Watchdog group files lawsuit to seek employment records for Biden's ATF nominee

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A conservative watchdog group filed a lawsuit this week against the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) demanding the personnel files for David Chipman, President Biden’s nominee to lead the federal agency.

The American Accountability Foundation had unsuccessfully sought to gain the employment files on Chipman, who previously worked at the ATF for nearly 25 years, through filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Now the group is seeking a federal court order to have the ATF turn over files on any complaints, misconduct, disciplinary records and investigations into Chipman. 

Tom Jones, co-founder of the new group that has been digging into Biden’s nominees, said it’s imperative for Chipman’s employment history to be made public before the Senate votes on his confirmation as director of ATF. A Senate Judiciary Committee vote is scheduled for Thursday. 

“We’re entrusting someone who has, I think, questionable issues in his background to lead an agency with an enormous amount of power,” Jones told Fox News. “That should be a concern to every American and the U.S. Senate should dig in deeply on that.”

One red flag that appeared during the confirmation process is that Chipman acknowledged in written questioning to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that he’s been the subject of two complaints filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That federal agency investigates employee discrimination and harassment cases involving race, sex, age and more. 

Chipman said in his questionnaire to Cruz that “both complaints were resolved without any finding of discrimination and no disciplinary action was taken against me.” 

FILE – In this Sept. 25, 2019, file photo Giffords Law Center Senior Policy Advisor David Chipman speaks at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on assault weapons on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Biden nominated Chipman, a former federal agent and adviser at the gun control group Giffords, to be director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

But Jones said the allegations deserve a public airing, especially after private conversations he said he’s had with some of Chipman’s former ATF colleagues who raised concerns about his conduct. 

Fox News has not independently verified such claims and the federal lawsuit does not outline specific events. 

“The fact that Dave Chipman has resolved complaints of discrimination in some kind of settlement in a closed-door room doesn’t absolve him of behaving inappropriately,” Jones told Fox News. “It means the accuser didn’t want to spend months, if not years, literally and figuratively litigating this issue.”

The White House did not immediately respond to Fox News’ requests for comment. And the ATF told Fox News it doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation or pending presidential nominees.

Any government agency, including ATF, typically has 180 days from the day an EEOC complaint is filed to complete its investigation. When completed, the complainant can ask the agency to issue a decision as to whether discrimination occurred or request a hearing before an EEOC Administrative Judge, according to EEOC’s website. An agency can also agree to settle a complaint, which leads to the dismissal of a case and no further action is taken.

Chipman said in his Senate questionnaire that the two allegations against him when he was a manager at ATF did not result in any disciplinary action and he has never been counseled about bad behavior at the workplace. Cruz specifically asked whether Chipman was ever the recipient of any formal or informal counseling as the result of allegations of inappropriate or unlawful behavior.  Chipman gave a one-word response: “No.”

After working for the ATF as a special agent, Chipman went on to serve as senior policy adviser to gun-violence prevention group Giffords. Republicans have been targeting Chipman’s nomination because of his advocacy on gun control issues they say run afoul of Second Amendment rights. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., previously dubbed Chipman a “notorious gun-grabber.”

FILE – WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 23:  Former special agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) David Chipman testifies during a hearing before the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force January 23, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The task force held a hearing on "the comprehensive steps that Congress can take to reduce gun violence while respecting the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans."  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Even moderate Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins said she can’t support Chipman’s nomination because he’s too divisive and has made past statements that “demean” law-abiding gun owners.

Separately, several former and current members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are sounding the alarm that Chipman is too political to lead an unbiased agency.

“I am concerned that somebody who has taken such a strong and hostile position against the Second Amendment, as well as gun owners and some of the most popular firearms in the United States, would be viewed as a political leader for an agency that, I think, has worked extremely hard to build the American public confidence in its handling of interpreting both the Gun Control Act and the various regulations around it,” Former ATF Director Michael Sullivan told Fox News.

ATF is a law enforcement agency within the Department of Justice that strives to safeguard the public from criminal organizations and activity, including the illegal use and trafficking of firearms.

A number of law enforcement groups, ATF agents have and attorneys general have expressed support for Chipman in letters posted to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website.

Biden, who wants more gun control regulations and congressional legislation, has touted Chipman’s depth of experience.

“A career and distinguished ATF official for 25 years, David is eminently qualified for the job that we desperately need to fill,” Biden said Wednesday in urging Chipman’s swift confirmation. 

Fox News’ Audrey Conklin contributed to this report. 

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