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Utah House sets course for Swallow investigation

Published: Wednesday, July 17 2013 7:51 p.m. MDT

A Utah Legislature special session is held at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 17, 2013. The special session was called primarily to deal with issues related to a new House committee created to investigate Attorney General Swallow.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Lowry Snow, a relatively new GOP lawmaker, said he didn't expect to be named Wednesday as chairman of the new House committee charged with investigating embattled Attorney General John Swallow.

"I thought I might be considered, but the appointment to chair the committee came as a surprise," said Snow, a St. George attorney and former prosecutor and Utah State Bar president who was appointed to the Utah Legislature in January 2012.

Snow is one of five Republicans and four Democrats that House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, appointed to the recently created committee expected to begin work in the coming weeks.

"He is a capable and very well-respected attorney," Lockhart said. "He understands how these things work, which is one of the reasons why I asked him to chair this committee."

Lockhart said she will leave the running of the committee up Snow. Other members include House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Odgen, and House Minority Leader Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake City.

Democrats had pushed for the 5-4 split on the committee. Lockhart, who made the decision herself about who would investigate the attorney general for the House, said, "This is not a partisan issue to the House of Representatives. This is an issue of public trust."

Seelig agreed.

"What we're looking at is an elected official, regardless of party, that the public has clearly stated that they have issue with," the minority leader said. "I'm walking into this with a clean slate and an open mind."

Swallow is the subject of federal, state and local investigations into a number of allegations, including that he helped broker a deal for an indicted Utah businessman trying to stop a federal investigation into his company.

The committee intends to gather facts regarding the allegations swirling arould Swallow, but will not make a recommendation about impeachment proceedings.

"We need to own this information. Then we can make a decision based on what we know rather than what we hear," Dee said.

Empowering the committee

Lockhart announced the committee makeup after Wednesday's special session of the Legislature. Gov. Gary Herbert called the session mainly to pass legislation to empower the committee that will investigate Swallow.

Lawmakers approved a trio of bills, but not before the House spent about an hour debating several proposed amendments to the most controversial, HB1001, that all failed.

The bill allows for meetings to be closed and records to be protected in some cases as well as for subpoenas to be issued and immunity granted to witnesses. Immunity would not preclude a witnesses from being prosecuted but would prevent their testimony being used against them.

Legislators also passed bills that would allow the investigative committee to hire lawyers and investigators who are not licensed in Utah. The committee is soliciting bids inside and outside the state to fill those positions.

There was no debate in the Senate on the three measures, though Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he was hesitant about giving the committee immunity power because it could "blow up in your face." Any grants of immunity should be carefully thought out, he said.

In the House, Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, tried unsucessfully to set a $500,000 limit on the amount of money the committee could spend before having to come back for legislative approval.

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