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Gov. Herbert: 'Honest difference of opinion' over release of A.G. report

FILE- Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during a 20th anniversary celebration for the Utah Department of Workforce Services in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 29, 2017.
FILE- Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during a 20th anniversary celebration for the Utah Department of Workforce Services in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 29, 2017.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday there's "an honest difference of opinion" that may end up in court over whether he can keep the Utah Attorney General's Office from releasing an opinion sought by lawmakers on the special election.

"Let me just tell you, I don't care what's in the opinion. It's just an opinion. It may be good. It may not be good," the governor said during the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7, noting he has not seen the opinion.

But he said the issue is that under the Utah Constitution, the attorney general "is required to be my legal counsel. And I have to listen to him." The governor said the move by lawmakers to take legal action is also an attempt to protect their rights.

"We're going to work it out. We're talking, we're discussing how to best resolve this. I think it will help us all going forward to have clarity," Herbert said. Going to court would do that and "is not necessarily a bad option," he said.

"The truth is, nobody knows for sure until it's probably tested in court. We'll do that. This is not a big issue. It's not a personal vendetta or anything like that on either side. It's an honest difference of opinion," the governor said.

Legislative leaders voted Wednesday to pursue legal action to force the release of the opinion, sought earlier this year in an attempt to resolve their dispute with the governor over the election to fill the vacancy left by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

But Attorney General Sean Reyes withheld the opinion, citing ethical concerns over a conflict of interest because his office had advised the governor and lieutenant governor, who oversees elections, on setting up the 3rd Congressional District race.

The State Records Committee ruled last week the opinion should be made public. The attorney general's office has not yet announced whether that decision will be appealed, even though the governor's office said it should be.

Lawmakers contended Herbert needed to call them into special session to approve a process for filling the seat in Congress held by Chaffetz until he stepped down June 30.

The governor, however, went forward with a special election that included an August Republican primary between three candidates. Voters will decided Nov. 7 on who will serve the remaining year of Chaffetz's term.

Also Thursday, Herbert rated President Donald Trump's job performance since taking office in January as "erratic" even though he's made some good appointments, including choosing former governors like Vice President Mike Pence for key roles.

But the governor said his fellow Republican in the White House "has a hard time, I think, not addressing a thousand issues when he ought to be focused on five. It's distracting."

He suggested Trump focus on what's important "and let the other things slide."

The governor also said he expects Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to face challengers if he decides to seek an eighth term in 2018. But Herbert wouldn't say whether he would back Hatch if he does choose to run.

"I'm not going to speculate on who's going to get in the race and what I'm going to do. Let's wait and see what happens," the governor said. "There are a lot of options out there."