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No evidence found officials hurt gun-trafficking probe

WASHINGTON -- There is no evidence that White House officials were involved in withholding information related to a congressional inquiry into the gun-trafficking probe known as "Fast and Furious," the Republican lawmaker leading the investigation said Sunday.

Several Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, charged last week that President Obama's decision to invoke executive privilege over documents related to the probe suggested that top administration officials were involved in withholding information.

"The decision to invoke executive privilege is an admission that White House officials were involved in a decision that misled the Congress and have covered up the truth," Boehner told reporters last week.

But asked Sunday whether he had any evidence to back up those claims, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said, "No, we don't."

"What we're seeking are documents that we know exist that are, in fact, about Brian Terry's murder, who knew and why people were lying about it and get to the truth. That's all we want," Issa said on "Fox News Sunday."

Terry, a U.S. Border Patrol agent, was killed in December 2010, and investigators later found two guns connected to Fast and Furious. The operation, named for the popular movie series, was run out of the Phoenix division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives between 2009 and 2011, with support from the U.S. attorney in Phoenix.

As part of the operation, ATF agents purposefully did not seize more than 2,000 weapons they suspected of being purchased at Arizona gun shops by illegal buyers known as "straw purchasers." Of the 2,020 weapons sold, 665 were later recovered.

Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has led a roughly 18-month investigation into the operation that includes dozens of interviews with Justice Department and ATF officials and public hearings, including several appearances by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

However, a similar operation run by the ATF years before, using the same tactics of allowing guns to flow illegally onto U.S. streets and into Mexico, has not received similar scrutiny by House Republicans.

Operation Wide Receiver, conducted under the Bush administration's Justice Department, was run out of Tucson between 2006 and 2007 and involved hundreds of guns that were purchased by small-time buyers who transferred them to middle men who then passed them up the chain and into Mexico.

The vast majority of the 450 weapons sold -- including semiautomatic weapons and handguns -- disappeared once the guns crossed the border.

Wide Receiver came to light when Issa and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, released documents and emails in early October which they said showed that although Holder told Congress in May 2011 that he had just learned about Fast and Furious, he had known for about 10 months.

That alleged discrepancy led some Republican lawmakers to accuse Holder of perjury. They have pounded on Holder over Fast and Furious, in some cases calling for his resignation.

Still, Issa's committee last week voted to recommend that Holder be held in contempt for withholding information from the panel. Boehner and House GOP leaders plan to hold a vote this week in the full House on the recommendations unless Holder turns over certain documents before the vote -- but they have not said which day the vote will be held.

If the full House votes to find Holder in contempt, he would be the first attorney general held in contempt of Congress.

The matter would be referred to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, a Justice Department employee, who would have to decide whether to criminally prosecute Holder, his boss.

In a series of television appearances Sunday, Issa said the House still plans to go forward with this week's vote because there has been no resolution.

"Even the president, and certainly all the agencies, cannot hold back information related to covering up criminal activities or talking about them," Issa said on ABC's "This Week." "That's what we're looking for here."