By Donna Smith
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The congressman heading an investigation into a botched gun-trafficking case said on Sunday he had no evidence the White House was involved in a cover-up about the operation or in providing misleading information to Congress.
However, Republican Representative Darrell Issa said documents the White House was shielding under an executive privilege claim would shed more light on how much high-level officials knew about a misleading February 4, 2011 letter to Congress denying that guns had been allowed to "walk" into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, have suggested that some sort of a cover-up of information explained why it took until December 2011 for the Justice Department to formally withdraw the letter about the case, which was named "Operation Fast and Furious."
The House is set to vote this week on contempt of Congress charges against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the top U.S. law enforcement official, for withholding access to some of those documents.
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was asked whether he had evidence of a White House cover-up.
"No, we don't," Issa said.
"I hope they don't get involved," Issa said. "I hope this stays at Justice. And I hope that Justice cooperates, because ultimately, Justice lied to the American people on February 4th and didn't make it right for 10 months."
Congressional investigators say the documents will shed light on who in the Justice Department knew the letter was misleading and why it took so long to withdraw it.
POSSIBLE AGREEMENT TO AVERT CONTEMPT VOTE
Democrats have accused Issa of going on a fishing expedition and note that the Justice Department has already turned over thousands of pages of documents relating to the botched operation, in which guns were allowed to be transported into Mexico.
Two of the weapons were later found at the scene of U.S. border patrol agent Brian Terry's murder in late 2010.
Terry's grieving family has demanded more information about who knew about the "Fast and Furious" operation.
Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the oversight committee, told "Fox News Sunday," that he too wants to satisfy the Terry family's need for information and said the dispute over documents could be worked out.
"It's just a matter of sitting down and talking it over. We can get those documents and get this matter resolved," Cummings said.
Asked if the House would seek to hold Holder in contempt if there was no deal over the documents, Issa said: "Yes, I believe they will, both Republicans and Democrats will vote that."
It could take months to enforce a contempt citation as both sides are likely to turn to the federal courts to resolve the dispute between the White House and Congress.
Issa suggested a deal could be worked out with administration officials, to cancel, or at least delay, next week's vote.
"If we get documents that ... cast some doubt or allow us to understand this, we'll at least delay contempt and continue the process," Issa said in an interview with ABC's "This Week" news show. "We only broke off negotiations when we got a flat refusal to give us information needed for our investigation."
House Republicans advanced the contempt resolution after negotiations with Holder broke down last week. Holder had offered to brief congressional investigators and provide access to some documents to satisfy a congressional subpoena. Issa rejected the offer.
(Editing by David Brunnstrom)