Republicans took Project Gunrunner investigation to Phoenix last week

Top GOP oversight officials say they took their investigation of the Justice Department’s “Project Gunrunner” – in which military-grade weapons were permitted to be smuggled into Mexico – to the Phoenix, Arizona last week and that transcribed interviews with key officials there contradict the agency’s official story.

In a May 3 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, House oversight committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley criticize Holder for continuing to deny the increasingly apparent facts that guns were allowed to be smuggled across the border.

Grassley even added a personal touch, advising in a handwritten “P.S.” to Holder that “you should check to see if you are getting accurate information from your staff. You might be ill-served.”

The Justice Department, in a May 2 letter, continued to insist that “it remains our understanding that ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious did not knowingly permit straw buyers to take guns into Mexico.”

However, the letter did not address documents and other evidence provided by the Republicans regarding the issue, instead saying the agency had forwarded those documents to the Justice Department’s inspector general, who is investigating the matter as well.

Now, Issa and Grassley are relying as well on the transcribed interviews with key officials in Phoenix, the letter says.

“[T]he [Justice] Department sent a letter Feb. 4, 2011 claiming that the whistleblower allegations were ‘false’ and that ‘ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally in and prevent their transportation to Mexico,’” the letter says.

“When questioned in transcribed interviews last week in Phoenix, agents with first-hand knowledge of ATF operations contradicted the claim,” the letter says.

“In fact according to these witnesses, there was a specific strategy implemented to not “make every effort” but rather to avoid interdicting weapons in hopes of making a larger case against higher-ups in the trafficking organization,” the letter says.