WASHINGTON - A group of 62 House lawmakers is asking the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Ohio) said Wednesday that a letter from the group to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. requested an immediate opening of a criminal probe.

"On the face of the SEC filing, criminal fraud on a historic scale seems to have occurred in this instance," the letter said.

The lawmakers were mostly Democrats.

Also on Wednesday, Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who leads the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said Goldman Sachs crossed ethical lines in selling complex financial securities called collateralized debt obligations to clients while standing to gain from their losses.

Levin, who questioned Goldman Sachs executives during a hearing in Washington on Tuesday, said the regulatory-reform bill being weighed in the Senate would address conflicts in which companies have undisclosed interest in betting against clients.

But former President Bill Clinton said he was skeptical that Goldman Sachs broke the law, though he added that the federal government's lawsuit against the firm highlighted the growth of financial transactions with "no underlying merit."

Clinton added, "I'm not at all sure they violated the law, but I do believe that there was no underlying merit to the transaction, and that's what I think we need to look at." The civil-fraud suit alleges that Goldman Sachs misled investors in a mortgage-linked investment.

Meanwhile, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission said Wednesday that there was no connection between the timing of the agency's fraud charges against Goldman Sachs and efforts in the Senate to speed passage of sweeping legislation overhauling financial regulation.

SEC chairman Mary Schapiro was speaking to a Senate panel weighing the agency's budget request.

Some Republicans have accused the SEC of timing the April 16 announcement of the suit to bolster prospects for the legislation, now at a critical stage in the Senate.