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SALT LAKE CITY — A House special investigative committee looking into various allegations against Utah Attorney General John Swallow will now begin its work in earnest.
"The pace will accelerate," said Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, the committee chairman. "We have the horses now and we're riding them."
Those "horses" make up a team of high-priced attorneys and investigators the panel hired to gather facts about alleged improprieties involving the first-term Republican attorney general.
Two of them, lead attorney Steven Reich of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld in Washington, D.C., and lead investigator James Mintz made their first appearance before the committee Wednesday.
"We very much appreciate the trust this committee has placed in us," Reich said, promising to conduct a "full, fair and impartial" inquiry.
"We plan to follow the facts wherever they lead," said Mintz, president of the New York-based Mintz Group. The House estimates the investigation could cost as much as $3 million.
The investigative team has a daunting task to conduct what Dunnigan described as an "all-encompassing" investigation. Federal, state and county agencies already are investigating accusations that Swallow helped arrange to bribe a U.S. senator, violated state campaign finance laws and engaged in influence peddling. He has denied any wrongdoing.
"I think there's still some very valuable information out there. I think the more we get into this indicates there is still more information that needs to be gleaned," Dunnigan said.
Reich, who will make $740 an hour, laid out options for an investigative plan that includes culling public and nonpublic records and interviewing witnesses. He acknowledged the committee would consider using its subpoena power for those who won't cooperate. He also said he wants to coordinate with other investigative bodies.
"Documents help us understand what witnesses we'd like to approach. But at the same time, witnesses help us understand what documents we ought to be asking for," he said.
Reich said he's confident that in addition to witnesses who have identified themselves on the public record, there are people in the community who want to come forward with information.
Documents help us understand what witnesses we'd like to approach. But at the same time, witnesses help us understand what documents we ought to be asking for.
–lead attorney Steven Reich of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld in Washington, D.C.
The committee created a form on paper and on the Utah Legislature's website for people who want to talk to an investigator. Legislative general counsel John Fellows said the form will not be a public document, at least while the investigation is active.
Investigators will report to the committee every two weeks, though not in a public meeting. Some witnesses will testify before the committee, but only after their information is vetted for accuracy, said Reich, who worked as deputy chief investigative counsel to the Democrats during impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton and most recently for the U.S. Department of Justice.
"I don't know that we just want to provide all information to the public. We certainly want to validate it before we do that," Dunnigan said. "But we want to do everything that we can do publicly without jeopardizing our investigation."
The committee has until the end of 2014 to finish the investigation, though Dunnigan said he hopes it doesn't take that long.
"It's going to take time, but we want to do this right," he said.
Dunnigan said he's conscious of the investigation's estimated $3 million price tag. Though the lead attorney's hourly rate is expensive, he said much of the work will be done by associates who bill as low as $116 an hour.
Contributing: Richard Piatt