The special House committee investigating embattled Attorney General John Swallow met for a few minutes Tuesday morning then voted to close their meeting to get legal briefings from their hired legal team.
Steve Reich, of the outside legal firm of Atkin Gump, told the meeting and a gaggle of local media reporters in attendance, that so far he and his nine investigators have interviewed 60 witnesses and reviewed many documents.
“Witnesses have generally been cooperative,” said Reich.
But, as reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, several subpoenas for documents have already been issued.
And Reich said more would be as needed.
During the open part of Tuesday’s meeting the nine committee members – five Republicans and four Democrats – asked no questions.
When the motion was made to close the meeting, both chairman Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, and the motion-maker, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, read from prepared statements citing the state law that allows such meetings to be closed in accordance the GRAMA law.
Last month federal officials announced that they have dropped their investigation into any wrongdoing by Swallow, who has been under pressure since the first of the year.
The Salt Lake County attorney and the Davis County attorney, however, continue their criminal probes – and are being assisted by the same feds who declined to file any charges against Swallow.
In addition, the Utah State Elections office has hired an outside counsel to look into any campaign finance filing violations by Swallow’s 2012 AG campaign.
If there are violations there, the counsel can decide on his own whether to take that case to civil Utah court. And a judge could find against Swallow and order his 2012 election overturned.
That would drive Swallow from office (although he likely would appeal to the Utah Supreme Court).
If he is out of office, the Utah House’s investigation, which could cost upwards of $3 million, is automatically over.
The only action the Legislature can take is to impeach Swallow and remove him from office.
But any criminal investigations could still continue.
Swallow denies any wrongdoing and says, ultimately, that like the federal probe all other investigations against him will find no wrongdoing.
“We have numerous leads to follow,” said Reich in the open part of Tuesday’s meeting.
As the investigators of the Mintz Group, an outside investigators firm, get in more documents, that leads to more witnesses, said Reich.
And as more witnesses are interviewed, then that leads to more documents Reich wants to look at.
“This is a big and complicated process,” said Reich, who has been involved in public official impeachment/investigations at both the federal and state level.
As much as possible, he added, his people are working with other investigators – like the county attorneys – not only in an effort to save money, but so they won’t foul up each others investigations.
But, he added, he is well aware of the cost building up in outside legal and investigatory fees.
And his firm is working closely with the Legislature’s own legal staff in an effort to keep those costs down.
After the feds dropped their case, several Utah lawmakers – who were against the timing and scope of the House’s investigation to begin with – have complained that taxpayers’ money may be wasted if the special committee’s work continues.
One suggested that the committee suspend its operations until the county attorneys’ work is finished.
But other House members want the committee to continue. And, indeed, a special resolution setting up the committee and its work is still in place and it is unclear if House GOP leaders could stop the committee’s work at this time.