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Cost of House investigative committee into Swallow continues to climb

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14 2014 6:15 p.m. MST

The cost of the House investigation into former Attorney General John Swallow is already "well above" the anticipated $3 million price tag and is continuing to climb as experts hired by the state finish their final report.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The cost of the House investigation into former Attorney General John Swallow is already "well above" the anticipated $3 million price tag and is continuing to climb as experts hired by the state finish their final report.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, the head of the special House committee charged with gathering facts about the influence peddling and other accusations facing Swallow, said after a meeting Tuesday the investigation is largely finished.

Dunnigan said there may still be some loose ends for the special counsel and investigator hired by the state to wrap up in the final report, due to lawmakers at the end of the month but not expected until sometime in February.

He declined to be more specific about the rising costs, other than to say he knows the committee's expenditures are "well above" the original $3 million estimate, primarily because of the preparation of the final report.

At the meeting, the committee heard testimony from Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and his office, as well as the special counsel who alleged last November that Swallow committed five violations of state elections law.

While much of the information presented had been covered before, the special counsel also proposed a number of changes in Utah's elections laws, mostly to broaden what information candidates must disclose.

Matthew Lalli, one of the lawyers hired by the lieutenant governor's office, compared Swallow's actions to those of former President Richard Nixon in the Watergate coverup that ultimately forced him from the White House.

Lalli said Swallow repeatedly attempted "to manage or manipulate information" about his business dealings, often retroactively to control what the former attorney general called the "optics" of his situation.

One of the biggest surprises in the investigation, Lalli said, was that Swallow sold back a gift of 12 gold coins from Check City owner Richard Rawle reportedly in exchange for a debit card Swallow used for personal expenses.

The money received was not reported as income on Swallow's campaign disclosures, Lalli said, along with other earnings as a candidate and a chief deputy attorney general.

Swallow told investigators his reasons for not disclosing money he made as a consultant included wanting to "send a message" to voters so they didn't think he wouldn't be a full-time attorney general if elected.

Lalli said Swallow's "information manipulation" continued until the end, when he claimed at a news conference announcing his resignation he had to step down because he couldn't afford the cost of defending himself.

"He knew the (lieutenant governor's) report was going to be issued that day," Lalli said.

He called Swallow's cooperation with the investigation "inconsistent" but said he would not label it obstruction.

The lieutenant governor told reporters what Swallow did "is something that was grounds to be removed from office, and we were prepared to proceed on that measure."

Asked if Swallow needed to step down, Cox said, "Yeah. We felt that at the time when the report came out. That's why his decision to resign was very timely. It saved the state from having to move forward with this prosecution."

During the meeting, there was some discussion over whether lawmakers need to review the authority of the lieutenant governor to declare an election invalid as a result of an election law violation.

John Fellows, the Legislature's general counsel, said recommendations will be made to lawmakers soon on that issue, as well as on proposed election law changes.

Still needed to complete the House committee's report is information from Swallow's personal computer.

Dunnigan said state experts were able to recover 99 percent of the data from the computer's crashed hard drive a month or so ago but have yet to hear from Swallow or his attorneys about the pertinent contents.

Once the report is finished, Dunnigan said, members will have 21 days to review and make changes, including possibly issuing a minority report, before the committee's work is done and it is disbanded.

Of course, he said, lawmakers could decide they want to take a closer look at some of the areas of inquiry that were halted following Swallow's decision to resign.

Dunnigan said he expects the report to highlight "several areas" where additional work could be done on the case, whether by lawmakers or the investigation underway led by the Salt Lake and Davis county attorneys.

"I do feel like we accomplished the mission we were given," Dunnigan said. "There were a number of avenues or paths that we were partway down investigating when we stopped."

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsPolitics

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