If there was any doubt left that many lawmakers on Utah’s capitol hill are strongly considering the impeachment of scandal-laden Attorney General John Swallow, it was blown away this afternoon.
Representative Spencer Cox (Republican, Fairview) published a blog post on his website Friday afternoon, demanding the Utah State House of Representatives immediately commence impeachment proceedings against Swallow. While careful to note that he was not calling for Swallow to be actually impeached (yet), Cox made the strong argument that the impeachment proceedings themselves are the only way for the Utah legislature to make its own investigation.
Of course I believe that the Attorney General is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The Founders could have easily said, “if an office holder is convicted of a crime in a court of law, the office holder shall be removed from office.” They didn’t. As such, impeachment must mean something different than “just removing someone from office who has committed a crime.” In fact, correctly understood, impeachment proceedings become our profound duty in order to restore the public trust by either, (1) proving the allegations and removing the officeholder, or (2) absolving the person from wrongful allegations.
As many commentators and members of the media, including Utah Political Capitol, have pointed out over the last few months, at this point it doesn’t matter whether the newly elected Republican attorney general actually committed a crime or not. While the investigations by the FBI, Salt Lake County District Attorney and Davis County Attorney will determine whether there is jail time in Swallow’s future, the commitment of a crime should not be the sole determining factor for impeachment. Rather, Cox argues, the impeachment of an elected official should derive from whether or not they have violated the public trust.
In a phone call with UPC Friday evening, Cox tells us that the point of his article wasn’t to push lawmakers to push other lawmakers into opening proceedings. “The article came from two things. Firstly, I’m upset with the narrative that the spokespeople for Swallow are saying. They’re saying that absent of criminal prosecution we couldn’t impeach. That’s clearly not the case, so I wanted to show what [impeachment] actually is and to clarify that. Secondly, I also wanted to break the glass ceiling about impeachment and say it’s ok to talk about it. My hope is that this will advance the discussion, so that we can talk about it. Everyone who’s got a forum on this isn’t talking about the impeachment, and we’ve got to be talking about it. There has been such an abuse of the public sentiment.”
In response to news that the House Republican Caucus will be meeting on June 19th to discuss the possibility of an impeachment proceeding moving forward, the Utah Democratic Party put out a press release this afternoon demanding that the meeting be moved out of a closed-door caucus setting and be held in public.
“Clearly, the proper place to discuss this matter, get the facts, and create a plan of action to move forward is in an open, bipartisan public hearing,” said Senator Jim Dabakis, who is also the party’s chairman. “It is absolutely inappropriate to even propose carrying out this business in a closed GOP caucus meeting. This contempt for the public approach exemplifies the arrogance and good-old-boy network that got us into this mess in the first place, and yet, it appears no lessons have been learned by Utah’s GOP.”
Cox says he agrees that an impeachment proceeding should, in the end (if it moves forward at all), come from both sides of the aisle. But he adds that he’s not so sure that the caucus meeting is a bad idea. “Caucus meetings are a great place to have this discussion. We’re going to have to figure out whether or not to open this caucus to the public, but I’ve always advocated for openness. That said, people are more hesitant to discuss their true feelings when the public is there. The caucus meeting won’t be the end of it though, and I hope that if this [impeachment proceeding] does happen at some point, it will be a bipartisan effort.”