President Joe Biden’s second pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has secured the backing of a prominent group of legal figures.
Seven members of the prosecution team in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing case, including the lead attorney Joe Hartzler, sent a letter to the top senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday praising Biden’s nominee: Steve Dettelbach. The team’s successful prosecution secured the conviction of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who carried out the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people and injured more in one of the country’s deadliest domestic terrorist attacks.
The former federal prosecutors praised Dettelbach’s work prosecuting cases involving violent extremists, including one man who firebombed an Ohio courthouse, noting that he used evidence gathered by ATF agents.
“Mr. Dettelbach also worked with a team of ATF agents and other law enforcement officers to prosecute the man who torched a mosque in Toledo, Ohio,” the team wrote in a letter first obtained by POLITICO. “So, Mr. Dettelbach has the direct professional experience that qualifies him to lead the ATF.”
“Although it has been 27 years since McVeigh and Nichols attempted to inspire a violent insurrection to overthrow the United States government, we remember vividly – and with great respect and enduring gratitude – the role that several ATF agents played in bringing these two domestic terrorists to justice” the prosecution team recalled in the letter. The 1995 bombing was seen as retaliation to ATF’s work monitoring far right extremists and their raid on a radical right religious sect near Waco, Texas.
During his inauguration and a speech marking the one-year anniversary of the deadly insurrection on the Capitol earlier this year, Biden vowed that his administration would confront white supremacy and domestic terrorism. Confirming an ATF nominee, the former federal prosecutors said, would prove key to those goals.
“Unfortunately, we also know that domestic terrorism continues to be a major threat in our country,” the prosecutors wrote. “The ATF must continue to play an active role in protecting our nation from the extraordinary threat posed by violent extremists. To fulfill this responsibility, it is imperative that the ATF be led by an experienced law enforcement officer who has been confirmed by the United States Senate.”
Biden nominated Dettelbach earlier this month after withdrawing his first pick for the ATF post, David Chipman. Chipman had failed to secure enough support, including among senators who caucus with Democrats. Dettelbach has also quickly lined up endorsements from prominent organizations including the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, American Pediatric Surgical Association, and the Major County Sheriffs of America.
There has not been a permanent head of ATF since 2015 and the second push for a new head is sure to put Biden’s proposals to expand background checks for firearms and combat gun violence front and center ahead of the midterms.