Congressional Republicans and the White House exchanged angry accusations Tuesday over whether President Obama is trying to cover up his involvement in the botched Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.
The terse exchanges derailed any chance of congressional Republicans and the Democratic administration reaching a deal that would spare Attorney General Eric Holder a contempt of Congress vote in the House later this week.
White House officials labeled "absurd" a suggestion by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., that Obama or his senior advisers "were involved in managing Fast and Furious and the fallout from it."
Issa lobbed the charge in a seven-page letter, sent late Monday to Obama, that questioned the president's decision to invoke executive privilege to prevent lawmakers from seeing thousands of Justice Department documents related to Fast and Furious. Republicans lawmakers insist Holder must turn over the documents to avoid the contempt vote, expected Thursday.
If Obama wasn't directly involved in Fast and Furious, Issa wrote, then his use of executive privilege to protect Holder is "solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation."
Tuesday's discord is further indication there will be no deal for Holder, who on Tuesday appeared to acknowledge this in a speech to a civil rights symposium in Boston.
"It's going to get really busy on Thursday, apparently," Holder said, according to the Boston Herald.
Holder refused to say if he would resign if he became the first attorney general held in contempt of Congress. He said earlier he has no plans to leave.
Holder and his Justice Department face a barrage of criticism from Republicans, not only over the botched gun operation and accusations of a coverup, but because he refuses to appoint an outside prosecutor to look into national security leaks that may have come from top White House aides.
Holder is also taking Republican fire because the Justice Department is trying to stop Florida Republicans from purging state voter rolls of illegal immigrants and the deceased.
Democrats accused Republicans of proceeding with contempt charges against Holder to slow his efforts to stop the Florida purge.
"It is our firm belief that is why he is being targeted with this humiliation," the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a news conference with civil rights leaders Tuesday, "to try to put a cloud over his head while we fight these voter suppression efforts."
Republicans insisted Tuesday that they have an obligation to get to the bottom of the security leaks and Fast and Furious, under which U.S. guns flowed to Mexico. At least one of those guns was used to kill a U.S. Border Patrol agent in 2010.
"What we want to do is have the administration sit down and cooperate with Congress," said Sen. Jon Cornyn, R-Texas.
White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted a deal to avoid the contempt of Congress vote against Holder remains possible.
But, Carney added, "it has not been resolved yet, and I think that points to the obvious political nature of this effort by House Republicans."