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Congressional hearing held over Malinowski raid

The House Judiciary GOP Committee met to discuss a raid on the Malinowski home.
U.S. House Judiciary Committee
A subcommittee of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee meets Wednesday to discuss a raid on the home of former Clinton National Airport Director Bryan Malinowski.

Members of a subcommittee of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday over the recent shooting death of Bryan Malinowski, former director of Little Rock's Clinton National Airport.

Agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducted an early-morning raid of Malinowski’s home in March after he was alleged to have been selling guns to criminals. He allegedly bought over 140 guns from 2019 to 2023.

An affidavit written by the ATF detailed at least six instances where a gun was found with someone in commission of a crime and three other instances where Malinowski sold guns to undercover ATF agents. When an undercover agent asked if Malinowski would sell his family member a gun, he allegedly responded “cash, not paper.”

During Wednesday's hearing, Bud Cummins, an attorney for Malinowski's family, said his client crossed “a very murky line” with the gun sales, but said the events of that morning “made him angry.” Later in the hearing, he admitted that his client shot at ATF agents before he was killed.

In the warrant, the ATF explained their reasons for asking to search Malinowski's house. They said they wanted to search his home computer for records of his sales. They also wanted to look at his computers to see if he had formed “information networks.”

Debate over the raid

In Wednesday's hearing, Cummins, a former U.S. Attorney, described Malinowski as “very good at his profession” since Little Rock's airport was one of only a handful nationwide that had no debt. Cummins described his client as being a “hobbyist and a collector.”

“He found other people who shared his enthusiasm and his interest, not only in coins, but in other artifacts you’ll find at gun shows,” he said. “He’d set up a table on weekends occasionally and he’d display some of his guns and he'd display his coins, and he would buy and sell and trade with other collectors.”

U.S. Rep. Dan Goldman, D-NY, pushed back against this description. He pointed out that Malinowski often purchased firearms days before they were re-sold.

“So whether or not you want to assert that this was a hobby of his, you agree that there's certainly probable cause,” he asked.

Cummins agreed the ATF agents had probable cause to conduct a search warrant, though he said the ATF's regulations are vague.

“The one fact that doesn't ever seem to be mentioned here is that an ATF agent was shot,” Goldman said.

Cummins agreed, calling it a “tragedy” and admitting that his client shot first. Cummins has always contended that his client did not know the person in his house was an ATF agent.

Goldman also pointed out that the ATF agents in question could not comment on the case since there is an ongoing investigation. He described the event as “standard operating procedure.”

Republicans on the committee joined Cummins in saying the ATF agents erred by not leaving their body cameras on during the raid. This violates ATF policies put forth by the Biden Administration. Cummins previously released doorbell camera footage of the raid showing ATF agents obscuring the camera lens.

Cummins said agents should not have come to Malinowski's home at 6 a.m., even though a judge signed off on a warrant allowing for that time. He and GOP committee members suggested that the raid would have been better conducted at the airport where guns are not allowed.

Cummins said, to his knowledge, Malinowski never brought guns to the airport, though the ATF affidavit implies this isn't true. They allege Malinowski left a location carrying a “black box” and left it in his car in the airport parking lot. Rep. Goldman pointed out that 6 a.m. is a common time to execute a search warrant.

After the raid, Malinowski’s wife Maer Malinowski is said to have been put in a police car for several hours in cold weather and “minimal clothing” while she was questioned by ATF agents. Malinowski’s wife is mentioned in the affidavit as sometimes accompanying him to gun sales. Cummins added she was not allowed to use the restroom for a long time.

Larger criticisms of the ATF

The committee’s chair, Republican Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, argued Malinowski’s death is part of a pattern of the ATF over-regulating gun owners.

“This is exactly what the left wants,” Jordan said. “Democrats and Joe Biden have been trying to take guns away from Americans for years.”

He said recent rules approved by the Biden Administration have caused too many gun owners to lose their licenses. The rules can keep people from selling guns if they commit “willful violations” such as giving guns to people who can not legally have them or falsifying records. Jordan alleged this had caused over a hundred people to lose their licenses for “typos” or “paperwork issues.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-FL, scoffed at this notion. She brought up the Parkland school shooting that happened in her district, and said there are "far too many loopholes” when buying a gun.

“I want to clear up the ridiculous assertion that gun dealers' licenses are revoked over minor clerical errors,” she said. “Isn't it true that clerical errors can often be serious problems that cause guns to fall into a criminal's hands?"

Wasserman Schultz said her republican colleagues were “pretending non-compliers are the victims.”

The same Congressional subcommittee, officially titled the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, will meet again Thursday to pose questions to ATF Director Steven Dettelbach.

ATF response

On Thursday, ATF Director Steven Dettelbach was questioned by the same subcommittee. Jordan described the Malinowski incident as being a “unique case,” bringing up how much money he made.

“The highest-paid official in the municipal government makes $260,000 a year,” Jordan said.

Dettelbach said all people should be treated the same regardless of their income

“We don't assume that because of where you live or how much you make that you are any more or less likely to be a law-abiding citizen,” he said. “That is a core value at ATF.”

In response to a question from Jordan, Dettelbach said it's against policy for him to comment on an ongoing investigation as ATF director.

“There is a great temptation when a horrible incident happens to prejudge,” he said. “Sometimes people even use it to advance agendas.”

Dettelbach was asked to apologize to Malinowski’s wife. He told her he was sorry for the loss of life, but reminded her that an ATF agent was also shot during the raid.

Jordan questioned him over why agents’ body-worn cameras were not turned on during the raid, Dettelbach also said the new body camera policy will be slowly spread out to all ATF agents.

“The Department of Justice announced that policy,” he said. “When it was announced it would be phased implementations, we've implemented it in just a third of our field divisions.”

Rep. Cori Bush, D-MO, said she was “surprised” by a recent push from her colleagues to call for body cameras on law enforcement officers.

“I and many of my Democratic colleagues have pushed for law enforcement accountability for years,” she said. “And my Republican colleagues have mocked us and fought against us at every step.”

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.