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Lawmakers return to make changes to AG probe

By Associated Press and Haley Smith, Associated Press | Posted - Jul 17th, 2013 @ 8:57pm



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SALT LAKE CITY — A special session of the Utah Legislature begins Wednesday. The biggest issue the group will deal with is the investigation of Attorney General John Swallow.

The legislature will name a house committee to investigate Swallow. The main focus of the session is to ensure the committee has the ability to close meetings and keep records private during that investigation.

Swallow has been dogged by misconduct allegations since January and is the subject of federal and state investigations. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but the House of Representatives has tasked a special committee with looking into the allegations.

Gov. Gary Herbert has called for lawmakers to convene in a special session Wednesday to address issues regarding the committee's powers of subpoena and ability to offer immunity.

Lawmakers are also planning changes to ensure they can hire special counsel from outside the state and exempt the committee from some open records and public meeting laws. House Speaker Becky Lockhart plans to announce members of the committee Wednesday, as well.

The Utah House created the nine-member panel earlier this month, in what could be the first step in a possible impeachment of the state's top law enforcement officer. The committee will deliver a factual report to the House but will not make a recommendation on what action should be taken against Swallow. A House vote for impeachment would lead to a trial in the Senate.

The controversy surrounding Swallow emerged shortly after he took office in January.

Also on the agenda
HB155
Gov. Herbert wants to modify and clarify parts of HB155, which limits federal law enforcement authority on public lands in Utah. He said not clarifying the bill poses a risk to the public because there could be misunderstanding of the federal government's authority on public lands.

Here are some of the changes the governor hopes to make:

  • To lay out the authority of federal law enforcement officers in Utah, listing specifically which U.S. agencies have jurisdiction in which areas of Utah.
  • To define more specifically the roles federal employees, like U.S. marshals, special agents or inspectors, have in Utah.
The governor said Utah does not recognize the authority of any U.S. Forest Service employees who are not certified law enforcement officers.

Several legislative leaders support the changes but want to bring it back for consideration next year, which means repeal is possible.

Deep Creek Ranch settlement
Gov. Herbert is also asking lawmakers to approve a settlement in a long-standing case involving the state Armory Board's attempted purchase of Deep Creek Ranch, nearly 800 acres of property in Tooele County.

Utah businessman Jeremy Johnson, who's facing federal fraud charges related to his Internet businesses, accused the new attorney general of arranging a plan to bribe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in order to suppress a federal probe of Johnson's businesses.

The FBI is investigating those allegations, which Swallow and Reid both deny.

Another businessman who was convicted of fraud charges has accused Swallow and former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff of offering or suggesting protection from regulators in exchange for cash and spa vacations. Both have denied wrongdoing.

Swallow served as Shurtleff's fundraiser. He also was chief deputy in the attorney general's office before he succeeded Shurtleff.

Legislators have directed their investigative committee to include allegations from as far back as 2009, when Swallow joined Shurtleff's office.

Swallow also is the subject of two complaints with the Utah State Bar. And the Lt. Governor's Office, which oversees elections, is bringing on outside attorneys to investigate campaign disclosure complaints against Swallow.

As new allegations or investigations have emerged, Swallow has continued to deny any misdoings or violations. Two fellow Republicans have publicly called on him to resign, something he says he will not do.

Swallow maintains he has nothing to hide and says all investigations will clear his name.

Video Contributing:Richard Piatt

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