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Swallow probe panel reports progress, but it's slow

Published September 20, 2013 9:21 pm

Politics • Chairman's update comes as some lawmakers question need for investigation.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

The chairman of the legislative committee investigating Attorney General John Swallow told House members Friday that investigators are making "very good progress" in their work but cautioned that the probe will take months — not weeks — to complete.

"Our special counsel and investigators are moving forward in earnest," Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, wrote in an email to House members. "I have every confidence in this team, and while it isn't visible to the public at large, they are making very good progress."

While Dunnigan's letter touts the progress and acknowledges that the inquiry — which could cost up to $3 million — should wrap up as soon as possible, he cautions it will take time and that "milestones are likely to be months apart, not weeks."

"In a 24/7 news world, that isn't going to sit well with some," Dunnigan wrote. "But I commit to you that the results of this investigation will be fair and thorough."

The email comes as some lawmakers have begun to publicly question whether the House should cut short its investigation after Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, reported last week that they had been notified by the U.S. Department of Justice that there will be no federal charges filed against them.

Two county attorneys — Troy Rawlings of Davis County and Sim Gill in Salt Lake County — are continuing to investigate whether state laws were broken. The FBI has said it is assisting that investigation.

"There are more members of the House of Representatives now than the committee would like to admit that think this thing should be stopped," Swallow's attorney, Rod Snow, said Friday. "I haven't talked to anybody who thinks spending this money is a good idea."

Snow said Swallow underwent a 10-month grand jury investigation led by the U.S. attorney and later the DOJ.

"They're professionals and, most importantly, they're not political. They don't have a political ax to grind or any political interests," he said. "I wonder about the value of this [House investigation] or the motives behind it."

Moreover, he said, the House has not set aside any money in its $3 million budget to hire outside counsel to represent either Swallow or the attorney general's office — money that has been provided for investigations in other states.

"The office ought to have separate counsel and that ought to be paid for," he said. "That isn't going to happen here because it would just add to the cost."

Several legislators said this week that — due to sticker shock and the DOJ decision — the mood of many in the House has shifted, and they would like to see the bipartisan investigation brought to a quick, inexpensive conclusion.

Perhaps in an effort to tamp down criticism, Dunnigan emphasized that the outcome of a criminal probe does not mean the House investigation's work should end.

"Outside agency investigations may not correspond to the scope of our own review or address issues that relate to the mission that we have been given," Dunnigan wrote. "We are finding facts, whatever they may be, and will present them to you and the public just as soon as we are confident that we have covered all the relevant issues."

Swallow has been accused of an array of misconduct, from helping a major donor to Shurtleff arrange a deal to help stave off a federal probe into his business, to taking trips and favors from people under investigation by the office, and promising special consideration to potential donors. He has denied wrongdoing.

While the Republican attorney general had done little in the way of fundraising since the scandal erupted earlier this year, three weeks ago he brought in nearly $15,000 in contributions from several attorneys outside Utah and from Bert and Kathy Smith, owners of the Smith & Edwards surplus store.

gehrke@sltrib.com

The remaining probes

• Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, with help from the FBI, are investigating whether John Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, broke any state laws.

See the other three still-open investigations inside. > B2

The remaining investigations

The lieutenant governor's office has hired a special counsel to see whether Swallow violated election laws by failing to disclose his role in two businesses.

A special House committee, with five Republicans and four Democrats, is investigating Swallow.

At least two complaints have been made to the Utah State Bar alleging ethical violations by Swallow.