SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert on Thursday praised the Legislature's decision to investigate embattled Attorney General John Swallow as the start of a process that could lead to Swallow's impeachment.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, scheduled the special session needed to launch the investigation for 9 a.m. July 3.
Lockhart told representatives in an email sent Wednesday evening that "we need to address this issue in a timely manner. I have great faith that this body will do what is best for the people of Utah."
Republicans in the House voted in an extended caucus Wednesday to call a special session of the Legislature so a committee to investigate Swallow can be created, but stopped short of beginning impeachment proceedings.
"Whether this is as fast or as aggressive as some would like, there's probably some debate on that issue," the governor said during the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7.
But Herbert said there was no real difference in whether the Legislature's investigation into Swallow — already the subject of federal, state and local probes into multiple allegations — begins as part of the formal impeachment process.
"This is a crescendo. It starts softer and will end up louder, using a musical term," the governor said. "This is beginning. It's not the end. But this beginning will tell us what the next step is."
Herbert said he "absolutely" will call lawmakers into special session if needed.
Lockhart has said she believes she has the power to call the House into session for the rule-making necessary to create the committee, just as she does in the case of an impeachment.
"The question is, does this investigation reach that level? There is some uncertainty on that," Herbert said. "But I can tell you, it's a moot point for me. If they need to have a special session to create this investigative committee, I'm more than happy to call them into special session."
Swallow told reporters after watching the House Republicans' deliberations online Wednesday that the Legislature "got it right" by choosing not to go forward with impeachment.
The attorney general said the investigation approved by fellow GOP lawmakers "is very different" from the probe that would have been conducted at the start of the impeachment process.
"Clothed in the impeachment power, there is a whole different process and a whole different ultimate result for challenges than there is in the normal process," Swallow said, declining to state if he believed the chosen investigation would be weaker.
Legislative attorneys told the House GOP caucus that investigating as part of the impeachment process does offer special protections against legal challenges. But House leaders apparently did not have the support for impeachment.
The details of the legislative investigation, including the makeup of the committee and the cost, are yet to be determined. House leaders said they expect to hire an attorney and an investigator to assist the committee, which will be bipartisan.
The governor said his role in the process "is as a bystander, making sure people are doing things correctly and, I guess, call them on it if they're not." He said the Legislature is exercising the necessary caution.
"At the end of the day, we want to have trust restored to the attorney general's office," Herbert said. He said his cabinet has assured him work by the attorney general's office has not been affected by Swallow's situation.
Asked if the attorney general should resign, the governor said Swallow needs to take into consideration what's best for him, his family and taxpayers.
"I'm expecting him, in fact, to do that," Herbert said.
Swallow, who faces allegations including that he helped broker a deal for a Utah businessman trying to halt a federal investigation into his business, said he will not resign and expects to be exonerated.