WASHINGTON — Democratic House members, including several former prosecutors, introduced a measure Tuesday directing the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether to impeach Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales.
Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.), a co-sponsor of the measure, said the investigation was warranted given the questions about whether Gonzales misled Congress in testimony about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and about a secret government eavesdropping program.
"The resolution isn't for impeachment, it's an inquiry," Moore said. "If the investigation concludes that he misled Congress and gave false information or otherwise, I would certainly look into whether further action is necessary."
Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who was a prosecutor in Washington state in the late 1970s and '80s, is the lead sponsor of the measure.
Other sponsors are Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles, Michael A. Arcuri of New York, Ben Chandler of Kentucky, Bruce L. Braley of Iowa and Tom Udall of New Mexico.
Moore, who spent a dozen years as district attorney for Johnson County, Kan., has not called for Gonzales to resign, as a number of Democrats have. But the former prosecutor said the investigation was needed because "it's important to me that we have a justice system that we believe in that's fair."
The measure comes as Congress and White House aides worked Monday to expand the government's surveillance authority without jeopardizing citizens' rights.
The Bush administration also sought to soothe a sore spot in its relationship with lawmakers over a related matter -- whether Gonzales misled a Senate panel about internal dissent concerning the surveillance program, which nearly prompted mass resignations at the Justice Department.
Lawmakers from both parties have questioned Gonzales' truthfulness. Democrats and some Republicans have openly accused him of helping Bush exploit executive power at the expense of civil liberties and possibly beyond the law on an array of matters including secretive surveillance.
Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, said it was "unfortunate that confusion exists, but not surprising since such discussions in a public forum involve complicated classified activities, where the greatest care must be used not to compromise sensitive intelligence operations."
Gonzales "would not and has not ever intentionally misled Congress," Roehrkasse said.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto called the Democratic measure the "partisan attack of the day," and added: "Democrats are running through their list of partisan stunts -- subpoenas, investigations, hearings, special prosecutors, contempt, no-confidence votes -- to get headlines. Americans are tired of these partisan antics."
Inslee denied the move was a partisan stunt, and said he had long been critical of Gonzales.