If high-ranking officials in the Justice Department are shown to have knowingly misinformed the Congress or held back information central to the probe, they could be forced to resign or even be prosecuted.
If the Republicans come up empty-handed, they will be subject to accusations that at a time of economic distress and gridlock on critical issues, they burned up time and energy in partisan pursuits.
Democrats accuse Republicans of going on a “fishing expedition” in trying to gain access to documents that have nothing to do with the conduct of operation Fast and Furious.
In invoking executive privilege over those documents, the administration argues that it is protecting confidential conversations that any administration needs to function.
Conservative bloggers and others suggested it was part of an administration back-door effort to impose new regulations on the sale of assault rifles and other “long guns” — a contention Democrats dismiss.
The Republican leadership has worried that the Fast and Furious controversy could detract from election-year efforts to focus public attention on the ailing US economy, and holding Obama responsible for it.