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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah House members will wade into uncharted waters Wednesday when they consider creating a special committee to investigate embattled Attorney General John Swallow.
Though not a formal impeachment proceeding, the committee's findings could lead to that, which would be a first for the Utah Legislature involving a statewide elected official.
Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, has set a deliberate course for a task she described as neither pleasant nor easy.
"We’ve never done this before. We've made the decision to move forward with an investigation. It's going to take time and effort and resources. We shouldn't take it lightly," Lockhart said.
Pros and cons of a legislative investigation
Setting up a special investigative committee comes with political pros and cons.
"The pros begin with the public really wanting something to get done here," said Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics. "I think the House has felt a fair amount of pressure to get started on some sort of investigation."
The downside, Jowers said, is the time and money an inquiry would take, and that several other investigations into Swallow are already going on.
A legislative probe likely would take months, and because other investigations are pending, lawmakers could move slowly waiting for an outcome.
Democrats have complained that the proposed nine-member committee would be dominated by Republicans, who own a supermajority in the House. Democrats have called for 10-member panel, evenly split between the two parties.
"There can't be a tinge of partisanism," said Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who also serves as the Utah Democratic Party chairman. "This is a slap in the face to everyone who wants a fair and impartial hearing."
Lockhart said she understands the concerns and they will be weighed when the House meets Wednesday to discuss a resolution to create the special investigative committee.
The process outlined
The House Rules Committee will hold a hearing on the proposed resolution at 8 a.m. The full House will convene at 10 a.m. to debate and vote on the proposal.
The panel would be charged with investigating allegations against Swallow, a Republican, while he served as chief deputy attorney general, as a candidate for attorney general and as attorney general. It also spells out that the committee could look at allegations against Swallow going back to 1990, when the Utah State Bar admitted him, that relate to his fitness to serve in those positions.
At the end of the investigation, the committee would submit a report to the House, including the need for any legislation. The resolution does not set any time frames or deadlines for the panel to complete its work but includes a Dec. 31, 2014, repeal date.
The U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Section is investigating Swallow, as are the Salt Lake County district attorney and the Davis County attorney, both related to his dealings with indicted and imprisoned Utah businessmen. The lieutenant governor's office is appointing special counsel to look into alleged election law violations.
Swallow steadfastly denies any wrongdoing.
Contributing: Richard Piatt