If you see something, say something.
That’s the universal call for citizens to watch out for crime, abuse, bullying and then get involved and report.
Well, the Utah House’s special investigation of Attorney General John Swallow is asking Utahns who know anything fishy about our chief law enforcement officer to come forward and talk about it.
And you don’t immediately need to worry about what you say becoming public.
There are provisions in Utah’s open government records law that may protect you. You may even be able to claim attorney-client privilege in some instances.
The nine-member House Swallow investigation committee met Wednesday morning for the second time.
Chairman Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said after the approximately half-hour public meeting that he still expects it will be November or December before witnesses against Swallow will be called, sworn, and have their say in public.
Swallow, for his part, denies all allegations against him.
Those include that he inappropriately had contact with individuals under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office both while he was a private fundraiser for then-AG Mark Shurtleff and while Swallow was running for office in 2011 and 2012.
Swallow is also accused of “pay to play” promises to campaign donors when he, Swallow, ran for AG last year.
Anyone who has any information about Swallow and his actions is encouraged by the committee to contact special investigator Jim Mintz and his staff, or contact legislative staff through a web site portal at: www.le.utah.gov.
“If you ask us to contact you, we will” speak to you about information on Swallow, promised Dunnigan.
The outside special counsel hired to help with the Swallow investigation, headed by Steve Reich of the New York City-based Atkin Group, was officially hired at Tuesday’s meeting.
He will be assisted by Mintz, a New York-based investigation firm, and two local private investigators.
Pamela Lindquist is the head PI in Utah for the committee; she works for the well-known Salt Lake defense attorney Ron Yengich, and can be reached here.
Several committee members were concerned that someone may file a request to talk to the investigators and then media reporters – who have been all over the Swallow issues like white on rice – will GRAMA those documents and run to talk to the potential witness.
But John Fellows, the Legislature’s chief legal counsel, who officially is overseeing the Swallow House investigation, said there are current protections under GRAMA to stop that from happening.
GRAMA allows for any legislative investigation to be a “record,” but protected during the investigation. Even after the investigation ends, in some cases witnesses’ identities and/or what they had to say could be kept secret.
That depends on several factors, said Fellows and his top assistant, Eric Weeks.
“There is always a balance,” said Weeks, who has become the GRAMA expert in the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel.
“Anyone coming forward” with information about Swallow “should not be afraid,” said Weeks. The state lawyers and investigators will make sure they are ultimately comfortable and it will be explained “what can be protected or can’t be – there are already protections built into GRAMA.”
“We are very concerned about security” of the investigation, Fellows added.
Reich, Mintz and their staffs have been given “secure” rooms in the House Office Building. There are locked file cabinets that will contain all the evidence – tapes, documents and sworn and informal testimony by witnesses.
Staffers don’t want any leaks, for that could ultimately undermine not only a formal impeachment process in the Legislature, but the public’s confidence in the whole process.
And that confidence is very important to Dunnigan and other legislators.
Several times Dunnigan sought to reassure citizens that the House investigation will be thorough and fair.
“We have to allow time for this process to go forward,” said Dunnigan. “The investigators must do their work, the information vetted.”
“It will take patience.”
And a lot of money. Reich’s time is being billed out at $740 an hour, with his Atkin associates and Mintz’s work coming in under that number.
Fellows has promised time and again that great efforts will be made to minimize the cost to taxpayers – which could still reach $2 million or $3 million.
The Legislature’s staff has not been sitting idly by during the months-long process of selecting an outside attorney and investigators, said Fellows.
“We’ve pulled together a lot of public information, developed a case map and a time line” of Swallow’s actions and the accusations made against him.
“We’ve jotted down potential witnesses and shared that with your (outside) counsel and investigators,” said Fellows.
Reich said he approaches such investigations from five different areas – or “menus” -- as he called them.
First, is common sense. “What is in the public record,” said Reich. There are any number of newspaper and TV reports on Swallow.
Second, obtain documents from non-public sources. Some witnesses will cooperate with turning over documents, others won’t.
The committee has subpoena power, and may have to use it.
“I’m confident that besides the witnesses in the public record (mostly news reports) that there are witnesses out there who have not yet come forward and feel the desire to share.”
“To those I say, reach out to us,” said Reich.
Investigators will take informal witnesses statements and vet their information for truthfulness before deciding to bring anyone in for formal, sworn testimony.
Thirdly, formal, public testimony will be given. This is the key element, for the public needs to have confidence in what those people are saying.
Fourth, Reich and his investigators will coordinate with two county attorneys’ and federal probes into Swallow. Some of those witnesses may want immunity, for they may have already been given that from the prosecutors or don’t want to suffer personally for what they reveal of their dealings with Swallow.
Lastly, “the presentation of evidence to the committee in a public setting.”
“We need to make sure, as best we can, that what is presented is accurate,” said Reich.
As has been reported previously, the committee is specifically banned from making any recommendation on impeachment to the House.
Committee members are only to make a report of facts, and there can be minority reports if some of the nine members believe some facts have been left out of the majority report, or facts are under dispute.
As reported in UtahPolicy (here), the special counsel of the state Elections Office is already taking testimony on a separate campaign finance violation alleged against Swallow.
And the attorney general could be hauled into civil court before the House’s investigation is complete – facing the possibility that his election could be ruled void and he out of office.