Impeach John Swallow? The buzz is building in Utah House
Republican House members have set aside their entire caucus meeting in June to discuss options for responding to the scandal engulfing Attorney General John Swallow.
"It's my responsibility to let our caucus know that, as a leadership team, we are not ignoring what may or may not happen," said House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden. "We're not ignoring the situation."
Meantime, the Swallow chatter among House members appears to be growing, with an informal survey of some representatives aimed at gauging the chamber's willingness to move ahead with impeachment of the Republican attorney general.
Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, was one of those calling colleagues to take the temperature of the House.
"We spoke informally to several members in the body. Everyone is concerned and wants to do the right thing for the state, and everyone is taking this issue very seriously," he said. "This is not something we're going to approach haphazardly."
McCay said he shared the information he gathered with House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.
"The information is valuable to leadership," he said, "to know where the body is on this issue."
Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, received one of the calls asking if he would support impeaching Swallow. Kennedy said he was still gathering information and planned to wait and see how the process unfolds.
"I'd prefer a natural unfolding," he said, "rather than people like me or others trying to get a certain outcome."
But the calls point to a behind-the-scenes push within the House to more assertively address the ballooning scandal.
Impeachment proceedings, if it comes to that, would begin with a resolution filed in the House, an investigation and a vote to impeach. The stage then would shift to the Senate, which would hold a trial and vote on punishment. It would take a two-thirds vote in both chambers to act.
Dee said House leaders are aware the calls are being made, but "not obviously encouraging that."
"I would again prefer that we gather information," he said, "and we don't have our minds made up on any of these issues before we even hear the facts."
Dee said members are also fielding questions from constituents about Swallow and that it makes sense, just in case, for them to discuss the impeachment process or other options.
He doubts the Republican caucus will take a position one way or the other at the June 19 caucus meeting. Most of the gathering will likely be open to the public, he said, but the end may be closed to discuss issues unrelated to Swallow.
"This is uncharted territory for all of us," Dee, Lockhart and their fellow House leaders wrote in an email to GOP members Wednesday evening. "We owe it to our constituents to approach this with as much information as possible, and with an open mind."
Last week, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, became the first legislator from either party to call for Swallow's resignation. Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, said that he believes Swallow should take a leave of absence until the federal and state investigation is completed.
Swallow's spokesman, Paul Murphy, said last week that resignation is off the table and urged lawmakers to wait before acting.
"The attorney general has not broken any laws and has no plans to resign," Murphy said. "We would hope these representatives would put their faith in the justice system instead of a trial by the media."
Swallow's conduct and that of his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff has been the subject of a federal investigation since last year. The inquiry is being done in cooperation with the Salt Lake and Davis county attorneys.
The lieutenant governor is in the process of hiring a special counsel to investigate whether Swallow concealed business interests from his personal financial disclosure. And at least two complaints have been filed with the Utah State Bar, alleging Swallow violated attorney ethical standards.
The allegations revolve around Swallow's dealings with indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson, promises of special consideration if businessmen donated to the Attorney General's Office; and using Johnson's houseboat and taking trips to the luxurious home of Marc Sessions Jenson, while Jenson was free on a plea deal with the office.
Jenson says Swallow was also present in 2009 when Shurtleff asked Jenson to pay $2 million to another businessman, Darl McBride, in an attempt by Shurtleff to take down a website critical of Mark Robbins, Jenson's former business partner. In a recording of a meeting with McBride, Shurtleff said he could get the money from Jenson because of his plea deal.
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