'It was a failure': Biden's ATF pick says White House left him open to attack

David Chipman’s confirmation odyssey began with a short congratulatory buzz from Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in April and ended,...


David Chipman’s confirmation odyssey began with a short congratulatory buzz from Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in April and ended, he said, with a long and regrettable call from Presidential Adviser Steve Ricchetti admitting that the White House had failed.

Mr. Chipman, a fiery gun control activist whose appointment to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives imploded this month, said he had no other contact with the White House, which often left him feeling lonely, on “an island,” when pro-gun groups attacked him.

Instead, the West Wing’s strategy focused on selling Mr. Chipman to West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III, the centrist Democrat and perpetual kingmaker in an equally divided Senate, to lose the backing Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, who left Democrats have at least one vote less than the 50 needed for confirmation.

“Either it was impossible to win or the strategy failed,” Chipman told The New York Times in his first public comments since President Biden withdrew the nomination, conceding he could not get the votes. . “It was a failure.”

Mr Chipman’s defeat represented a major victory for the gun lobby and a huge loss for gun control groups, who saw the appointment of a strong director for the office as the most important decision. important that Mr. Biden can do as Republicans block legislative action. It was a reminder of Mr Biden’s struggles, eight months after taking office, to keep the big promises he made to progressives on voting rights, immigration and guns.

In a high-profile interview, Mr Chipman, who served as an officer in the bureau for 25 years before becoming one of the nation’s foremost gun control activists, praised the White House for what he has done. jokingly called the “gangster movement” of appointing someone like him in the first place.

But he questioned the administration’s willingness to execute a coordinated strategy to get him through the Senate and expressed concern about his next actions. He said he found it “unusual” for him not to speak to anyone in the White House from the time he was appointed.

“Deep down I always thought there would be a Plan B, but so far there hasn’t been one,” Chipman said.

White House officials rebuffed the suggestion they were stranded, saying they were considering several possible candidates and signaling new initiatives in gun control, community engagement and tackling crime, said stressed Mr. Biden. earlier this year.

“We know this job is going to be tough – especially with Republicans on Capitol Hill who go along with the gun industry – but the President is absolutely determined to push both the legislation and the staff to fight it. gun violence, “said Michael Gwin, a spokesperson for Mr. Biden.

Mr Chipman, 55, said he is now speaking in hopes of encouraging Mr Biden’s team to focus on reforming and revitalizing the long-neglected agency, which has been handcuffed by decades of legislative attacks from the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups.

He prefers to do so from the outside, rejecting a recent offer to serve in the Department of Justice. He returned to his post as an adviser to the organization founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a gun violence survivor he described as having more courage than anyone in Washington.

Mr. Chipman blamed most of the blame for his defeat on the gun lobby, particularly the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group that lobbied Mr. King and others. .

And he singled out Lawrence G. Keane, a senior executive in the group, for posting a photo on his website showing a federal agent – falsely identified in a tabloid article as a young Mr. Chipman – standing in the smoldering debris of the Davidian branch. in 1993, which he said sparked a wave of online threats.

“Larry Keane posted a picture of me he knew was wrong, trying to get me killed,” said Mr. Chipman, who arrived in Waco, Texas, to help with the investigation long after the ATF was over. began an assault that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 82 civilians and four federal agents.

Mr Keane, in a telephone interview, called the accusation “categorically false”, adding that “as soon as we found out that it was in fact not him, we removed it from our website. If I had known it wasn’t him, we would never have used the photo.

He admitted that Mr. Chipman was the subject of death threats, which he described as “extremely unfortunate and unwarranted”. But he said Mr Biden should never have named someone as belligerent towards gun owners, manufacturers and dealers as Mr Chipman.

There was, however, one point the two men agreed on: The White House, as well as Mr. Chipman’s small support team at the Justice Department, did not do enough to turn this story around or other charges against him that circulated widely in the conservative media. .

Mr Chipman praised the DOJ team’s dedication, but said his attempts to get them to send reporters documents debunking Waco’s complaint failed – and he ultimately had to give the information himself. to journalists after concluding that “no one was defending me”.

Administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case, said they had quietly countered negative stories about Mr Chipman, but believed that covert media strategy was the wisest course.

They said the problem was not Waco, but Mr. King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, who blinded them by voicing his opposition to Mr. Chipman just as the nomination headed for a floor vote end of June.

A person close to Mr King said his position should not have come as a surprise to anyone. He had previously told administration officials that he opposed their sales pitch – that the ATF, an agency he viewed as a neutral regulator, would be the focal point for gun policy. under the direction of an activist director like Mr. Chipman.

Mr. Chipman received this message in person in July when Mr. King summoned him to his office.

Upon arrival, Mr King told the candidate that Mr Chipman’s father – a King supporter who lives in Maine – had sent him a letter urging him to vote for his son.

“At least he love you, ”King joked.

Next, the senator, who had been the subject of intense lobbying by pro-gun groups in his home state, outlined his grievances. According to Mr. Chipman, the senator told him that “my friends who are gun dealers in Maine” opposed the nomination.

Mr Chipman, who had vowed to step up inspections of federally licensed gun dealers if confirmed, did not relent – and polite appeals from Mr Biden, Ms Giffords and Thomas Brandon, a former acting director of the agency, over the next few weeks did nothing to move the senator.

In early September, the White House bowed to the inevitable. Mr Ricchetti called Mr Chipman and spent about 20 minutes expressing regret for everything he had been through, as the candidate stood near a field of sunflowers he was visiting with his wife.

Last week, Mr King explained his position in a letter to voters, saying Mr Chipman could not be “a fair and objective regulator” because his association with gun safety groups meant that he could not be “impartial” with the gun dealers.

Mr. Chipman drew another conclusion from the meeting: that Mr. King had been “captured” by the gun lobby and that his own defeat was a reflection of his enduring power.

“I left his office thinking, ‘Does he really believe that the people who regulate industries can only get these jobs if they are friends with the industry? ”, Said Mr. Chipman. “He said the quiet part out loud. “

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Newsrust - US Top News: 'It was a failure': Biden's ATF pick says White House left him open to attack
'It was a failure': Biden's ATF pick says White House left him open to attack
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