Key Republicans Dodge Fast & Furious Conspiracy Theory Questions

Led by Republicans, the House voted to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress on Thursday.

The contempt citation specifically faulted Holder for not turning over internal Justice Department emails sent after ATF’s Fast and Furious operation had ended. The White House claims the emails are covered by executive privilege. But many Republicans who voted for contempt subscribed to a conspiracy theory holding that the administration tried to boost the number of weapons going to Mexico in order to increase support for gun regulations that have never been introduced.

TPM spoke with several House Republicans in the Speaker’s Lobby during the vote and found little consensus on whether Fast and Furious was a secret Obama gun control plot. But that doesn’t mean they’d all dismiss it.Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the House Judiciary Committee that oversees the Justice Department, paused for several seconds when asked if Fast and Furious was about gun control.

“Um, that’s… I think we would know a lot more about that issue had the administration been forthcoming and given us the documents we needed and allowed us to interview the individuals that we wanted to talk to, but the fact that they asserted executive privilege really makes it look like they have something to hide,” Smith told TPM.

So has Smith seen any evidence it was about gun control?

“You better check with the chairman of the Oversight Committee on that,” Smith said.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) couldn’t point to any moves the Obama administration has taken against Second Amendment rights and wasn’t positive about whether Fast and Furious was a gun control conspiracy.

“You know, there are others who have drawn that conclusion and a pretty bright line. I’m inclined to believe that but I have not tracked it closely enough to be able to say I’ve convinced myself that’s what happened,” King said.

House Speaker John Boehner said earlier this week that he wasn’t sure if Fast and Furious was about gun control.

Another dismissed the idea that Republicans ever said Fast and Furious was a gun control plot.

“That’s a complete leftist folklore,” Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) told Slate’s Dave Weigel. “At no time — you can look at the statements from my office, my speeches — have we said oh, this was about the White House’s secret plot to restrict firearms. When you see that on MSNBC and other outlets, I hate to say it, but it’s almost like a flourish a magician uses to distract you.”

Schweikert evidently wasn’t talking to Rep. Allen West (R-FL).

“I think that when you look at what was the purpose, it seems to me that purpose from this administration may have been to flood weapons into Mexico — they did not trace it whatever, they had no mechanism of control — coming from gun dealers in America so they could say we have a gun problem in America and it’s spilling into Mexico so therefore we need gun control,” West told TPM yesterday. He couldn’t name any specific policy maneuver the Obama administration had made to restrict guns but said current laws a sufficient.

“I think we have the mechanisms in place where the gun dealers are asking questions. People are going through background checks,” West said. “I just recently bought a gun, and I had to go through a background check, so anyone that shows up at the place I went to buy a gun — if they go in and buy, you know, 200 guns I’m quite sure somebody is going to ask them what they’re doing.”

“It is about gun control, it’s no conspiracy,” West said.