WASHINGTON, June 25 (UPI) -- The House has no evidence the White House was involved in a coverup of a botched U.S. gun-trafficking operation, a Republican lawmaker leading the probe said.
The acknowledgment by House oversight committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., differed from a statement by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who alleged Thursday President Barack Obama's decision to invoke executive privilege over documents related to the committee's probe of the gun-tracking operation, known as "Operation Fast and Furious," indicated top administration officials were involved in withholding information.
"The decision to invoke executive privilege is an admission that White House officials were involved in decisions that misled the Congress and covered up the truth," Boehner told reporters.
When Issa was asked on "Fox News Sunday" if the committee had evidence White House officials knowingly misled Congress or were involved in a coverup, he said, "No, we don't."
When pressed for clarity, Issa said: "And I hope [White House officials] don't get involved. I hope this stays at [the] Justice [Department]. And I hope that Justice cooperates, because ultimately, Justice lied to the American people."
He added he believed there would be bipartisan support in the House this week for a contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder for refusing to turn over documents related Fast and Furious.
Democrats say Holder has handed over enough documents to answer the questions the committee is investigating. Republicans contend the administration is covering up how it misled Congress about the operation.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, said Boehner should meet with Holder to resolve the dispute.
"I am calling on Speaker Boehner to come forth and show strong leadership -- and I know he will -- and sit down with the attorney general to resolve this matter," Cummings said on "Fox News Sunday."
He added that Holder had "turned over 7,600 documents, going through millions of e-mails, and has even given up what's called internal deliberative documents."
The dispute stems from an oversight committee claim the Justice Department may have sought to mislead the committee about Fast and Furious when it said incorrectly in a Feb. 4, 2011, letter that the operation did not use a controversial tactic, officially against Justice Department policy, called gun-walking.
The department later retracted that statement.
The 2009-2011 Fast and Furious operation was part of a strategy begun during the administration of former President George W. Bush to combat Mexican drug cartels.
The operation, run by Arizona agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, used gun-walking, which let suspected smugglers buy more than 2,000 firearms -- including AK-47 variants, .50-caliber sniper rifles, .38-caliber revolvers and semi-automatic pistols -- without intercepting the weapons.
The stated goal of permitting the purchases was to track the firearms as they were transferred to higher-level traffickers and key Mexican cartel figures, which would presumably lead to the figures' arrests and the cartels' dismantling.
But the agents lost track of several hundred of the weapons.
Some guns later turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the border, including at a Dec. 14, 2010, shootout in which U.S. border agent Brian Terry was killed.
The gun-walking operation became public after Terry's death.