Two Swallow probes about to make major advance
The expanding scrutiny of Utah Attorney General John Swallow will take major steps on two fronts this week:
First • House Speaker Becky Lockhart is expected to appoint members of a special House committee to investigate the state's top cop.
Second • The lieutenant governor plans to name a special counsel to probe questions surrounding Swallow's campaign-financial disclosures.
The House and Senate will meet in a special legislative session Wednesday to clarify the powers of the House committee and to allow some of the panel's work to be done in private.
The Republican-led House voted 69-3 earlier this month to create the committee, but issues arose relating to the chairman's authority to issue subpoenas and grant immunity to witnesses. Lawmakers also want panelists to have the authority to close meetings in which they discuss strategy, receive legal advice and interview witnesses whose public testimony could impede one of the ongoing criminal investigations.
Even so, House leaders have said they desire to keep the committee's work as open to the public as possible.
Lockhart, R-Provo, told House members in an email Friday that she will appoint the nine-member investigative committee when legislators gather Wednesday.
Appointment to the panel is entirely at the speaker's discretion, and Lockhart appears to have not shared her thoughts on the matter. Both House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, and Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, say they don't know who will be on the committee or what the partisan breakdown will be.
Lockhart was at a legislative conference in Scotland last week but said previously that she recognizes the gravity of her decision.
"Appointing the chair of this committee weighs on me heavily, because this is the person who will direct the work of the committee and potentially look at issuing subpoenas. And those kinds of things, we need the right person to do that," she said. "This isn't a walk in the park. This isn't easy. Nobody relishes in this."
Seelig said she has sent the speaker a list of 10 Democrats who have expressed a willingness to serve on the committee but did not rank them.
"People want to step up and recognize it's going to be a lot of hard work," Seelig said, "and they're willing to do it."
Democrats sought to give the committee an even four-four split between Republicans and Democrats or to let the chairman vote only to break ties. Both changes were voted down. Seelig said she still believes the best outcome is one in which the public has confidence that the outcome was not subject to partisanship.
Swallow, who is a Republican, is under investigation by federal, state and county officers. He faces a range of allegations, including accusations that he helped broker a bribe to a U.S. senator and received improper gifts.
He has denied wrongdoing and has pledged to cooperate with the committee, though he has expressed fears that the inquiry "could get crazy."
Meantime, the lieutenant governor's office should know by Monday who won the competition to be the special counsel investigating issues related to Swallow's financial-disclosure forms, although the public announcement may not come until later, said Mark Thomas, the office's chief deputy.
Thomas said Swallow's attorneys wanted an opportunity to raise potential conflicts of interest if there are any with the new counsel.
"We felt like it was a fair request they made," Thomas said. "Just because they have a conflict, or [Swallow's lawyers] say they have one, we'll decide if that's sufficient enough to move to the next-highest-scoring proposal or not."
Once the special counsel is named, Thomas said it would likely take a week to work out the contract before the work begins. Fourteen firms were competing for the counsel job, but Thomas said three or four "top-notch firms" rose above the rest.
The special counsel is being appointed to investigate issues raised in a complaint by the liberal-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah alleging Swallow intentionally concealed business interests and payments on his required candidate financial-disclosure forms, specifically his stake in two companies: P-Solutions and SSV.
P-Solutions is a company that was paid $23,500 by Richard Rawle, owner of the Provo-based Check City payday-loan chain. Rawle said in an affidavit before his death that the payment was for consulting work Swallow did on a Nevada cement project, which Swallow also says was the case.
Rawle received the money from Jeremy Johnson, who paid Rawle to help blunt a federal investigation into Johnson's I Works business. Swallow helped arrange the deal but says he received nothing for connecting the two.
After he was a candidate for attorney general, Swallow learned the money came from Johnson and asked for payment from another account.
Swallow removed his name as a manager of P-Solutions the same day he filed for office. His wife remains listed as a manager, but he did not list her interest in the company.
The special counsel will investigate three issues: Whether Swallow should have listed P-Solutions and SSV on his disclosures; whether he should have disclosed $8,500 paid to P-Solutions (the remaining $15,000 came outside the time frame when it would have to be disclosed); and whether he intentionally provided false information on the forms.
Swallow's attorney, Rod Snow, argued his client was not required to list P-Solutions or payments to the company because it is held in trust for his children. There is no mention of his children's trust on P-Solutions' incorporation documents filed with the state.
Snow has said that, if necessary, Swallow would amend his report, but he has not done so.
Special session Wednesday
P The Legislature is scheduled to meet in a special session Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. to clarify the powers of the House's special committee investigating Attorney General John Swallow. Lawmakers also will empower the panel to close some hearings and seal some records until its probe is complete.