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Will House vote for impeachment proceedings against Swallow?

Published: Sunday, June 16 2013 12:10 a.m. MDT

Utah Attorney General John Swallow speaks with reporters after appearing on the Doug Wright show in Salt Lake City Tuesday, May 14, 2013. White House Republicans gather Wednesday for an extended caucus meeting to consider whether to begin impeachment proceedings against Attorney General John Swallow.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — When Utah House Republicans gather Wednesday for an unprecedented meeting to consider whether to begin impeachment proceedings against Attorney General John Swallow, there may be few final decisions.

And that's just fine with House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, who said all she's expecting from the majority party's planned three-hour caucus meeting is a "very good, robust discussion" about the impeachment process.

"Remember, this is a very serious thing. What you're talking about with impeachment is possibly overturning an election, the will of the people in an election. You don't take that lightly," Lockhart said. "So we have to be very careful."

Under the Utah Constitution, the impeachment process begins in the House and ends in the Senate. Democrats, who are in the minority in both the House and Senate, already have called for lawmakers to start their own inquiry into Swallow's activities.

Swallow — the subject of multiple investigations into a number of allegations, including that he helped broker a deal to pay off a U.S. senator on behalf of an indicted St. George businessman attempting to derail a federal investigation — has said he's done nothing wrong and has no plans to resign.

State legislators have been hesitant to weigh in until now, and the ongoing scandal puts them in uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory.

"For better or worse, there really is no precedent for the caucus that we're going into," Rep. Spencer Cox, R-Fairview, said. "We've never in the history of the state of Utah had this serious of an impeachment discussion involving a statewide elected official."

The House, however, voted to begin impeachment proceedings against 4th District Judge Ray M. Harding in February 2003 after he was charged with felony drug possession. But that's as far as it went. Harding stepped down 10 days later.

While most lawmakers have shied away from talking publicly about impeachment, Cox has not. He posted on his blog a lengthy explanation of the process along with his personal feelings on the issue.

Now he's compiling all the accusations against Swallow along with the attorney general's public responses to them for another blog post that he says won't be for the casual reader.

"The unfortunate part is it really is a big undertaking because there are so many allegations and so many investigations," said Cox, a lawyer. "It's kind of a sad state of affairs when you need a spreadsheet to keep them all separate."

Lockhart said if lawmakers want to know more about Swallow, they only have two options.

"The only way to get more information is to have an investigative process or wait," she said. "We either wait to see what happens in the other cases, or we begin an investigation."

Now, the speaker said, "people don't know anything more than what's been reported, what's out there, and frankly, the Legislature doesn't either. We have no special information. … Investigators aren't telling us how it's going."

Cox agreed the 61-member caucus will spend a lot of time learning about the impeachment process, but he said he expects the talk will inevitably turn to whether the House should move ahead.

"I think there will be a natural tendency to go there in the discussion. I think we almost have to, to at least get a sense of where the body is generally," he said.

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