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Just In Time for Memorial Day Cookouts: ATF Director Grilled at Congressional Hearing

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ATF agents cut off the electricity to Bryan Malinowski’s Little Rock home before executing their search warrant March 19. None of the agents wore body cameras, and they covered Malinowski’s doorbell camera with tape to hide their actions. Fifty-seven seconds after kicking down the front door, Malinowski was fatally shot in the head. His wife, Maer Malinowski, was pulled out of her home wearing only bedclothes and forced into the back of a squad car, where she was held against her will for four hours in 34-degree weather, despite her frequent pleas to check on her dying husband.

“If that isn’t weaponization of government, I don’t know what is,” Congressman Jim Jordan, R-OH, said Thursday morning, during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs.

The hearing, which was held in the Rayburn House Office Building and was called “Oversight of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives,” lasted more than three hours. ATF Director Steven Dettelbach was the only witness.

Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee tried to force Dettelbach to answer questions about Malinowski’s killing.  However, as expected, he declined to answer and tap-danced around the members’ questions, citing the ongoing criminal investigation by Arkansas officials as an excuse. Dettelbach was also questioned about ATF’s zero-tolerance policy for gun dealers, which has led to a dramatic increase in revocations of Federal Firearm Licenses (FFL). Other lawmakers asked the ATF director about his agency’s confusing new rule, which requires anyone who sells firearms “predominantly to earn a profit” to obtain an FFL.

Dettelbach appeared before the committee wearing a grey suit, white shirt, pale blue tie and an ATF lapel pin. He sat alone at the witness table, which was covered with several folders and piles of paper.

Jordan’s questions about the Malinowski killing were on-point, accusatory and unrelenting.

“When you make up the rules as you go, bad things happen. People might even get shot. That’s what happened to Bryan Malinowski. What were you trying to hide, disabling the doorbell camera, cutting the electricity and not wearing body cameras? Jordan asked.

“We’re not trying to hide things. After the incident, along with Little Rock Police, we called for an independent investigation, which is being done by Arkansas State Police,” Dettelbach said. “Mr. Chairman, the reason we called for the investigation is we’re not trying to hide anything, but I am not going to talk about the investigation out of fairness. I’m not commenting on pending (legal) matters. It’s not fair to people.”

In his opening statement, Dettelbach claimed ATF goes after trigger-pullers, shooters and gun traffickers, which he called the “the worst of the worst.” He never mentioned that Malinowski had never been arrested and had no criminal record.

Dettelbach claimed “gun violence” was the leading cause of death for children, which Congressman Troy Nehls, R-TX, and several other Republican lawmakers completely debunked.

Nehls, a former Sheriff who said he never allowed no-knock search warrants or “SWAT teams coming to doors dressed like ninjas,” asked Dettelbach what policies ATF has in place to mitigate risk to agents and the public during search warrants.

“We do a thorough job of training, and we have operations planning,” Dettelbach replied.

“Executing search warrants at pre-dawn hours, how does that mitigate risk?” Nehls asked.

Dettelbach declined to answer, citing the ongoing criminal investigation, adding “Police are entitled to due process, too.”

“When you kick down a door and you don’t even announce who you are, what do you think is going to happen,” Nehls asked. “Were you aware he had no criminal history?”

Nehls cited a growing lack of trust between police and the communities they serve, which he said was exacerbated by ATFs lack of body cameras.

“This stinks to high heaven,” Nehls said. “I highly recommend you cooperate with this committee. You’ve got to get your priorities in order. It seems like there is a coverup here.”

Two ATFs

“You’ve accused a dead man of a crime,” said Congressman Darrell Issa, R-CA. “Did you allege he had committed a felony?”

“The judge did find that,” Dettelbach said, again citing the ongoing investigation by Little Rock officials.

“I hope they find that you blew it badly enough that criminal charges are filed,” Issa said. “The Hunter Biden (investigation) is over. Why didn’t you do a no-knock on him?”

Issa, a frequent ATF critic, said he knew what really transpired March 19.

“You’re playing one of the games that the Chair and I didn’t like during Fast & Furious,” Issa said. “If some group of 10 carloads of people showed up and kicked in the door in the dark of night, we would be talking about a planned murder of somebody who had every right to have a weapon in their home, an expectation of a weapon in their home, and an expectation they may use it. Mr. Malinowski was killed doing what any normal citizen does when people enter their home during the dark of night, and they don’t know who they are. I believe he had a very real belief he was defending his wife and family, and you killed him. Those are the facts. I have been investigating ATF for many years. I’ve consistently seen two ATFs: One we need and deserve, and one that plays fast and loose. It would have been reasonable to arrest him at work. If you’d done that, he’d be alive today.”

Criminalizing FFLs

Congressman Matt Gaetz, R-FL, asked a simple question: “How many firearms does someone have to sell to be engaged in the business of firearms?”

“The rule has 16 pages and there are 400 pages of explanation,” Dettelbach said. “The factors are conduct-based, not numerical-based.”

“No number? For a regular person trying to figure out how many guns they have to sell before registering as a dealer – for a regular person, more information is less helpful,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz pointed out that at Texas court had enjoined ATF’s new rule, finding that the agency had exceeded its authority.

“It seems you’re trying to criminalize an entire enterprise,” Gaetz said.

Congressman Tom McClintock, R-CA, asked Dettelbach if he had ever “expressed remorse to Mr. Malinowski’s widow and family.”

“I will now and have before,” Dettelbach said.

McClintock asked if Dettelbach knew of the raid in advance.

“I first heard after the fact,” Dettelbach said.

“Who have you disciplined? What have you done?” McClintock asked.

“We went together with the Little Rock Police and requested an outside investigation. And we have fully cooperated,” Dettelbach said.

Congressman Jordan asked about the status of the investigation.

“The Arkansas State Police turned over the investigation file to Pulaski County – state prosecutors,” Dettelbach said. “I believe this is all public. I believe they’re reviewing it. That part we know.”

Congressman Tom Tiffany, R-WI, then said he has noted a “dual standard of justice in America: Hunter Biden vs. Bryan Malinowski.”

Not one of the Democrats on the committee asked a probative question. The hearing concluded at 1:30 p.m.

Story courtesy of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to support pro-gun stories like this.

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