Will House vote for impeachment proceedings against Swallow?

Published: Saturday, June 15 2013 5:15 p.m. MDT

Options for a legislative investigation into whether Swallow should be removed from office include sending the issue to an existing interim committee or creating a separate committee to review the attorney general's situation.

But Lockhart said it's not clear that House members can gather information about Swallow's troubles without convening an impeachment session to appoint a committee and hire a special counsel.

That may be tough to sell to some lawmakers on starting the process, out of concern that the public is likely to view the start of the proceedings as a signal that the Legislature believes Swallow is guilty of wrongdoing.

"As soon as you hear the process of impeachment has started, most citizens think, 'Oh, he must have done something wrong,'" University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said. "That's just a natural assumption."

Lockhart said that's not what lawmakers would be saying by launching an investigation using their subpoena powers to collect testimony and evidence.

"The question isn't, 'Do you want to impeach this person?' The question is, 'Do you want to convene an impeachment session?'" she said. "We need to be very clear that if we move forward with an investigation, that one of the outcomes could be there's not enough evidence."

Lawmakers wouldn't be duplicating the ongoing criminal investigations by federal, state and local authorities, the speaker said, but looking at whether Swallow committed "high crimes and misdemeanors."

Those are defined, Lockhart said, as "issues of public trust" as well as violations of the law.

Political process

While many may believe an official could only be impeached for committing a crime, impeachment is a political rather than a judicial process. An official could be impeached for malfeasance or dishonoring the office. Although impeachment requires only a preponderance of evidence, the higher beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard used in a criminal case does not apply.

Lockhart distributed a five-page letter Friday from Swallow's attorney, Rod Snow, to the Legislature's general counsel. The letter states there are no grounds for impeaching the attorney general, calling any proceedings unwarranted.

The letter said lawmakers can choose "what appears to be a politically expedient and beneficial approach where innuendos and unsupported allegations become the basis of a rush to judgment."

Or, according to the letter, lawmakers can opt for "the fair and reasonable approach where headlines and allegations are treated only as allegations until proven and are not allowed to drive the agenda of our legislative leaders."

In addition to the U.S. Department of Justice investigation, the lieutenant governor's office is appointing special counsel to determine whether Swallow violated state elections laws.

Also, prosecutors in two counties are looking into allegations involving the state ethics laws, which prohibit accepting gifts and compensation that would improperly influence the impartial discharge of official duties.

And the attorney general is the subject of two Utah State Bar complaints of professional misconduct.

Swallow, a former House member, said he has nothing to hide and that he would cooperate if lawmakers conduct an investigation, including providing information and answering questions.

But he said Utah Supreme Court case law sets a high standard for impeachment.

"You ask yourself, my goodness, have I been accused of things that would get to that level? If I really did bribe a U.S. senator, I should be more than impeached. I should be sitting behind bars somewhere," Swallow said.

The cost of impeachment

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