Utah lawmakers return to address Swallow issue; may adjust GRAMA

Jul 17 2013 - 10:31am

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Utah Attorney General John Swallow
Utah Attorney General John Swallow

 

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Legislature is returning Wednesday to adjust the powers of the committee investigating Attorney General John Swallow.
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.

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 publically 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.

Rules for the Legislature's John Swallow Probe

1. GRAMA rules will be adjusted so some records may be temporarily protected, if the release of that information would negatively impact the ongoing criminal investigations or the committee's investigation.

2. The state's Open Meetings law will also be adjusted to allow the committee to question some witnesses in private, if the testimony of the witnesses would interfere with ongoing criminal investigations.

3. Clarification will be made to allow the Legislative General Counsel to grant immunity, so any testimony given before the committee by a witness cannot be used against that witness in a criminal proceeding. 

4. The chair of the investigative committee will have subpoena power.

The amendments are part of HB1001, sponsored by Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, and co-sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton.

 

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