Attorney General John Swallow investigative committee faces daunting job

Panel chief has ties to indicted businessman Johnson

Published: Thursday, July 18 2013 6:17 p.m. MDT

Utah Attorney General John Swallow speaks to the media after a Republican House Caucus meeting to discuss impeachment at the Capitol in Salt Lake City Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A newly appointed Utah House investigative committee has a daunting task: unravel the tangle of allegations hanging over the state's beleaguered attorney general.

"This committee has a monumentally difficult job ahead of it. It has to balance public expectations with considerations of justice. It has to balance the public interest and the Legislature's responsibility," said Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

The first-of-its-kind panel's foray into the ongoing John Swallow saga comes in the midst of federal, state and county investigations that started months ago. Mounting frustration over the lack of conclusions or clarity from those investigations motivated lawmakers to act, said House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.

But the nine-member committee composed of part-time legislators could face a host of obstacles from scheduling meetings to dealing with reluctant witnesses and extracting information from other criminal or civil investigations.

One issue that arose Thursday is the committee chairman's ties to court cases involving St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, whose allegations touched off questions about Swallow.

Rep. Lowry Snow, a St. George-based lawyer, said neither he nor his firm represent Johnson. But he said his office, Snow Jensen & Reece, represents one of many companies whose assets were frozen in the Federal Trade Commission case against Johnson.

Snow, a Republican, said Wednesday he was not aware of anything that would impede his service on the committee. He maintained that Thursday but said he wants to meet with Lockhart and "do the right thing, whatever that is."

"I don't think that think that those constitute an issue that would affect my ability to act," he said. "But if the speaker feels differently, I'm certainly willing to abide by her wishes."

Lockhart, who appointed the bipartisan committee Wednesday, is out of town and unavailable for comment.

Regardless of who heads the panel, it faces challenges from the outset.

"To make matters more difficult, it feels like the end result that they're going for is very ambiguous. This is not an impeachment investigation, so what is it?" Jowers said.

"How aggressive should they be? How deferential should they be to the other investigations? What deference should anyone give to this committee when there isn't any clear objective in mind?"

Lockhart said she doesn't see the committee stepping on the toes of those other probes. She said she considers the House investigation on a parallel track.

"We hope that we will have cooperation between levels of government. We hope that we will be able to talk with the FBI, with the Department of Justice and work together," Lockhart said.

Those typically tight-lipped agencies don't seem likely to share information about their investigations.

In addition to the DOJ's Public Integrity Section, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings are conducting a joint investigation into Swallow and his predecessor Mark Shurtleff.

The lieutenant governor's office also intends to appoint special counsel to look into whether Swallow broke state campaign finance laws. The first-term Republican also is the subject of two Utah State Bar complaints.

Gill said he and Rawlings would have to "be very careful" about providing information to the legislative committee.

"We would not breach the confidentiality or protocol of a criminal investigation," he said.

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