THE WRONG THREAT…. Of all the various arguments against holding Bush administration officials accountable for alleged wrongdoing, this is probably the least persuasive.

Republican senators used a hearing Thursday with Attorney General Eric Holder to discourage an investigation into torture under the Bush administration. Both Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Richard Shelby of Alabama suggested that they would push hard to expand any probe of the CIA’s “rendition” program and other legally and morally questionable tactics to include the Clinton administration, as well as members of Congress who were briefed on interrogation methods.

In other words, it’s all just a partisan game. If there’s an effort to apply the rule of law to Bush administration officials, Republicans might want decide to seek justice on a broader scale. And wouldn’t that be awful.

In this sense, legal accountability for criminal wrongdoing, ensuring that no one is above the law, is not a bedrock principle of a mature democracy, it’s a bargaining chip. Don’t make us go there, Sens. Alexander and Shelby warn. If you investigate alleged crimes committed by guys who play for our team, we’ll want to investigate alleged crimes committed by guys on your team, they caution the attorney general.

For all I know, some Democrats on the Hill or in the administration might find this persuasive. But to me, it doesn’t sound like much of a threat. If Republican lawmakers have reliable evidence of officials in Democratic administrations committing war crimes, I think they should bring it forward. If these GOP members are willing to support an investigation of Bush-era wrongdoing if the probe will also consider alleged crimes committed by Democratic officials, that sounds like a deal most reasonable Dems should jump at.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.