Legislative leaders want a performance review of the Utah attorney general’s office, and they directed their auditors Monday to begin looking at the "highest risk" areas of the state’s top law-enforcement agency.
The request comes just a few days after the Utah House voted 69-3 to authorize a legislative committee to investigate embattled Attorney General John Swallow, who faces a variety of accusations — from conflicts of interest to facilitating a businessman’s attempt to derail a federal probe to suggesting to potential donors that they might be given special consideration by the attorney general. Swallow has denied any wrongdoing.
The audit subcommittee, composed of the top leaders of both parties from the House and Senate, OK’d initial steps for auditors to examine the effectiveness of the office, though not to investigate Swallow himself.
"The House made that [desire for an audit] very clear," said House Speaker Becky Lockhart, co-chair of the subcommittee. "It was brought up that some of the issues that we are concerned about are the functioning of the office and the public trust associated with that."
Swallow has said that the controversy swirling around him — including a federal criminal investigation — has not damaged his office nor detracted from its focus on addressing its duties on behalf of the public.
"The nuts and bolts business of our office goes on," Swallow assured Republican state central committee members on June 22. "The morale in our office is strong.… They see that I am fully invested in the office. I’m there every day … notwithstanding the daily stories in the paper."
The audit subcommittee stopped short of ordering up an in-depth, comprehensive audit in light of the already-heavy workload at the legislative auditor general’s office.
"We’re going to have to address the resources we have," said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, who wondered aloud what other items on the agency’s to-do list might suffer because of the focus on the attorney general’s office.
Legislative Auditor General John Schaff told the panel his staff is already working on 14 performance audits.
"My concern is how we get it all done," said Schaff following the meeting.
He recommended zeroing in on the top issues of concern and working on those, rather than digging into a sweeping review that could take drag on for many months. He pledged to produce a list of those focus areas at the panel’s next meeting, in September.
Lockhart, who brought the request before the committee on Monday, said she was pleased overall with the committee’s decision.
"We took the position of supporting the House," said Lockhart, noting that some lawmakers were disappointed that the auditor’s office did not have the resources for a more comprehensive review.
"We’re moving forward on it, and we have the support of the Senate."
Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, has repeatedly argued for a full-scale audit of the attorney general’s office and finally got a pledge from House leaders last week that they would join him in calling for auditors to examine the agency, though not with the rigorous performance audit he had sought.
Swallow already faces investigations on a number of fronts — from federal and state prosecutors, from an as-yet-to-be-named special counsel for the lieutenant governor’s office and from the soon-to-be-named House special investigative committee. Swallow also is the subject of at least two ethics complaints to the Utah State Bar, although that organization will not confirm whether it is investigating the allegations.
Dan Harrie contributed to this report.
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