Swallow committee winding down as Attorney General race heats up

Published: Friday, Dec. 6 2013 6:45 p.m. MST

Brian Tarbet, general counsel for the Utah Attorney General's Office talks Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 about his duties.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A special Utah House committee created to investigate former Attorney General John Swallow appears ready to pull the plug on its four-month inquiry as the race to replace him heats up.

Friday, Brian Tarbet, the general counsel for the attorney general's office who was named by Herbert to oversee the office until Swallow's successor is selected, jumped into the race.

He was among nine candidates who met the Friday filing deadline for entering the race to be among the three candidates for attorney general that will be chosen Dec. 14 by the Republican Party's state central committee.

It's up to Gov. Gary Herbert which candidate will take over as attorney general until the next election, in November 2014, for the remainder of Swallow's term. The embattled GOP official stepped down Monday.

Tarbet, a retired Utah National Guard adjutant general, had declined earlier in the week to say whether he would run. Friday, he said he'd decided to get into this race but won't run again in 2014.

Even so, he declined to call himself a caretaker candidate.

"We don't need a caretaker. We need a leader. I don't intend to tread water. I don't intend to stand pat," Tarbet said. "My interest is in serving free of politics as much as I can for the next year and then I move on."

He said while Republicans who want to have an incumbent running in 2014 have a "valid concern," the focus needs to be on repairing the damage done to the office. "It's in their best interests to get the office fixed."

Also Friday, attorneys for the House committee filed motions in 3rd District Court to withdraw nine subpoenas issued in October and November. The recipients, including to Swallow's campaign strategist Jason Powers and the payday loan company where he once worked, were fighting to quash the orders.

The nine-member bipartisan committee is scheduled to meet Saturday to start winding down as Chairman Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said shortly after Swallow resigned.

Dunnigan said he expects committee members will meet in closed session to talk about "legal matters," but discuss "where we go from here" in open session. The panel intends at some point to issue a report, which might include recommendations for changes to state campaign finance laws, to the full House.

Though the House panel, which has spent about $1.5 million to date, seems poised to wrap up, the information it has gathered could be turned over to the ongoing joint county investigation of Swallow.

Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings could also pursue the same subpoenas the committee is dropping as part of their criminal probe. They already have access to a state elections office report that found evidence that Swallow broke state election laws. The state declined to pursue a civil case because Swallow stepped down.

While legislative general counsel John Fellows has said Swallow was the only target of the House inquiry, the county investigation is not bound to looking only at the former attorney general.

The House committee interviewed at least 140 witnesses and issued 15 subpoenas, though it appears most of the subpoena went unanswered.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said he believes Republicans can't wait for the House committee's New York-based lead counsel, Steve Reich, to get out of town. He called Reich "quite extraordinary by Utah standards."

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