On the day the House of Representatives votes to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for not turning over documents related to the Fast and Furious case, new reports show problems with the Republicans' theory of the case. House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa accuses the Department of Justice of knowing about the operation before it became public. But emails sent by Holder show that's not true, the Associated Press reports. Issa has said that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives intentionally allowed guns to get into the hands of Mexican drug cartels in order to track the weapons. But Fortune reports that's not true either. 

The Associated Press's Pete Yost reports on this thread of emails suggesting Holder didn't know about the ATF's operation. Here's the timeline:

  • February 23, 2011: CBS News runs a story on Fast and Furious. Holder's aides forward the story to him, and he responds, We need answers on this. Not defensive BS. Real answers."
  • February 28: Holder asks for an investigation by the department's inspector general.
  • March 3: Deputy Attorney General James Cole emails staffers, "We obviously need to get to the bottom of this."
  • March 10: An ATF official emails, "I hope the AG understands that we did not allow guns to walk." Aides forwarded the email to Holder. He replied: "Do they really, really know" that gun walking didn't happen?

More troubling is an exhaustive investigation by Fortune's Katherine Eban arguing that most of the things we think we know about Fast and Furious are wrong. The basic storyline is that ATF agents intentionally let guns get into gangsters' hands to track how guns flowed to Mexico -- and the conspiracy theory, floated by Issa on ABC News Sunday, is that they did this in order to push for tougher gun control laws. But Eban reports that only one agent recruited someone to buy a gun and give it to the cartels -- John Dodson, the whistleblower at the center of the case. He did this against the instructions of his boss, Dave Voth, who was in charge of the operation in Phoenix.

Mother Jones' Adam Weinstein points to this especially appalling passage in Eban's story, which should infuriate Republicans for a whole different reason:

After examining one suspect's garbage, agents learned he was on food stamps yet had plunked down more than $300,000 for 476 firearms in six months. Voth asked if the ATF could arrest him for fraudulently accepting public assistance when he was spending such huge sums. Prosecutor Hurley said no. In another instance, a young jobless suspect paid more than $10,000 for a 50-caliber tripod-mounted sniper rifle. According to Voth, Hurley told the agents they lacked proof that he hadn't bought the gun for himself.