[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/09/art.getty.leahy.jpg
caption="Sen. Patrick Leahy's comments are likely to re-ignite a simmering debate about how actively to focus on past political and legal policy disputes."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - A key Democrat Monday called for the formation of a commission to launch a wide-ranging investigation of alleged wrongdoing by the Bush administration's Justice Department.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, called establishment of such a commission a "middle ground" between those who are demanding prosecutions, and those who simply want to put past disputes to rest.
"I don't want to embarrass anybody. I don't want to punish anybody. I just want the truth to come out so this never happens again," Leahy told a student audience at the Georgetown University Law Center.
A senior Republican dismissed Leahy's proposal as "politics as usual."
Leahy said he wanted a "truth and reconciliation commission" to conduct a "comprehensive" investigation into what he called illegal warrantless wiretapping and torture as well as politically-motivated hirings and firings.
He said he was open to whether such a commission would be congressionally appointed or would include Administration-appointed members similar to the 9/11 Commission. He did say any such commission should have power to subpoena witnesses and be able to grant immunity from prosecution except for perjury.
Leahy's comments are likely to re-ignite a simmering debate about how actively to focus on past political and legal policy disputes.
Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama have indicated they are cool to focusing too heavily on past arguments, with the President warning against "criminalizing policy disputes".
Holder has promised some unspecified internal reviews at the Justice Department.
Holder's office had no immediate comment on Leahy's remarks.
House Democrats led by Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers have urged an aggressive approach to holding Republican partisans accountable for Justice Department failures during eight years under three Attorneys General.
Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans have strongly rejected any further investigations.
The top House Judiciary Committee GOP member Monday blasted Leahy's proposal.
"No good purpose is served by continuing to persecute those who served in the previous administration," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. "President Obama promised to usher in an era of "change" and bipartisan harmony. Unfortunately, the continued effort by some Democrats to unjustly malign former Bush Administration officials is politics as usual," Smith said.
Smith cited the four detailed reports stemming from Inspector General investigations, and said recommendations made have been implemented. He said Democrats also had already conducted a two year inquiry in public hearings.
"Rather than continuing to waste taxpayers time and money on fruitless finger-pointing, Congress should focus on the future and what we can do to help the American people during these difficult times," Smith added.