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SALT LAKE CITY — In an unprecedented move, the Utah House of Representatives created a special committee Wednesday to investigate a statewide elected official accused of wrongdoing on several fronts.
A nine-member panel with subpoena power and the ability to interview witnesses now has the authority to launch an investigation into embattled Attorney General John Swallow. House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, has not yet appointed the committee members.
"We are at the heart of this dealing with public trust," said Rep. Dean Sanpei, R-Provo, who sponsored the resolution creating the committee.
House members debated the issue for about two hours before approving the resolution 69-3.
Much of the discussion centered on the scope of the investigation. In the end, lawmakers narrowed it to Swallow's time as chief deputy attorney general, a candidate for attorney general and as attorney general. However, the committee could by majority vote look at allegations of misconduct outside those periods if they pertain to his fitness to hold elected office.
A difference in opinion
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, tried unsuccessfully to delay the vote because the resolution does not include standards for gathering evidence or burden of proof. Ivory said he's "deeply troubled and upset" with the process.
"It does not give pause and reflection to the moment we're in and doing it right," he said. "This offends the constitutional process that we are."
But Sanpei said the House must move forward to gather the information it needs to restore and assure public trust in the attorney general's office.
"Delays and delays have the same effect as no action," he said.
Swallow plans to cooperate
Swallow, a Republican, reiterated Wednesday that he has nothing to hide and that he would cooperate with "any fair and lawful investigation."
If this were a Democrat attorney general, the media would be howling that the Republicans were lynching or thinking of lynching a member of the other party that's not in control of that Legislature. I feel like it should go both ways.
–Attorney General John Swallow
"(But) this has morphed into something that could get crazy," he said.
Swallow said he's concerned the Legislature's investigation could go too far and become dominated by politics.
"If this were a Democrat attorney general, the media would be howling that the Republicans were lynching or thinking of lynching a member of the other party that's not in control of that Legislature. I feel like it should go both ways," he said on KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show."
Democrats said the committee should be evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The GOP owns a supermajority in the House. That issue is likely to be debated on the House floor.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said the committee must rise above partisan politics.
"This is not a matter of Republican versus Democrat," King said.
Legislative fiscal analysts estimate an investigation could cost as much as $3 million, not including litigation should the committee's authority be challenged in court.
Though not a formal impeachment proceeding, the committee's findings could lead to that result, which would be a first for the Utah Legislature involving a statewide elected official.
At the end of the investigation, the committee will submit a report to the speaker but not make recommendations. The resolution does not have a specific deadline for committee 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 also is the subject of two complaints filed with the Utah State Bar.
Swallow denies any wrongdoing.