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A freshman Republican lawmaker would like "nothing more" than the resignation of beleaguered Utah Attorney General John Swallow. Short of that, the Legislature must not shy away from impeachment hearings, he says, especially given the "lasting damage" to the office and "a crippling erosion of public trust."
"Impeachment. There, I said it," begins Rep. Spencer Cox, R-Fairview, in a lengthy missive posted Friday on his campaign website. " ... The A.G.'s office has become the butt of every political joke and an embarrassment to some of the best public servants we have. ... The time for serious impeachment discussions has arrived."
Cox, an attorney, told The Salt Lake Tribune that he is not specifically calling for the political probe. But he also writes the House has a duty to investigate and act as fact finder noting the only way to do so with subpoena power is through impeachment hearings.
"There is this false narrative going around, especially coming from Swallow's people, that there has to be something criminal for impeachment proceedings to begin," Cox said. "To suggest that we can only consider impeachment once the feds and the multitude of investigations are completed is absurd."
Swallow's spokesman Paul Murphy repeated his refrain that his boss has not broken any laws, adding that the attorney general has said from the beginning it was a mistake to meet with indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson.
"It would be absolutely wrong to consider impeachment over misjudging the character of one person," Murphy said. "There's another side to this story that is not being told. I would encourage the legislators, that if they have questions, to come ask them."
The 'I-word' • Cox becomes the first sitting lawmaker to publicly ponder the "I-word," as he calls impeachment, but the second after Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield to call for Swallow's resignation.
"However, the truth is that virtually every elected official I have spoken with feels the same way," he writes regarding resignation.
Cox says he cannot understand why Swallow won't consider paid administrative leave.
That's a "no-brainer," he insists, and would immediately restore trust in the office, allow Swallow to focus on his defense, and save the state what he estimates as a $2 million to $4 million expense for impeachment proceedings.
"Unfortunately, in a show of incredible disregard to the citizens of Utah," Cox writes, "the attorney general's spokespeople have also dismissed this as a possibility."
Republican House members have blacked out their entire June 19 caucus agenda to discuss the escalating Swallow scandal.
The Justice Department is investigating Utah's attorney general as well as his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff after Johnson alleged Swallow helped broker payoffs to derail a Federal Trade Commission probe.
In concert with the federal inquiry, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings are investigating whether Swallow broke any state laws.
At the request of the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, and armed with a new state law, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell also will appoint a special counsel to see whether Swallow violated campaign financial-disclosure rules.
The Utah State Bar has at least two ethics complaints aimed at Swallow one from the former head of the Division of Consumer Protection and another from the Alliance for a Better Utah.
Democrats cautious • Utah Democrats have stopped short of impeachment calls a position that didn't change after Friday's missive from Cox.
"We're kind of in a wait-and-see mode to see whether more information is coming," explained House Minority Whip Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray. "It does not mean it's not morally or ethically wrong. ... I don't want trial by public sentiment. You have to make sure that it's warranted. We haven't heard any of the evidence yet."
Still, "you are probably doing it wrong," Cox writes, if people feel an inherent need to constantly record their conversations with Swallow, as multiple accusers have.
Cox also questions whether Utah's top cop has too low a standard to remain in office by arguing "technically" no crime has been committed.
"What the law says about impeachment would make for a good conversation," Murphy counters. "Did the attorney general violate any law in office? The answer is no. Has he violated any law before office? The answer is no."
Swallow must be absolved if he is the victim of a political reporter and his "evil minions" conspiring with "criminal masterminds," Cox writes sarcastically.
"However, 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."