SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's top Democrats are calling for Rep. Justin Miller, D-Salt Lake City, to step down amid accusations that he embezzled campaign funds.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said the Utah House Democratic Caucus waited a month for Miller to publicly defend himself against the claims by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams before taking a position on the matter.
“The information that has been made available in the media undermines the confidence our constituents should have in their Legislature,” King said at a news conference Monday. “The ongoing investigations significantly impair the ability of Rep. Miller to effectively represent the constituents of House District 40.”
All Democratic caucus members — except Miller — voted to call for his resignation.
King said he officially asked Miller to resign last Wednesday, but Miller did not announce any intent to step down.
"It's unfortunate that despite an ongoing investigation, the House Democrats have rushed to judgment and called for my resignation," Miller said after the news conference. "I take their position on this matter very seriously and will be taking the next couple of days to discuss with family the next actions to take."
The caucus' decision came after a hailstorm of accusations of legal misconduct between Miller and McAdams surfaced last month.
Miller is facing a criminal investigation after McAdams accused him of embezzling about $30,000 in campaign funds when Miller worked as the mayor's campaign manager.
Miller fired back, saying McAdams wrongly fired him in October and is retaliating against him for whistleblowing on alleged government corruption.
With no timetable in place for the completion of the criminal investigation, King said Miller's resignation is necessary to maintain the credibility of the Democratic caucus and the House.
"Members of the House, and specifically members of the House Democratic Caucus, feel strongly about the need for elected representatives to act in a way that warrants the public's trust," King said. "Since the allegations have come to light, we have spent many hours over the past month determining what is the best possible way forward."
The caucus aims to ensure the issue does not "continue to undermine the credibility" of Utah's elected officials, he said. The decision was made after caucus members had time to review materials released by Salt Lake County, including emails and recordings of conversations regarding Miller's accusations, King said.
"We want to be about our work as representatives to the people of the state of Utah," he said. "It's been very difficult over the past month to focus on things that we need to be focusing on. I can't imagine Rep. Miller has been … able to carry out his activities as an official well."
King said Miller likely won’t face a House ethics investigation because the claims against him allegedly happened prior to Miller’s time as a legislator. If Miller resists resignation, the House and Democratic caucus have options to unseat him, King said.
"We're trying to do the best thing for the people of the state of Utah," he said.
Miller asks for an investigation
In an email sent Thursday afternoon, Miller said he understands the pressure party leadership is under to take action in light of McAdams' claims. But instead of calling for his resignation, Miller is encouraging party leadership to make a legislative inquiry into the accusations against him and let the investigation play out.
Miller said he's "very anxious" to make the results of such an inquiry public.
"The public deserves to know the results of the ongoing investigation into the charges against me," he said.
In response to his resignation request, Miller also added an accusation that former Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank, forced to resign by Mayor Ralph Becker last week, played a detrimental role in his investigation.
Miller said Burbank "held onto" the investigation against him for eight months without contacting him.
"I encourage Mayor Becker, now with better police leadership, to call for a speedy end to my investigation and a further ethics investigation into the role Chief Burbank played in the delay and lack of communication with me on the investigation to this point," Miller said.
"These are courageous actions the (Democratic) Party leadership should be taking, not calling for the resignation of a colleague that they know to be an effective legislator for his constituents," he added. "I hope real leadership on this issue wins out over the posturing and pressures of political bickering that does nothing for the people who elected us."
Attempts to reach Burbank for comment Monday were unsuccessful. Becker declined to comment on Miller's remarks.
Party leadership weighs in
Peter Corroon, Utah Democratic Party chairman, supported the caucus' decision in a prepared statement issued Monday afternoon.
"The Utah House Democrats made it clear today that those Democrats who serve in our state Legislature should act in accordance with the values and standards of the people they serve," Corroon said. "Utah Democrats also believe our public officials should be held to the highest ethical standards. That is the only way to maintain public trust.
"With regard to Rep. Miller, we urge him, if he has information to exonerate himself, to release the information to the public as soon as possible," Corroon said. "His constituents and the people of Utah deserve to know the reality of this situation. If he doesn't have this information, we believe he should deal with these allegations as a private citizen."
Greg Hartley, spokesman for House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said Hughes “had a very frank conversation” with Miller last week.
“The speaker told him that his priorities need to be to his family, and as a member of the House of Representatives, protecting the integrity of the institution,” Hartley said.
McAdams also released a statement Monday, saying he was “gratified” by the caucus’ decision to acknowledge the ethical concerns and potential criminal wrongdoing surrounding Miller.
“As a victim of Justin’s misconduct, I want this to be resolved as quickly as possible, not only for me and for Salt Lake County constituents, but also for Justin’s family," McAdams said.