Members of the newly-formed House Investigatory Committee, charged with looking into the actions of scandal-laden Attorney General John Swallow, met for the first time today to begin charting the course of the investigation.
While the idea of impeaching the AG has been heavily circulating around capitol hill, the legislature’s attorneys spent quite a bit of time today reminding the committee that they are not to consider impeachment, nor are they allowed to make a recommendation on whether Swallow should be removed from office to the full House once they have concluded their investigation. The sole responsibility of the investigatory committee is to attempt to confirm facts and follow leads, regardless of where they lead.
The committee first tackled the somewhat controversial decision to grant limited immunity to individuals testifying before the committee.
“It was a bit of a surprise to me that you were granted the ability to give immunity,” confessed John Fellows, General Counsel for the Utah State Legislature.
Though the committee can grant immunity to those testifying, it was made clear that it will not be a get-out-of-jail-free card. According to Samantha Coombs, Legislative Secretary, people could still be charged with a crime if the state finds sufficient evidence aganst them—what couldn’t be used was any testimony given under immunity unless it is independently confirmed.
Legislative attorneys also emphasized that the committee may not be ready to call witnesses until November or December of this year. Because of holiday schedules, that means testimony may or may not happen this year. It also might be delayed until after the 2014 legislative session, which begins in January, if lawmakers on the committee feel like their new duel-role might be too time consuming.
Eric Weeks, Deputy General Counsel for the Legislature, informed the committee their office has narrowed down the number of private firms jostling to be selected as the committee’s own attorneys to ten firms (all from outside the state), with a final decision to be made this Friday.
This quickly turned the discussion to costs. Fellows gave the example of Connecticut, which spent approximately $3 Million on a similar process. He also warned the committee that the process could be bogged down with lawsuits. “Anyone with $350 can file a lawsuit,” he warned, “but we are confident in our legal strategy.” Swallow’s own attorney, Rod Snow, has previously hinted in a letter to the House that if they feel the investigation is overstepping the bounds of their authority, Swallow and Snow may file a lawsuit against them.
The next committee meeting is expected to be in a few weeks.