Peg McEntee: Lawmaker is right — it's time to talk Swallow impeachment
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Given the myriad allegations of misconduct against Attorney General John Swallow, it's appropriate that Utah lawmakers are talking about impeachment hearings.

But no one has laid out the case like Republican Rep. Spencer Cox, a Fairview freshman and an attorney with a keen wit even as he builds his case for that dramatic step.

He's right, of course. The allegations mount every day — bribery, extortion, rules violations, withholding information on his financial disclosure forms and more.

Most recently, there's troubling evidence that Swallow, like his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, got hefty chunks of his campaign money from multilevel marketers, telemarketers, financial coaches and payday lenders. Such fundraising may not be illegal, but it makes watchdogs queasy.

Call me queasy, too, because the big question is: How long can this drag out, and with what damage to the attorney general's office and the public trust? You know things are bad when Paul Mero, president of the conservative Sutherland Institute, says Swallow should step down.

Mero and I don't often agree, but this time he's right.

Now, back to Cox. Early in a lengthy blog post last week, he imitates Swallow's spokespeople: "The attorney general has not broken any laws and has no plans to resign/should not be impeached."

Then Cox fires back: "Really? That's the best you got? That is the standard for the top law enforcement official in the state. … Every time I hear that line it sounds like they are saying, 'The attorney general has done some really, really, really bad things, just probably not technically committed a crime.' "

Cox's goal in writing the blog post is explaining how an impeachment works and how much it costs — by his estimate, $2 million to $4 million. "Caution is critical," he writes.

The lawmaker explains the process clearly.

"Any study of impeachment in the United States quickly reveals that the true purpose of impeachment has never been to punish the offender," he writes, "but instead to preserve the public trust and protect the integrity of the office."

The first question is whether the public trust has been violated, Cox says. "I don't need a poll to tell me that the public has lost faith in the integrity of the office, I hear it every day."

He adds that the only way to restore that trust will be to absolve Swallow of any wrongdoing or remove him from office.

Even in January, soon after the Swallow headlines hit, a lot of Utahns had suspicions about him. In a poll by Key Research and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, nearly 60 percent of Utahns who knew about the budding scandal said they believed Swallow had acted illegally or unethically.

The center asked the same questions in March, and 78 percent of the respondents said Swallow should resign.

The good news is that on June 19, the House Republican caucus plans to focus on the impeachment issue.

Again, Cox puts it succinctly: "If this is the work of a narcissistic, habitual office seeker, who cares nothing about the public trust and will do anything to remain in power, we have an obligation to remove that person from office. Let the conversation begin."

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter: @Peg McEntee.