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House expected to begin Swallow hearings next month

Published November 21, 2013 6:57 am

Investigation • Witnesses will be called to testify in public; probe's price tag nears $1.5 million.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah House investigation of Attorney General John Swallow is expected to enter a new phase next month when a special committee begins interviewing witnesses and presenting evidence in public hearings.

Investigators already have interviewed about 140 witnesses and issued 15 subpoenas in the three-month probe.

The inquiry's price tag is approaching $1.5 million, including $300,000 spent on court proceedings trying to gain access to information.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, chairman of the bipartisan committee, told the House GOP caucus Wednesday that such fact-finding investigations take time and money, but he believes this probe is worthwhile.

The panel's work has been hampered, Dunnigan said, by missing emails and other data from Swallow's electronic devices — including new questions about a campaign iPad the Republican attorney general lost in Washington, D.C., in February and a personal cellphone that Swallow said in a text message he replaced last November.

Last Friday, 3rd District Judge Su Chon signed an order granting the committee access to copies of hard drives and servers in the attorney general's office in an attempt to recover emails, calendar entries and other electronic data lost when Swallow's state-issued laptop and desktop computers were replaced late last year.

Dunnigan said the panel has those copies now and has hired a computer-forensic expert to try to recover data from those devices, as well as from Swallow's home computer, which crashed in January.

Some lawmakers appeared surprised by the investigation's cost, and one, Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, questioned whether the allegations, if proven, could lead to Swallow's impeachment.

Legislative general counsel John Fellows said the committee is not focused on impeachment and that it would be up to lawmakers to decide that standard.

Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, a member of the investigative committee, said he is impressed by how hard investigators are working.

"As a practicing attorney, I've never seen an investigation go so quickly," he said, "and the amount of work and effort that has been put forward by both Jim and our legal counsel."

But Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who had expressed concerns that the investigation lacked a clear, defined scope and objective, said the cost is accelerating faster than he thought.

"We still seem to have a blank check and no goal posts," Ivory said. "We can launch a $3 million investigation into anyone until we find what we think we can find to justify that we went looking. I'm not comfortable with that."

The House created the committee in June. It hired a special counsel and investigators in August to start examining a string of allegations against Swallow, ranging from attempted bribery to acceptance of gifts and favors.

Swallow, who took office in January, denies wrongdoing.

gehrke@sltrib.com