If we're not there, then we're rapidly approaching the time when we need more information. It just seems to be this like Chinese water torture almost, it's a drip, drip, drip kind of thing. —House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo
SALT LAKE CITY — A legislative investigation into Attorney General John Swallow that would mark the beginning of possible impeachment proceedings is "highly likely," House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said Tuesday.
"I think inevitable is probably a pretty strong word. Is it likely that we're going to do our investigation? It's highly likely we will," Dee told the Deseret News on the eve of Wednesday's special three-hour House GOP caucus on impeachment.
Dee said House Republicans are "crying for more information" about Swallow, the subject of federal, state and local investigations into allegations that include helping broker a deal for an indicted businessman seeking to avoid a federal investigation.
Yet to be decided is when a House probe would start. Dee said it could be "a few days or a week or two," before representatives are formally polled to determine if there is the two-thirds majority required to begin the impeachment process.
Just what impact that vote would have on Swallow, who has said repeatedly he has done nothing wrong and will not leave the office he was elected to in November, remains to be seen.
Under the Utah Constitution, it's up to the House to determine if there is enough information to impeach an official, while the Senate is responsible for determining if the official stays in office.
"I have no idea if it would force a resignation," Dee said of the expected vote on beginning impeachment proceedings. "Certainly that would be better for us as a Legislature. No one likes to go through this grueling process."
The majority leader said he was not calling for Swallow's impeachment or for the attorney general to resign. "I at least want to hear from him before we burn all the witches in Salem," Dee said.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, suggested that with more and more information about Swallow surfacing, it may just be a matter of time before a legislative investigation is launched.
"If we're not there, then we're rapidly approaching the time when we need more information," Lockhart said. "It just seems to be this like Chinese water torture almost, it's a drip, drip, drip kind of thing."
Monday, a poll released by the Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections of Democracy found that 78 percent of Utahns want Swallow to resign and 71.5 percent support lawmakers starting impeachment proceedings.
The same poll found that nearly 40 percent believe Swallow has done something illegal and 62.5 percent believe that while the attorney general has not broken the law, he has done something unethical.
On Saturday, attorneys for imprisoned swindler Marc Session Jenson filed a motion seeking to remove the attorney general's office from his case claiming he is a victim of a "shakedown" by Swallow and former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, suggested it may be time for action.
"I think there ought to be some investigation done just by the Legislature," he said. "I'm not saying we should impeach or we shouldn't impeach. But let's take on a process. I think the public wants that from the Legislature and I think we ought to do that."
Niederhauser, who had been encouraging Senate Republicans to "exercise patience" as the House decides whether to go forward with impeachment, said the poll results, along with the motion, "adds up to and leads us towards an impeachment process."
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank, however, said lawmakers are not going to be easily persuaded to begin the impeachment process, even if it's just to carry out their own investigation into Swallow.
"That's a big step. They're not going to want to undertake that unless they're very confident where this is all going and what the likely outcome will be," Burbank said. "They don't want to be pushed around by public opinion polls."
A rally featuring former GOP lawmaker Holly Richardson, the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah and others to protest corruption in the attorney general's office is set to start shortly before Wednesday's caucus meetings.
Democrats in both the House and Senate have already called for a legislative investigation into Swallow. Senate Republicans will also discuss impeachment in their closed caucus Wednesday, Niederhauser said.
Dee said legislative leaders will stress "there's a big difference between impeachment and the impeachment process....There's a lot of space between those two. But in order to find the information, we've got to start somewhere."
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