SALT LAKE CITY — A freshman Republican lawmaker made an audacious move Friday in candidly blogging about possible impeachment proceedings involving embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow.
In a lengthy post on his website, Rep. Spencer Cox, R-Fairview, writes that the “I-word" has been off limits for anyone in political office, but the time has come for serious discussions in the Legislature because the attorney general's office has lost public trust.
"If we are not already there, we are rapidly approaching the point where the only way to restore that trust will be to absolve the attorney general from any wrongdoing or to remove him from office," he wrote. "And the only way to do that will be through impeachment proceedings."
Cox said he "would like nothing more" than for Swallow to resign, but short of that, the attorney general should take a paid leave of absence pending the outcome of the federal, state and local investigations into his conduct.
His candor makes him the most outspoken Republican about Swallow since allegations of wrongdoing broke in January. Most GOP members have taken a wait-and-see attitude as unflattering information continues to spill out, though none of them have publicly come to Swallow's defense.
Cox, a lawyer, said he made the blog post to better explain the impeachment process — which he estimates would cost the state as much as $4 million — and "counter the narrative" that only criminal proceedings can lead to impeachment.
"I think the citizens of the state of Utah deserve more from the top law enforcement officer than just, 'I haven't actually committed a crime,'" he said.
Swallow told the Deseret News two weeks ago that he's not a criminal and said, "I'm not about to walk out of this office because people make allegations that aren't true." He also said he hopes lawmakers will wait for the investigation to be completed before considering impeachment.
Cox said if Swallow believes he's innocent and will be absolved, a leave of absence is the "perfect" answer.
"You maintain the office, you go and defend yourself, you restore public trust and you don't put the citizens and the Legislature into this box where we have to consider a $2 million to $4 million process," Cox said. "It's the way it should be handled. I'm very disappointed that it's not being more fully considered."
House Republicans intend to discuss the impeachment process in a June 19 caucus meeting. Under state law, the House acts as the investigative body and initiates impeachment, while the Senate serves as judge and jury.
House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said the meeting will be open while lawmakers talk about the process. But it could be closed at some point "if we're going to talk about something that has to do with party politics."
That won't satisfy Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis.
"They said part of it would be open. Isn't that nice," he said. "This should not be a political decision made in the back room by the majority party."
Dabakis said lawmakers should talk about possible impeachment proceedings in a bipartisan public meeting.
Cox said he doesn't have strong feelings about an open or closed GOP caucus, but is anxious to hear his colleagues' opinions on the issue. Some of them might be hesitant to talk in an open caucus, he said.
So far, he said he has received positive feedback about the blog post. Even Dabakis reposted it on his Facebook page.
Cox said the Legislature has a duty to investigate whether the allegations against Swallow are simply part of a conspiracy to undermine him or if his actions are "the work of a narcissistic, habitual office-seeker who cares nothing about the public trust and will do anything to remain in power."
The lawmaker said he's happy to take any heat over the blog because he wants to break the ice on the discussion. And he's unapologetic about opening his mouth when his Republican peers have been largely silent.
"Maybe that's growing up in rural Utah," Cox said. "They just tell it like it is and if people don't like it, that's the way it goes."
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