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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) FBI Director James Comey arrives to a press conference at the FBI Field Office in Salt Lake City Tuesday August 19, 2014.
FBI head says agents followed the facts in Swallow-Shurtleff probe

Crime » But James Comey skips comment on federal split over investigation.

First Published Aug 19 2014 05:22 pm • Last Updated Aug 19 2014 10:05 pm

The director of the FBI didn’t shine any light Tuesday on the federal law enforcement split over the investigation of the two former Utah attorneys general who face criminal charges in state court.

FBI Director James Comey, during a visit to Salt Lake City, declined to answer a question on why the FBI had remained part of the investigation while the Department of Justice bowed out in September 2013, less than a year after jumping in.

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The Justice Department withdrawal left agents and local prosecutors scratching their heads, and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, one of two county prosecutors who ended up heading the investigation into the activities of John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff, expressing his frustration with the department’s action.

Comey, who was visiting the FBI office here as part of his tour of agency operations, said he wouldn’t comment on the department’s decision. As for his agency, Comey said only, "The FBI stays involved in areas where the facts are important."

FBI agents are a major part of the investigation that resulted in the arrests of the former attorneys general last month on a combined 23 charges. Swallow and Shurtleff face those charges in state court, though Gill has said matters of public corruption are better dealt with by federal authorities.

Comey, who has been in office for 11 months of a 10-year term, also said that in his time in the post he had not felt political pressure having to do with an FBI investigation.

Comey is a veteran federal prosecutor and served as deputy U.S. attorney general in the George W. Bush administration.

He met Thursday with law enforcement officials from Utah, Idaho and Montana, the three states overseen by the FBI division headquartered near the Salt Lake City International Airport.

In a news conference afterward, Comey said fighting terrorism remains the bureau’s first priority as it has been since the 9/11 attacks. But he also said cybercrime has become "an epidemic."

Comey praised a program called Wellspring in which the FBI has been providing information on possible online crimes to the Utah Department of Public Safety, which passes it along to local agencies.


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tharvey@sltrib.com



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