Republican state senators expressed serious concerns during a closed-door meeting Tuesday about a scandal dogging Attorney General John Swallow, but decided to wait for a full investigation before taking any action in the matter.
"Of course, you'd have to be blind not to have some kind of concern about it," said Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem. "The allegations … are that our attorney general has done something unseemly, if not illegal, so we're trying to say, 'Let's give him the presumption of innocence everyone should have on the criminal side and let him come forward with the facts.' "
Swallow has asked U.S. Attorney for Utah David Barlow to investigate the matter, and Barlow has said he would consider any information offered and "take any necessary and appropriate action."
The FBI, however, has already interviewed several people about Swallow's relationship with Jeremy Johnson, an indicted St. George businessman who says Swallow helped put him in touch with a friend and client who said he was going to bribe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to enlist the Nevada Democrat in a bid to thwart a federal investigation into Johnson's businesses.
While the Utah Senate could conduct its own investigation, Valentine said there are already qualified, capable people looking at it, and there was concern about "getting crosswise" with any federal inquiry.
Valentine noted the Senate could also not extend its investigation to Reid, who has denied any involvement in Johnson's matter.
If an investigation comes back and exonerates Swallow, it would be the end of the matter, Valentine said. If it finds wrongdoing, the Senate could take a series of actions from censuring the attorney general up to impeachment.
In Utah, as with the federal government, the House puts forward articles of impeachment, and, if they are approved, they are sent to the Senate for a trial. It requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers to take action.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said that, at this point, she knows only what she has read and she, too, is awaiting the outcome of a full investigation.
"There's only a few things we know absolutely for certain. We know Johnson has accused him of some things and we know John has denied it," she said. "We are a nation that believes in innocence until proven guilty, so I would think that anyone would want to have that at least be the basis."