Webb: I'm glad the ill-advised Olympic trial is over and I'm glad that Tom Welch and Dave Johnson can have their lives back. I don't think their conduct rose to the level of criminal behavior and I don't think they deserved the hell they've endured for the past five years.

But I don't think they're heroes, either.

Yes, they brought the Olympics to Utah. But at a very high ethical price. Yes, they played by the unwritten rules of the IOC and the USOC. But they were filthy, rotten rules.

The questionable behavior in the gift-giving scandal ranged from off-white to charcoal gray. It started off-white with lavish wining and dining of IOC members and extravagant gifts. It extended to various shades of gray with "scholarships," and "jobs," some legitimate, some not so legitimate, with money wired to numbered bank accounts in Europe.

I don't know if the charcoal-gray behavior constituted bribery or vote-buying, but it certainly violated the written IOC and USOC ethics rules. It was so unethical that several IOC members were booted in disgrace from the IOC for taking the gifts and money.

Meanwhile, as Welch and Johnson emerge as media darlings, former Gov. Mike Leavitt is being criticized for not sticking up for them when the scandal broke. The implication is that Leavitt must have known what was going on, must have condoned the unethical behavior, but when the nasty stuff hit the fan he skedaddled for cover.

I was working for Leavitt during part of the hot pursuit of the Olympics, although I left well before the scandal broke. I don't think there's any question, as Leavitt himself has said, that he knew about some of the off-white behavior, the wining and dining and lavish gift-giving. Everyone did, including the news media.

But I don't believe Leavitt had any idea about the charcoal-gray behavior, and that was borne out by the SLOC Ethics Committee investigation. Should he have known? Should his staff members assigned to the Olympics have known? In hindsight, perhaps.

There's plenty of blame to go around in this sordid tale, but I absolutely believe that Leavitt was unaware of the most egregious behavior.

So as the news media feeding frenzy began with banner headlines displaying the latest dirt, it would have been ludicrous for Leavitt to stand up and say, "Hey, this wasn't really all that bad. Everyone does this stuff. We stand by our guys. Give us a break." He would have been accused of trying to gloss over and cover up a major scandal. Formal ethics investigations were inevitable and those investigations found serious ethical lapses.

Leavitt did the right thing. He asked for a thorough investigation and let the chips fall where they may. He got the Olympics

back on track with a new leader named Mitt Romney.

And so the chips fell. State officials declined to prosecute anyone. Overzealous federal prosecutors went after Welch and Johnson. Judge David Sam dismissed the case.

And so maybe it really will finally go away.

Pignanelli: Imagine the following scenario:

After initial media reports disclosing Olympic scholarships, Gov. Mike Leavitt states, "I am proud of what our small but determined state has accomplished within the Olympic movement. We assure Americans and the rest of the world that no state or federal laws were violated in our pursuit of the 2002 Olympic Games. We stand by our conduct, as consistent with that of sister cities across the globe and within the practices of the International Olympic Committee."

This statement is repeated over and over as the response to all "vote solicitation" questions. The media focuses on whether there was any real wrongdoing. As a result, the governor and SLOC succeed in controlling the perception of what happened and early clamors for legal action eventually dissipate. There is no trial, because the federal government had no reason or incentive to file charges.

Unfortunately, a different reality occurred. Immediately after the scholarship story, there was little reaction from the

governor or anyone else. Within three weeks, Marc Hodler of the IOC first used the "B word" — bribery — to describe SLOC's activities. His unflattering accusations easily spread throughout the world because the responses from Utah were nonexistent or ineffective. Days later, Leavitt declared that practices of SLOC were "disheartening" and asked for an ethics investigation. In two weeks the U.S. Olympic Committee launched its own investigation, and then the Department of Justice decided to get involved.

Questions whether Leavitt and other leaders knew of gift giving activities are irrelevant. The more appropriate inquiry is whether Leavitt and others missed a historic opportunity to redirect the world's attention on this matter.

Within weeks of the scholarship scandal, elected leaders and many SLOC members scrambled to distance themselves. They nodded their heads when IOC bigwigs and political pundits used the word "bribery." These individuals succeeded in portraying themselves as just third party observers but left the state defenseless. Thus, disgruntled Olympic site competitors and ambitious politicians in Washington, D.C., easily defined SLOC's bid pursuit in a negative light, in what otherwise should be remembered as a great moment in our state's history.

As an advisory committee member to SLOC until 1996, I know there was pressure to get the bid and give Utahns the opportunity to showcase our state before billions. While the journey to get there was not always pretty, SLOC aggressively competed against other cities — without violating laws — and won. Utah would have been spared the agony of the last four years if Leavitt and other Utahns had assumed personal control and direction of a message that positively defined SLOC and our state. It took Judge Sam to finally silence our critics.


Republican LaVarr Webb was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. He now is a political consultant and lobbyist. E-mail: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. A recent candidate for Salt Lake mayor, Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House Minority Leader. E-mail: frankp@xmission.com.