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Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa – A pair of Republicans in Congress have fired off a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, accusing the administration of lying to cover up a government program that allegedly allowed American firearms to pass into Mexico.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., had sharp words for the Department of Justice after Holder sent a recent letter denying that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobaco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, had knowingly authorized the sale of weapons to gun smugglers as part of what has become known as “Project Gunrunner” and its suboperation, dubbed “Fast and Furious.”

In a return letter sent today, the congressmen wrote that the Department’s self-exonerating claims were flat-out “false.”

“We are very concerned that the Department chose to send a letter containing false statements,” wrote the congressmen. “The Department sent a letter on February 4, 2011, claiming that … ‘ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.’ When questioned in transcribed interviews last week in Phoenix, agents with first-hand knowledge of ATF operations contradicted that claim.”

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“We are extremely disappointed that you do not appear to be taking this issue seriously enough to ensure that the Department’s representations are accurate, forthcoming and complete,” the legislators wrote. “We will continue to probe and gather the facts independently, as it has become clear that we cannot rely on the Department’s self-serving statements to obtain any realistic picture of what happened.”

The program run by the ATF reportedly allowed guns purchased in the United States to be smuggled into Mexico for the purpose of tracking them to high-ranking members of Mexico’s drug cartels.

As WND has reported, officials on both sides of the border are fuming over the operation, which is being blamed not only for the infusion of hundreds of guns into the hands of Mexican drug lords but also provision of the weapon that killed U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

A statement released by Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, explains the process of how whistleblowers within the ATF first alerted him and Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, to the controversy:

“Grassley began looking into allegations brought forward by Agent John Dodson, and more than a dozen other ATF agents after the Justice Department Inspector General failed to investigate their concerns,” the statement reads. “The agents indicated that their supervisors kept them from stopping gun traffickers with the normal techniques that had been successfully [used] for years. They instead were ordered to only watch and continue gathering information on traffickers instead of arresting them as soon as they could. In the meantime, the guns were allowed to fall into the hands of the bad guys even as agents told supervisors that it could not end well. Many of the guns have subsequently been found in firefights along the border, including a December 14, 2010, firefight where Customs and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed.”

Since launching their investigation, however, as WND reported, Issa has said the ATF has been “stonewalling.”

The statement continues, “Grassley and Issa’s requests for information from the Justice Department have gone mostly unanswered about what transpired at the ATF and the Department of Justice during the time when Terry was killed and the policies instituted during Project Gunrunner that allowed guns to be sold to known straw purchasers and moved across the border without intervention.”

In his most recent letter refuting the bureau’s whistleblowers, Holder wrote, “It remains our understanding that ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious did not knowingly permit straw buyers to take guns into Mexico.”

Grassley and Issa, however, are not buying it.

In their response to Holder sent today, they write, “The documents and information previously provided to you demonstrate that the ATF urged gun dealers to go forward with sales to known straw buyers despite the concerns expressed by at least one dealer that the guns would be transferred to the border and possibly used against Border Patrol agents. ATF and Justice officials assured that dealer that unspecified safeguards were in place to ensure that did not happen. Yet, guns from that case were found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder and at crime scenes in Mexico.”

Issa’s statement concludes by insisting that the operation was, despite Holder’s denials, implemented by the ATF.

“As chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,” the statement asserts, “Issa has begun issuing subpoenas to uncover the facts about how this reckless policy was approved.”

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