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Biden ATF nominee Chipman faces Republican Senate scrutiny

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David Chipman, retired ATF Special Agent, testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on "Protecting America from Assault Weapons" at the Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

WASHINGTON, May 26 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden's pick to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Wednesday confronted head-on a social media disinformation campaign waged against him, telling a U.S. Senate committee he played no part in a deadly 1993 encounter between agents and cult members in Waco, Texas.

David Chipman, a gun control advocate with more than two decades of law enforcement experience at ATF, addressed doctored images circulating on social media that are falsely described as showing him in the rubble of a compound where 76 Branch Davidians and four federal agents died in a botched raid.

"That is not me," Chipman said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, adding that the photo circulated online was taken at Waco, but that it does not depict an ATF agent.

Chipman said he was selected for the trial team after the incident specifically because he had "no involvement in the actual case."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, a Democrat, told Chipman to expect a bumpy road to confirmation.

"Buckle your seatbelt," Durbin said. "You want to be the head of the ATF, hang on tight."

Republicans have voiced disapproval about Chipman's advocacy of gun regulations and several Republicans on the committee peppered him with questions about prior statements during his time as a gun control advocate.

"The AR-15 is one of, if not the, most popular rifles in America," Senator Ted Cruz said. "Your public position is you want to ban AR-15s, is that correct?"

"I support a ban," Chipman replied, noting such a ban was backed by Biden and prior Senate legislation. "As ATF director if I'm confirmed, I would simply enforce the laws on the books right now. There is no such ban on those guns."

The Senate is split 50-50, but Biden hopes his fellow Democrats can muster a majority with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the decisive vote if needed.

The job is so politically fraught that the Senate has confirmed just one nominee in the last 15 years. Most have been acting directors.

Chipman works as a policy adviser for Giffords, a gun control advocacy group founded by former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Senator Mark Kelly after a gunman shot and wounded her in 2011.

His advocacy role has inflamed many Republicans as well as pro-gun groups including the National Rifle Association. On Tuesday, 20 Republican attorneys general wrote to several U.S. senators urging them to vote against Chipman.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Howard Goller

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