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Attorney General John Swallow angrily denies deleting emails, computer files

Published: Thursday, Nov. 7 2013 12:40 p.m. MST

Attorney General John Swallow struck an angry tone at times Thursday as he denied deleting any of his emails or computer files that a Utah House investigative committee says have disappeared. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Attorney General John Swallow struck an angry tone at times Thursday as he denied deleting any of his emails or computer files that a Utah House investigative committee says have disappeared. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Attorney General John Swallow struck an angry tone at times Thursday as he denied deleting any of his emails or computer files a Utah House investigative committee says have disappeared.

The first-term Republican also criticized the bipartisan panel's lead counsel for delivering a report about the missing data this week that he said was calculated to "inflame and enrage" lawmakers.

Swallow stopped short of saying he didn't think the committee could be impartial.

"But I will say this: I think it's a virtual impossibility that that committee could spend $3 million and be satisfied to come up with a clean bill of health for me," he said.

Asked if he deleted any emails or computer files that would be relevant to any investigation, Swallow said, "Absolutely not, categorically."

Pressed further he added, "No. Nothing with respect to my state office or anything like that. I have a personal policy of deleting personal emails regularly but certainly not with my state (email)."

House committee chairman Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said neither he nor his colleagues have any preconceived notions about Swallow.

"The committee is determined to conduct an investigation that is fair, even-handed and methodical, and that's what we have been doing," Dunnigan said.

Lead counsel Steve Reich outlined in a committee meeting Tuesday what he called a "troubling" pattern of missing documents in the attorney general's office to an extent that he has never seen. He said data the committee might find pertinent to its investigation are gone from every electronic device Swallow has had since he served as chief deputy in December 2009.

So far, no clear explanation has been given for the data loss.

Swallow swapped out his state-issued desktop and laptop computers and iPad for new ones when he took office earlier this year. The hard drive on his home computer crashed in January, and he got a new cellphone last year. Also, the state switched email systems last fall.

Reich said investigators want to find what happened to records on those devices and suggested in his presentation that they could have been intentionally deleted.

Thursday on KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show," the attorney general said it's "outrageous" for Reich to say the scope of the missing information is larger than he has ever seen "unless you haven't had a very long career or a very extensive career."

A New York-based lawyer with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Reich previously worked as associate counsel for President Bill Clinton, leading a team responsible for defending him and other White House officials in independent counsel investigations and impeachment proceedings.

In 2004, he worked as chief counsel to a committee of the Connecticut Legislature considering impeachment of the governor. Reich most recently worked for the U.S. Department of Justice before joining Akin Gump in the summer.

Dunnigan said Reich did a "professional job in laying out the facts" in Tuesday's meeting. He said the committee is "comfortable" with the knowledge, experience and expertise of its outside attorneys.

Swallow said Reich failed to tell the committee that his lawyer and his office have turned over more than 10,000 documents and are cooperating fully.

"Any intimation to the contrary is disingenuous from my point of view and a disservice to the people of Utah, to the taxpayers of Utah and to the members of that committee," Swallow said, his voice rising. "If I sound a little angry, Doug, it's because I am."

Swallow said he's not aware of any "material" documents being intentionally deleted in the attorney general's office in the past nearly four years and investigators don't know that either.

The House estimated the investigation would cost $3 million. Dunnigan said it has spent nearly $700,000 since the investigation began in August. He said it is on track to stay within the budget, but bumps in the road such as missing documents and witnesses that won't comply with subpoenas drives up the cost.

Swallow said he didn't want to speculate on Reich's motives. "But you have a firm working on a contract that could pay them as much as $3 million."

The attorney general noted that the DOJ declined to file criminal charges against him in September.

"All of a sudden, maybe you have the Legislature, maybe you have the Legislature's attorney saying, 'What's going to happen to our investigation if we close this down?'" he said.

Swallow said he's concerned the committee's investigation has become "very scary and very political very quickly," as he predicted it would when the House organized it.

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