A Democratic lawyer who played a key role in the House impeachment and Senate acquittal of then-President Bill Clinton will spearhead Utah's historic inquiry into Attorney General John Swallow.
Officials announced Friday the selection of New York-based Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP as the special counsel to the Utah House committee investigating the state's embattled Republican attorney general.
The Akin Gump team will be led by Steven Reich, who was deputy chief investigative counsel for the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee during Clinton's 1998 impeachment and later served as counsel to Democrats in the Senate trial, where Clinton was cleared.
Reich also worked as lead counsel in the legislative investigation of Connecticut Gov. John Rowland in 2004. That probe uncovered air travel given to the Republican governor by state contractors that federal investigators had overlooked and ultimately led to criminal charges and Rowland's resignation.
"The firm has strong experience right where we need it," said Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, who heads the Utah House investigative committee. "We'll also have the benefit of an exemplary lead attorney in Steven Reich."
Reich served as an associate White House counsel under Clinton and was named associate deputy attorney general by President Barack Obama. He also led the Justice Department's response to Congress' investigation into the "Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal."
"No one at the department is irreplaceable, but Steve comes close," Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a statement when Reich left Justice in March. "He has served the department with honor and dedication and I have come to rely on his counsel."
Reich will be joined in the Swallow probe by Steven Ross, who was general counsel to the U.S. House and leads Akin Gump's congressional investigations practice.
Swallow's attorney, Rod Snow, said Friday he doesn't know Reich but expects that he is a good attorney. He said he doesn't anticipate Reich's past work for Democrats to be a concern.
"I don't know him personally, so I can't say if it is or not," Snow said, but "generally speaking" he anticipates Reich will be professional and objective.
Sixty-one law firms nationwide competed for the job. The field was narrowed to 10 last week, and a five-member committee conducted interviews with the finalist this week. State officials now will negotiate a contract and an hourly rate with Akin Gump.
The counsel will essentially lead the House probe of Swallow, working with the legislative general counsel's office to plan strategy, issue subpoenas, interview witnesses and take sworn depositions.
Budget analysts project the inquiry could cost up to $3 million.
The special committee is one of five ongoing investigations of Swallow, who is accused of, among other accusations, helping a major donor to the campaign of his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, try to avoid a federal investigation into his businesses, promising special treatment for donors and accepting improper gifts.
The U.S. Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section has an ongoing investigation as do two Utah county attorneys. The lieutenant governor's office has hired a special counsel to examine issues relating to Swallow's financial reporting, and at least two complaints have been filed with the Utah State Bar.
Swallow, who took office in January, has denied any wrongdoing and pledged to cooperate with the House committee. The panel consists of five Republicans and four Democrats.