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Some legislators say Swallow appeared headed for impeachment

Published December 28, 2013 6:41 pm

Politics • Embattled attorney general resigned before the Utah House could act on the panel's findings.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

John Swallow could well have become the first statewide official in Utah history to be impeached had the former attorney general not stepped down earlier this month.

So say several House committee members, who, after sitting through two days of shocking revelations about Swallow's conduct, reported they would have supported efforts to oust him from office.

"I think, based on what we heard, we definitely would have been on course for impeachment," said Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, a member of the House Special Investigative Committee.

The $3 million probe would have had to run its course before making any conclusions, said Perry and others. The inquiry was cut short when Swallow announced he was leaving office, citing the personal and financial toll the multiple investigations into his conduct was taking.

Perry said he has little doubt Swallow saw the writing on the wall and that the House's work forced him to leave. He notes specifically that the night before Swallow announced he would resign, his counsel asked for a copy of a sworn deposition from the office's computer specialist. That witness testified Swallow told him to erase data from his office computers, contradicting Swallow's claims that thousands of emails were accidentally lost.

House investigators said it appeared Swallow intentionally deleted data from multiple devices and fabricated other documents to mislead future probes into his dealings with Jeremy Johnson, the St. George businessman who founded I Works and now faces scores of federal fraud charges.

Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, said he, too, would have supported impeachment proceedings based on the findings of the abbreviated House inquiry.

"The evidence we produced and our findings were very clear, that John Swallow was absolutely not honest with the voters in the state of Utah," McKell said, "and that was true on many levels and on many fronts."

Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, said the information she heard "definitely" would have been "strong grounds" to warrant impeachment, had Swallow not bowed out.

"I felt like we heard enough that if he hadn't resigned, we certainly should have looked at" impeachment, said Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Holladay. "I do think we could have impeached him, given what we had and, if we'd gone a little further, there even could've been something criminal coming out of it."

Other committee members reserved judgment.

"Obviously, there are two sides to every story, and he resigned before we even got a chance to hear his," said House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden.

Swallow declined to provide sworn testimony to House investigators, complicating the probe.

Without that information, Dee said, it is hard to draw definitive conclusions.

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, said she would want to consult with other committee members before she reached any conclusions on impeachment.

And Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, chairman of the House panel, said he never felt like it was his place to decide whether Swallow should be driven from office.

Rather, the committee's fact-finding mission was expected to inform House members and let them make their own conclusions.

While the committee is still working — it is expected to meet in early January to discuss changes to state campaign laws and plans to issue a written report of its findings in about a month — Dunnigan said he will keep focusing on its original task.

"There certainly are areas that could bear additional investigation," he said. "Whether or not that is to be done by this committee or other investigations, I suppose that is the question, and it will be up to legislative leadership and perhaps ultimately the entire Legislature."

Most committee members would like to see investigators given more time — and resources — to conclude their work.

"Maybe if the whole House sees it, maybe if the Senate sees what we saw, maybe the whole Legislature needs to think about whether we continue this investigation," Perry said. "If there are things that aren't right in our government in the state of Utah, we need to clean those things up."