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Biden taps Gary Restaino as new acting ATF director

<i>Scott Olson/Getty Images/FILE</i><br/>ATF agents at a FedEx facility following an explosion on March 20
Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images/FILE
ATF agents at a FedEx facility following an explosion on March 20

By Donald Judd, CNN

A White House official confirmed Wednesday that President Joe Biden will name Gary Restaino as acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives until the Senate confirms a permanent director to fill the post.

The confirmation that Restaino will serve as acting director comes after White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would be appointing a new acting director of the ATF in accordance with federal law that states acting officers can serve for only a certain amount of time before needing to be replaced.

“I know there have been reports about this out there, and I will say that the President is making the designation under the Vacancies Reform Act, which of course says that any president, and only the president, may direct a person who serves in an office for which appointment is required to be made by the president by and with the advice and consent of Senate to perform the functions and duties of the vacant office temporarily,” Psaki told reporters.

“We, of course, are strongly advocating for and pushing for his eminently qualified nominee to be confirmed and have an ATF-confirmed director for the first time in many years, which is something we would be eager to see happen.”

News of Restaino’s appointment was first reported by The Reload.

Restaino, who serves as US attorney for the district of Arizona, replaces acting ATF Director Marvin Richardson, who took the post last June. Per a White House official, Richardson will remain at the ATF as deputy director.

Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, a president can appoint officials on an acting basis “for no longer than 210 days beginning on the date the vacancy occurs.” However, under then-President Donald Trump, a number of officials exploited a legal loophole in the law, including acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli.

Biden officially nominated former federal prosecutor Steve Dettelbach to fill the ATF director post on a permanent basis earlier this month after his initial pick, David Chipman, failed to garner sufficient support in the evenly divided Senate.

Biden withdrew Chipman’s nomination in September, blaming Senate Republicans for blocking the former career ATF official, but the White House was ultimately unable to rally support among the President’s own party and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with the Democrats. At the time, a senior administration official told CNN the White House would seek to place Chipman “in a non-confirmed job in the administration.”

In a statement to CNN on Wednesday, White House rapid response director Michael Gwin called for Dettelbach’s speedy confirmation.

“Steve Dettelbach served for decades as a prosecutor, working hand-in-hand with ATF agents to take down gangs and convict criminals, and he has the support of law enforcement and former federal prosecutors from both parties — including appointees of both President Trump and President Bush,” Gwin said.

“If we want to crack down on gun crime and keep our neighborhoods safe, ATF needs a confirmed Director, and Steve Dettelbach has received praise from across the political spectrum as someone who can roll up his sleeves and get the job done.”

The shuffle at ATF comes as gun violence in the country is on the rise — this year alone, the Gun Violence Archive estimates there have been 146 mass shootings, with 10 reported just over the weekend.

The ATF has operated under a series of acting directors since its last Senate-confirmed leader, B. Todd Jones, stepped down in 2015. The Senate had confirmed Jones, who was nominated by then-President Barack Obama, in 2013.

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