President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney sparred over several legal issues during Tuesday night’s debate, including the controversy over the flawed Operation Fast and Furious gun-trafficking sting.

Romney brought up the role of the Obama administration in the Fast and Furious operation during a question about gun control. It was the most high-profile attempt in this campaign season to connect the White House to the controversy.

But as an introduction to voters, Romney was short on specifics and hedged about the details of the program, in which federal agents allowed straw buyers to purchase firearms in the United States and transport them to Mexico.

Romney called the death of a border patrol agent, connected to one of the guns in the operation, as “one of the great tragedies related to violence” during the Obama administration.

Romney said that “thousands of automatic and AK-47 type weapons were given to people that ultimately gave them to Mexican drug lords. They used those weapons against their own citizens and killed Americans with them.”

He said he would like to understand more about the program. “It’s been investigated to a degree, but the administration has put in place executive privilege to prevent all this information from coming out.”

The question of executive privilege is now part of a federal lawsuit filed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is seeking to enforce a subpoena for documents related to Fast and Furious.

Obama did not address those comments during the debate. In a 90-minute, “town meeting” style exchange, the candidates often spoke over each other while addressing other legal issues.

Romney sniped at immigration lawyers: “I don’t think you should hire a lawyer to get into this country legally,” Romney said. “We should make sure our legal system works.”

Obama said he would reintroduce an assault weapons ban. “I also share your belief that weapons designed for soldiers in war arenas don’t belong on our streets,” he told the questioner.

Contact Todd Ruger at truger@alm.com.