The formal legislative investigation into the ethical and, perhaps, criminal wrongdoing alleged to have been committed by Attorney General John Swallow got off to a sound start Wednesday when the House Republican caucus debated the issue openly and in a way that allowed most members to have their unfettered say in the matter.
The day's events put the lie to the argument that used to prevail in the House, and that still rules in the Utah Senate, that only closed caucuses allow a free debate on important matters. Wednesday, House Speaker Becky Lockhart and her GOP colleagues publicly hashed out a responsible course of action to be ratified by the full House as soon as July 3.
The House will not, yet, launch a formal impeachment proceeding. But it will create a special, bipartisan committee, with power to subpoena documents and witnesses, listen to sworn testimony and have the means to hire investigators and/or attorneys to help them with their delicate task.
Swallow, to his credit, has pledged to cooperate with the committee. And Gov. Gary Herbert rightly supported the plan of action.
Some members worried about the cost. Others pressed for the House to hold off until the federal, state and local law enforcement agencies that are looking into the accusations against Swallow have issued their own reports.
But Lockhart rightly argued that the House's effort to restore some semblance of public trust in state government will be worth any financial burden. And she said that, as the people's representatives, House members have both a right and a duty to collect their own information, rather than rely on either other government agencies or even the most diligent press.
The charges against Swallow are complicated to the point of confusion, involving accusations from people who are not, on the whole, above reproach. But, then, Swallow's own choice of acquaintances, business partners and campaign donors, including a fair number of individuals who were or were likely to be the target of criminal and civil probes by his own office, is at the heart of the matter.
Charges that Swallow and his predecessor in the attorney general's office, Mark Shurtleff, arranged to help, or not to help, businessmen who were under investigation or indictment, based on their willingness to donate to their campaigns, are about as ugly as American politics gets.
A full, open, specific and sworn gathering of facts is just what this mess needs. And that is what House Republicans have rightly decided to begin.