CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ The state House today debated whether to censure rather than impeach Treasurer A. James Manchin for his handling of an investment fund that lost $279 million.

Delegate James Pitrolo, Manchin's chief defender, asked for censure, telling fellow lawmakers they were ''standing here today on the threshold of history. You will decide how we will be judged for the rest of our political lives.''

The House Judiciary Committee, in a 17-7 vote Monday, recommended 18 articles of impeachment against Manchin. If the House impeaches Manchin and the Senate convicts him, he will lose his job and possibly his pension, estimated at $2,128 a month.

''I have not harmed the people of this state in any way at all. There has been no proof of malfeasance. I do know that justice will prevail,'' the 61- year-old Manchin, a two-term Democrat, said Tuesday.

Before Pitrolo spoke, Democratic Delegate Ramona Cerra told the House she received three threatening telephone calls Tuesday night. She did not detail the nature of the threats or say from whom they came.

The House also was to consider a censure motion against Auditor Glen Gainer, 60, a four-term Democrat. He and Manchin served on the Board of Investments, which had general supervision of the fund.

Some delegates predicted a wide margin in favor of impeachment, which requires a simple majority, but Pitrolo said the vote would be close.

''I'm giving them an option to look at the evidence and arrive at a decision that while the evidence is not strong enough to warrant impeachment, there was evidence that some sort of action should be taken,'' Pitrolo said.

Delegate Marc Harman, who is leading the impeachment effort, called it ''a heart and mind issue, an emotional issue.''

The impeachment resolution said Manchin failed to supervise the state's consolidated investment fund, which was under the control of his office. It accused him for delegating too much authority, making improper investments, paying out interest that was not earned and covering up the losses.

Senate President Larry Tucker has notified the Senate to be ready to hear the case in late May if the House votes to impeach.

Twenty-three of the 34 senators would have to vote to convict.