From NBC's Pete Williams
Having failed to get a vote expressing no confidence in Attorney General Gonzales, four Senate Democrats today tried a new approach -- asking the Justice Department to investigate him.
In a letter to the Justice Department's solicitor general, Paul Clement, they ask him to appoint a special counsel with an exceptionally broad mandate -- to investigate whether Gonzales made false statements to Congress, whether the Justice Department has been inappropriately politicized, and whether improper political influence was involved in the decision not to prosecute any potential contempt of Congress charge.
The Justice Department says in each case of Gonzales's statements, there's an explanation that shows he was not lying to Congress.
So far, no Republicans are involved in the request for a special counsel. Sen. Arlen Specter said this morning that he thinks appointing a special prosecutor on the contempt issue would be "harsh," and indicated he thinks the public wouldn't support it.
The Democrats address their letter to Clement, because both Gonzales and his deputy were involved in the US attorney firings and have recused themselves. The associate attorney general is only in an acting position, so Clement has been assigned to handle these issues.
****UPDATE****NBC's Kelly O'Donnell has this response from a senior White House official:
"Every day congressional Democrats prove that they're more interested in headlines than doing the business Americans want them to do. And Americans are now taking notice that this Congress, under Democratic leadership, is failing to tackle important issues."