Like a lot of folks here in Utah, I have been following the John Swallow story closely. I have not said anything on the subject, because I suspect that there is still a LOT of dirt that is going to come out during the course of the very active investigation. However, this story from yesterday caught my eye. Utah Democrats are already trying to make political hay out of the situation.
Attempts by Democratic lawmakers to ask tough questions of embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow during a budget hearing were swatted down Friday by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, chairman of the appropriations committee who ruled them out of order.
"If there was something that happened that was untoward, that should be shaken out in a court of law and not in an appropriations meeting," argued Thatcher, a West Valley City Republican and an ardent Swallow supporter.
Now I have dealt with Senator Thatcher in the past. He's a very nice man, but a bit politically naive at times. However, he is absolutely CORRECT in this case. An Appropriations Committee hearing is neither the time nor the place for the kind of questions Senator Dabakis was asking.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who is also chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, called the scandal embroiling Swallow "the gorilla in the room" and questioned whether the new Republican attorney general can effectively run the office.
No doubt it is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. However, this is an APPROPRIATIONS Committee hearing. You are there to talk about the appropriations requests - nothing more. That's not to say that there shouldn't be hearings on the issue - I do think that there should be. However, those hearings need to be held in the APPROPRIATE Senate committee and Appropriations is not the appropriate committee.
Thatcher jumped to Swallow’s defense, ruling the question out of order, and likewise refused to allow Swallow to answer a question from Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, about conflicts of interest in outside employment.
Swallow is under federal investigation for his role in assisting indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson — who sought help fighting a Federal Trade Commission inquiry into his I Works business — and for consulting work he did on a Nevada cement project.
King pressed Swallow on whether he was familiar with rules regarding outside employment for state employees and conflicts of interest.
Thatcher again ruled King’s question out of order.
Again - there is a federal investigation going on into the AG's dealings. Even if Senator Thatcher had allowed the questions to be answered, AG Swallow would have been wise not to say anything about it because anything said would be on the record and subject to subpoena. You know Swallow is smart enough not to say a thing - the questions were pure and simple grandstanding on the part of Sens. Dabakis (who still is UT Democrat Party Chair after all) and King.
Now I do have to take the SLTrib to task a bit here. They make it sound like Sen. Thatcher is helping cover up so sort of wrong doing here. In this case, that is not the truth. As I have repeatedly stated already - AN APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE HEARING IS NOT THE TIME OR THE PLACE FOR THESE KINDS OF QUESTIONS! The Trib knows that. But in an attempt to help score cheap political points.....
"I have serious questions about the extent to which the Attorney General’s Office, past and current, is not in compliance with those rules," King argued. "I think we ought to be talking about that."
And those are valid questions - but not in this committee.
"I’m not out there trying to grandstand," King, an attorney, said after the hearing. "[Thatcher] is just blatantly protecting the attorney general."
On that statement, I'm going to have to call bull. As an attorney, Sen. King should know full well that his questions are best suited in a different venue - say Ethics or Government Operations Committees? As an attorney Sen. King should also know that someone who IS under investigation has the right not to give self-incriminating testimony. Given that it's quite obvious that the good Senator was INDEED grandstanding. His questions were nothing more than an attempt to make a partisan attack on AG Swallow AND on Senator Thatcher.
This situation with AG Swallow is going to get stickier - of that there is no doubt. But as long as we have this pesky "innocent until proven guilty" thing in the legal code, there is nothing that Senator Dabakis and the UT Dems can do - except use this case to slime every single elected Republican in the state.
Which is why AG Swallow should step down. For the good of the party and for his own good. As long as he remains in office, he will be a target. As soon as he becomes private citizen Swallow, he can focus on the federal investigation and not have to deal with episodes like this.
Do the right thing Mr. AG....step down now.