WASHINGTON -- Thursday's vote on holding the attorney general of the United States in contempt of Congress is being watched closely by the National Rifle Association, which says it will give bad marks to those lawmakers who don't condemn Eric Holder over his handling of Operation Fast and Furious and its aftermath.

But why is the NRA even involved? What does any of this have to do with gun rights?

Strange as it may sound, Republicans in Congress are arguing that the Justice Department deliberately allowed the anti-gun trafficking operation to unfold in a way that would create a crisis, outraging the public and giving Democrats the cover to implement stricter gun controls.

"Oh my God. It has nothing to do with the Second Amendment," Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) marveled to HuffPost. "This has nothing to do with the Second Amendment, for crying out loud."

Leading Republicans disagree. In April, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who has been spearheading the congressional investigation of Fast and Furious, presented the case for conspiracy at an NRA conference.

"Could it be that what they really were thinking of was, in fact, to use this 'walking' of guns in order to promote an assault weapons ban? Many think so. And they haven't come up with an explanation that would cause any of us not to agree," Issa said.

(A Fortune magazine investigation has shown that many assertions about the operation and related accusations leveled at the Justice Department are simply false and that "the public case alleging that [Fast and Furious] walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies." The department did not intentionally allow illegal guns to pass into the hands of criminals. Rather, it tracked people illegally buying and trafficking weapons, but was unable to arrest them because of the country's loose gun laws -- laws advocated by the NRA. )

Republicans making the most brazen conspiracy charges have often crafted their broadside in hypothetical terms, using the tried and true we're-not-saying-but-we're-just-saying formulation.

In July 2011, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who has been the lead Senate investigator of Fast and Furious, told CNSNews.com that he suspected ulterior motives. "My suspicion is they don't like the Second Amendment the way it is, and they want to do everything they can to hurt guns and restrict guns, and so they could have been building a case for that. But I can't prove that," he said.

"If the American people learn that the motivations for all of this was to make a case to deprive them of their Second Amendment rights or to make a case to further the [Justice] Department's ability to further regulate gun rights within the United States, that would make them very angry," said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).

Some Republicans, however, haven't bothered to cloak their charges in uncertainty. "Frankly, I believe that it was set up to go wrong in order to deal with Second Amendment liberties of law-abiding citizens and pushing it to a perception that it was the problem of the Second Amendment as opposed to law enforcement," Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Ill.) said at a committee hearing.

GOP leaders know that the party's base is ripe for conspiracy theories, whether it's about the birthplace of the president or his desire to create "death panels" to kill grandma. In April of this year, speaking to an NRA audience, Issa made it clear just how much the party is relying on those supporters to connect the dots. "Today, I don't come here to explain how in fact this came to be. I will rely on you to understand that if there is no explanation that makes good sense, there can only be an explanation that makes the sense of ulterior motives of unthinkable proportions," he said.

But just in case a few in the audience were still skeptical, moments later Issa told the crowd that Fast and Furious "can be seen as nothing else but" the conspiracy he suggested earlier.

"Our constitutional liberties must be defended first and foremost," he said. "And Fast and Furious can be seen as nothing else but, in fact, a needless attack on our right to keep and bear arms, because as you promote lawlessness with weapons knowingly, you can reach no conclusion but that the American people will be asked again to give up their right to keep and bear arms, because lawless individuals are using weapons ill-gotten."

Got that?

Also on HuffPost:

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  • From left, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Md., Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., Rep, Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, and many House Democrats walk out of the Capitol during the vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, Thursday, June 28, 2012, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., left, and the committee's ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., go to the House Rules Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 27, 2012, to argue procedures as the House of Representatives prepares to vote on whether Attorney General Eric Holder is in contempt of Congress because he has refused to give the Oversight Committee all the documents it wants related to Operation Fast and Furious, the flawed gun-smuggling probe involving Mexican drug cartels. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., left, stretches out her hand to get the attention of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as the panel considers a vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member, sits between them. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20: House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) (C) talks with raking member U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) (L) during a mark up hearing on Capitol Hill June 20, 2012 in Washington, DC. Issa and the committee Republicans called the hearing to vote on holding U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over documents the GOP says are key to their investigation into the failed Fast and Furious operation. Before the start of the hearing, the White House asserted the documents are protected by executive privilidge. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., center, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, confers with an aide as the panel considers a vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member, second from left, speaks with Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who authored an amendment in support of Holder. In a showdown with President Barack Obama's administration, House Republicans had pressed for more Justice Department documents on the flawed gun-smuggling probe known as Operation Fast and Furious that resulted in hundreds of guns illicitly purchased in Arizona gun shops winding up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, center, debates Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee considers a vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., right, considers whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member, speaks at left. In a showdown with President Barack Obama's administration, House Republicans are pressing for more Justice Department documents on the flawed gun-smuggling probe known as Operation Fast and Furious that resulted in hundreds of guns illicitly purchased in Arizona gun shops winding up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20: House Oversight and Government Reform raking member U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) (R) hears from U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) during a mark up hearing with June 20, 2012 in Washington, DC. Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and the committee Republicans called the hearing to vote on holding U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over documents the GOP says are key to their investigation into the failed Fast and Furious operation. Before the start of the hearing, the White House asserted the documents are protected by executive privilidge. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Attorney General Eric holder speaks to reporters following his meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. Holder wants a House panel to drop plans to try to hold him in contempt of Congress, and the panel's chairman wants more Justice Department documents regarding Operation Fast and Furious, a flawed gun-smuggling probe in Arizona. Holder and Rep. Issa met in an effort to resolve their dispute over the investigation of Fast and Furious by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Issa chairs.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., speaks to reporters following his meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. Holder wants a House panel to drop plans to try to hold him in contempt of Congress, and the panel's chairman wants more Justice Department documents regarding Operation Fast and Furious, a flawed gun-smuggling probe in Arizona. Holder and Issa met in an effort to resolve their dispute over the investigation of Fast and Furious by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Issa chairs. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • Attorney General Eric Holder speaks to reporters following his meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. Holder wants a House panel to drop plans to try to hold him in contempt of Congress, and the panel's chairman wants more Justice Department documents regarding Operation Fast and Furious, a flawed gun-smuggling probe in Arizona. Holder and Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, met in an effort to resolve their dispute over the investigation of Fast and Furious by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Issa chairs. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • Attorney General Eric Holder walks through Statuary Hall to speak to reporters following his meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • FILE -In this Dec. 8, 2011 file photo, House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., left, shakes hands with Attorney General Eric Holder on Capitol Hill in Washington. Holder is proposing to meet with Issa by Monday to settle a dispute over Justice Department documents the congressman is demanding on a flawed gun-smuggling probe. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)