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What 'conspiracy' lies behind Eric Holder and 'Fast and Furious'?

Whether or not a botched government gun interdiction scheme known as ‘Fast and Furious’ was tied into White House gun policy is roiling the right – and a cause for scoffing on the left.

By Patrik JonssonStaff writer / June 23, 2012

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., center, with Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., left, waves notes and papers as he calls for the release of additional Justice Department documents as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee considers whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Rep. Darrel Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee, has led the now 16-month old investigation into who knew what, and when, about an ill-advised gun interdiction scheme on the border called Fast and Furious.

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The effort, says Mr. Issa, is to get answers for the family of Brian Terry, the Border Patrol agent shot and killed in a high desert shootout where guns belonging to the Fast and Furious gun-walking program were found.

But as Congress moves now to cite the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, for contempt, the situation has quickly become more intense, fueling a central and long-running conspiracy theory about Fast and Furious. 

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Along with conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Issa suggested as late as April that Fast and Furious may have been part of a policy by the White House to flood the Mexican market with guns to foment violence, which would then put political pressure back on the US to curb its wide-open border gun bazaar and weaken Second Amendment rights.

That contention, liberals say, is on its face absurd. Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert summed up the extent of the alleged conspiracy on Friday, concluding Fast and Furious-spawned border violence was intended “to panic Americans in order to gin up support for a Draconian gun control measure Obama has never introduced. Complicated? Yes. The fevered ramblings of a syphilitic brain? Perhaps.”

But the “worse than Watergate” internet rumblings aside, last week’s Oversight Committee vote – which fell along partisan lines – to recommend Holder for a House vote on contempt and President Obama’s decision on the same day to invoke executive privilege to keep related documents secret did enliven debate about what’s really at stake with the investigation. To wit, whether the documents Congress wants and that the Administration won’t release may be able to confirm or put to rest suspicions that not just Holder, but Obama, had a policy hand in Fast and Furious.

In opening the contempt hearing on Wednesday, Mr. Issa contended that, “[The contempt hearing] is not about this investigation, it’s about a narrow subset of documents that this committee must ultimately receive.”

But in April, Issa gave an interview at the National Rifle Association convention in St. Louis, in which he gave credence to suspicions held by many conservatives and gun owners about the program’s true intent.

“Could it be that what they really were thinking of was in fact to use this walking of guns in order to promote an assault weapons ban?” Rep. Issa said. “Many think so. And [the administration] hasn’t come up with an explanation that would cause any of us not to agree.”

Loosely based on two similar operations that took place during the Bush administration, Fast and Furious began in 2009, shortly after administration officials, including Obama, several times cited in public a contested estimate that 90 percent of guns used in Mexican violence came from the US, a situation they said was wreaking havoc in Mexico and injuring relations between the two continental powers.

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