What really happened in Fast and Furious?

June 27, 2012, 2:00 PM UTC

FORTUNE — One day ahead of a historic vote in which Congress may hold attorney general Eric Holder in contempt for failing to turn over documents in an investigation of a now-notorious ATF gun-trafficking operation, Fortune.com has released an article by Katherine Eban entitled “The Truth About the Fast & Furious Scandal” that questions many of the widely accepted and fundamental “facts” about the case.

Fast and Furious is typically portrayed as a flawed action in which ATF agents in Arizona intentionally allowed thousands of weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. But the Fortune.com article, based on six months of interviews with seven agents involved in the case, 32 other sources, and 2,000 pages of confidential government documents, concludes that the ATF never had such a policy. ATF agents consistently tried to interdict guns, Fortune.com reports, but were repeatedly hamstrung by a combination of weak federal laws and prosecutors who interpreted those statutes narrowly. ATF agents proposed the arrest and indictment of more than two dozen gun trafficking suspects in the case in 2010, but prosecutors did not act until two weapons tracked by the ATF were found at the scene of the murder of a federal agent.

For the first time, the lead agent in the Fast and Furious case, Dave Voth, speaks out in the article, as do other agents. Linda Wallace, a special agent with the IRS’s criminal investigation unit, who was detailed to the case, is quoted saying, “Republican senators are whipping up the country into a psychotic frenzy with these reports that are patently false.”

The article, which you can read here tracks how the case grew out of toxic personal relationships inside the ATF, compounded by frustrations with the laws and restrictions on what the agents could do, all of it intensified by the tragic death of a federal agent. That mix was then amplified by a cadre of right-wing bloggers, the article asserts, who then channeled the story to the media and to Republican representatives and Senators, who have spent more than a year investigating the scandal and are now poised to hold a vote—the first such vote in U.S. history—to deem Holder in contempt of Congress.