough place right now. And the hyper-partisanship is going to make it increasingly difficult for good people to want to step up for public service if people have to go through what I went through.
“And that’s really a shame. That’s not a statement about Senator Grassley or anybody else. It’s a statement on where the process is at these days. It’s very difficult.”
Jones had been criticized, both within and outside his office, for refusing to handle more drug and gang cases, instead turning some over to the Hennepin County attorney’s office for prosecution.
In a major policy speech to the American Bar Association in August, Holder appeared to embrace Jones’ approach. He announced he was asking U.S. attorneys to leave more crimes to state prosecutors to handle.
Asked if he felt vindicated by Holder’s announcement, Jones said, “It’s a validation of things that we were doing here in the district of Minnesota.”
“Change is sometimes difficult for people,” he said. “For some, it’s personally challenging and threatening, but I think my job as the United States Attorney during that time and in that environment was to make hard choices.”
Jones said he also got some internal blowback after he tightened oversight in the office under orders from Washington, which he said applied to all federal prosecutors. It came after assistant U.S. attorneys were accused in 2009 of misconduct in the corruption trial of former Sen. Ted Stevens in Alaska, which led a judge to overturn his conviction.
Jones said he introduced a requirement of “supervisory sign-off” at certain decision points in a criminal case.
“For some folks, that was difficult,” he said. “I characterize litigation as a team sport. This is not ‘Get in your kitchen and tell you how to do your cases.’ This is simply enhanced communication.”
In determining areas where the office was in the best position to prosecute, Jones said major financial fraud and national security cases rank high. And there continued to be a focus on some state Indian reservations, particularly Red Lake and Nett Lake.
For two “really hard” years, Jones said, he worked seven days a week, heading the ATF and the local U.S. attorney’s office. “The only down time I had was the two-hour flight from D.C. back here, and then I would jump in [and] usually spend weekends catching up on things that were happening in the U.S. attorney’s office.”
‘The clock is ticking’
Jones did not go into detail about his plans for the ATF but said there will be a focus on “some of the most problematic areas around the country and really addressing violent gun crime.”