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Ivory: Hold up Swallow probe
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

As kids, many of us had a father referee a neighborhood ballgame. Predictably, the dad was always harder on his child's team than on their opponents. He overcompensated so that no one thought he was favoring his own team.

Demonstrating clearly that you don't play favorites seems like a noble thing. It is, as long as we don't take it too far.

Today, the Utah House of Representatives presses ahead with an open-ended investigation of Attorney General John Swallow, despite the fact that federal investigators have shuttered their probe. Perhaps, like the father in the heat of refereeing a child's ballgame, our heavily Republican House could benefit from the perspective of a much-needed timeout, rather than expending $3 million of taxpayers' money to make sure we're not accused of favoring one of our own.

In open caucus, Utah House members launched an open-ended investigation, in spite of calls that we at least wait for the federal government to finish its work. In a historic House session, members, including several voting in favor of the investigation, called for establishment of a standard and scope as the first order of business for the investigative committee.

Instead, the committee immediately delegated their investigative duties to high-priced attorneys and investigators armed with the full weight, power and resources of the state Legislature to "investigate allegations of misconduct against the current attorney general" and "investigate matters related to the current attorney general that arise as part of the investigation."

That means that we're essentially asking, or at least authorizing, the investigators to follow up on any possible claim made against our attorney general and then pursue every lead that investigators may think up during the virtually open-ended search, whether or not these things pertain to possible impeachment. 

The investigation's broad charter could theoretically continue indefinitely, as "matters ... that arise" lead repeatedly to yet more "matters ... that arise."

And what of the cost to taxpayers? The lack of an established standard or scope for the investigation really means that there is no fixed limit to the $3 million estimate for investigators and attorneys billing taxpayers as much as $740 a hour. At that hourly billing rate, it would only take two of the more highly priced attorneys just six months to burn through half of the $3 million currently estimated.

Let's ask ourselves: If the other Swallow investigations currently underway reported tomorrow that their investigations, like the federal investigation, were shutting down, would the House disband its efforts? We would certainly hope so.

Yes, an impeachment investigation is very different from a criminal probe; but no investigation would likely ever have happened without criminal allegations.

While disbanding of the federal investigation may suggest a similar action from other probes, we won't likely know by tomorrow. But, in light of the fog of the game, perhaps it's time to take a much-needed timeout to reevaluate the wisdom of making a $3 million statement about a matter that may well be winding down on its own.

During this timeout, we can stop the clock on the $700-an-hour attorneys, and wait for one or two more investigations to report their findings. If the trend continues, the $3 million can certainly go to other worthy public needs.

If it doesn't, perhaps we can get a second opinion on the scope, standard, and burden of proof for such an impeachment-related investigation before blowing the whistle to restart a game that presently has no fixed goal line.

Ken Ivory is a Republican member of the Utah House of Representatives. Others contributing to this column include Republican House members Jim Nielson, Curt Oda, John Mathis, Brian Greene, Marc Roberts and Richard Greenwood.

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