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Fox News poll: More see cover-up than witch hunt in Fast & Furious fight

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June 26, 2012: Attorney General Eric Holder speaks in Boston. (AP)

As the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to vote on whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, American voters are slightly more inclined to think the White House is covering up something about “Fast and Furious” than that the Republican investigation into the failed gun-tracking operation is a witch hunt.  

A Fox News poll released Wednesday shows that 38 percent of voters think the fight over “Fast and Furious” is better described as a “cover up by the White House,” while 32 percent say it is a “witch hunt by Congressional Republicans.”  Twelve percent say it’s both and 18 percent don’t have an opinion either way.  

The contempt of Congress vote is scheduled for Thursday.

Click here for full poll results.

Congress is investigating the botched government operation that allowed thousands of guns to be smuggled to criminals in Mexico.  One of the weapons is believed to have been used to kill a U.S. border agent.  Holder has refused to turn over certain requested documents related to Fast and Furious, and President Obama has invoked executive privilege to keep from having to give those documents to Congress.  This marks the first time Obama has invoked executive privilege -- the power claimed by presidents to withhold information from other branches of government.

Views split over what the president’s use of executive privilege means:  43 percent think it shows the administration is “hiding something,” and 42 percent say it means the White House has a “legitimate reason” for using the privilege.  

Obama critics say his decision to keep some of the Fast and Furious documents secret goes against his 2008 campaign pledge to have the most open and transparent administration ever.  The poll shows that a third of voters think he’s met that commitment.  Some 25 percent say the Obama administration is less open and transparent than previous administrations, and another 39 percent say it’s about as transparent as others.  

Current views are almost identical to those in Fox polls taken in 2010 and 2011, suggesting that -- as of now -- the president’s use of executive privilege hasn’t moved opinion.  

Just over half of voters say the government operation was a “bad idea from the start” (54 percent).  About a third of voters think it was a “good idea that went bad” (34 percent).  

About half of voters are closely paying attention to the controversy surrounding Fast and Furious.  “Very” conservative voters (69 percent) and those who are part of the Tea Party movement (71 percent) are significantly more likely than other groups to say they are closely following it.

The Fox News poll is based on landline and cell phone interviews with 912 randomly-chosen registered voters nationwide and is conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from June 24 to June 26.  For the total sample, it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.