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Attorney General John Swallow took a swing Thursday at the Utah House committee investigating him, alleging the probe had become a politicized crusade to find any hint of wrongdoing so that it didn't appear to be wasting taxpayer money.
"They're not looking, in my view, to restore the public trust. They're looking for justification to spend $3 million," Swallow said, referring to the projected cost of the House inquiry. "That's our fear that this has become politicized, that this has become someone's agenda, and they've got all the resources of the state of Utah to come after me."
It was an angry rebuke from the embattled Republican attorney general, who previously had expressed reservations about the House probe's price tag but had vowed to cooperate with the investigation.
In particular, Swallow criticized Steven Reich, special counsel to the bipartisan House committee, suggesting he was not presenting fair and complete information to lawmakers. He also questioned why the panel's chairman, Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, was continuing the inquiry.
Swallow said the U.S. Justice Department investigated for 10 months and decided in September not to file charges against him or his GOP predecessor, Mark Shurtleff.
"Now the Legislature has access to that kind of information, what are they going to do? They've spent close to a million dollars, are they going to say, 'Well, it's a million poorly spent?' " Swallow asked. "When I see Representative Dunnigan, I see a guy who says, 'Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.' "
Dunnigan defended the committee and vowed to complete its fact-finding mission.
"If our committee can do our job in determining what the facts are, whatever they are … then we've done our job and we'll be comfortable with that," he said. "Whatever the outcome is, if we can be factual and fair and evenhanded, we will have done our job."
Dunnigan also said that the panel is on target to stay within the $3 million projection, but added that it takes time and money to be thorough and fair.
Swallow, in a brief interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, suggested Reich could be nervous about losing the committee as a major client and presenting information in a manner that would "give the committee a reason for them to spend more money."
House investigators are trying to reconstruct information missing from several of Swallow's electronic devices lost emails, files erased from his state-issued desktop and laptop computers, data from a home computer that crashed in January, items that appear to have been deleted from his electronic calendar and information from the cellphone he replaced in 2012.
Attorneys have gone to court, asking a 3rd District judge to order the attorney general's office to give computer experts access to copies of hard drives and servers in the office in hopes of recovering some of the information.
In a hearing this week, Reich told the House committee that every electronic device Swallow has had since becoming attorney general in January is missing data and said that while there may be a benign explanation the pattern is unlike anything he has seen.
Reich was a member of the defense team during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and led an investigation that resulted in the ouster of then-Connecticut Gov. John Rowland.
Swallow, who has denied wrongdoing, said his wifehas warned him that the Legislature wouldn't spend $3 million to decide he's innocent. "She also said: 'No one can withstand the scrutiny of a $3 million [investigation].' Could you?"
Given the expense, Swallow said he doesn't see how the committee could exonerate him.
"They've got $3 million they're spending. What are they going to do, go to their constituents when they're running for office next summer … and say, 'We've spend so much money [on the investigation] we can't now spend it on kids?' " Swallow said. "And, by the way, we didn't find anything wrong."
Swallow's lost information is adding to the probe's price tag.
"To the extent we have road bumps along the way about documents or electronic data or people who are unresponsive to subpoenas," Dunningan said, "it does create delay and causes the costs to increase."
Swallow's former employer, Softwise Inc., had not responded to a subpoena. But on Thursday, the company filed a motion to quash it having failed to negotiate a settlement arguing the subpoena is "nothing more than a fishing expedition" and exceeds the Legislature's authority. Alternatively, it asks the judge to issue a protective order, preventing the disclosure of its private information.
The committee issued the subpoena because Swallow used his Softwise email account after joining the attorney general's office.
During a lengthier interview Thursday with KSL Radio's Doug Wright, Swallow complained that Reich neglected to tell lawmakers that Swallow's attorney had alerted investigators to the missing data and that he and the attorney general's office have provided more than 11,000 pages of material in response to the committee's subpoena.
"These statements are made, which I think are calculated, to inflame or enrage people," Swallow said. "If I sound a little angry … it's because I am."
Swallow, who reaffirmed that he never tried to hide any electronic data from investigators, also criticized Reich for suggesting the attorney general's office had been uncooperative although Reich praised the office several times for its cooperation.
Swallow a topic on "Utah Week in Review"
Jennifer Napier-Pearce discusses John Swallow documents, Election Day results and air-quality messaging with reporters Robert Gehrke, Matt Canham and Christopher Smart along with editorial writer George Pyle on "Utah Week in Review" at 9 a.m. on KCPW 88.5/105.3 FM. Listeners can join the discussion by sending questions on Twitter or Google+ using the hashtag #utreview. They also can comment on sltrib.com or call 801-355-TALK.