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Lawmaker opens bill file to impeach Utah A.G. Sean Reyes over election challenges

Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, alleges that Reyes misused the powers of his office

Sean Reyes, Utah Attorney General, lays his hand on the Bible held by his wife, Saysha, to take his oath of office.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes takes his oath of office with his wife, Saysha Reyes, at his side at Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Ivins, Washington County, near St. George on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A Democratic state lawmaker has opened a bill file to impeach Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes for allegedly misusing the powers of his office.

Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, said Reyes has worked “shamelessly” over the past few months to undermine the country’s election results.

“As an attorney and a public officer, he has violated his duty to the state. He has put the aims of special interest groups above the voters who elected him,” Stoddard said in a statement Tuesday.

Reyes issued a prepared statement late Tuesday afternoon saying his office has helped Stoddard with his criminal justice bills during the current legislative session but he has never asked to meet with him to discussion his concerns.

“Impeachment is a drastic measure, especially if, as Rep. Stoddard says, he is simply looking for answers to his questions. If I had questions regarding his bill, I wouldn’t send a subpoena, I’d make an appointment with him,” Reyes said.

Outside of prepared statements issued by his office, the attorney general has yet to publicly address any of the criticism leveled at him for backing challenges to the election results by former President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

Stoddard’s bill appears dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Utah Legislature.

“Impeachment is a loaded word that certainly grab headlines, but I have not seen any evidence that the attorney general’s actions meet the threshold set for us to pursue that course of action,” House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said.

Wilson said prolonged debate on impeachment would hinder lawmakers’ ability to deal with more pressing matters.

“I’m afraid I would describe this in maybe one or two really short words, and they probably shouldn’t be in print,” Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the Senate budget chairman, told reporters.

Senate President Stuart Adams said he was “really disappointed” about the proposed resolution “and I hope it doesn’t go anywhere, because I don’t think that’s productive in Utah,” likening it to the political climate in Washington.

“We’re better than that,” said Adams, R-Layton.

Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said lawmakers have the prerogative to file whatever legislation they want.

“We’ll see where it goes,” she said.

Stoddard, a Murray city prosecutor, said Reyes’ involvement with the Republican Attorneys General Association has been “very concerning,” given its role in inciting the domestic terrorism that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“Reyes has not provided clear answers to his involvement with any of this,” Stoddard said.

Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, left, talks to Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City, during the Utah Legislature’s 2021 general session in the House chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Stoddard has filed a bill to impeach Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.
Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, left, talks to Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City, during the Utah Legislature’s 2021 general session in the House chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Stoddard has filed a bill to impeach Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The fundraising arm of the Republican Attorney General’s Association sent out a robocall urging “patriots” to march on the Capitol as Congress counted Electoral College votes. Reyes is a member of the group’s executive committee and former chairman of its Rule of Law Defense Fund, which paid for the call.

Reyes’ office attempted to distance him from the call, saying in a statement that the attorney general was not involved in organizing the rally in Washington. The statement said Reyes supports everyone’s right to peacefully protest and condemns in the “strongest possible terms” the acts of lawlessness and violence at the Capitol.

In his Tuesday statement, Reyes it has been well documented by the media and national organizations that he was not involved in planning or encouraging any violence at the Capitol.

“I immediately and emphatically denounced the lawlessness and loss of life on Jan. 6 in the same manner I condemned the equally tragic riots, looting, burning, violence and loss of life all summer long in cities across our nation,” he said.

Shortly after being reelected in November, Reyes traveled to Las Vegas to help prepare and support lawsuits in several states dealing with what he called a “compromised” election process. After visiting Nevada, Reyes said he saw evidence of voting irregularities that may have resulted in improper votes being counted or proper votes being rejected.

Reyes also involved Utah in a lawsuit challenging election results in four swing states that Trump lost — an action that was condemned by Gov. Spencer Cox and former Gov. Gary Herbert, both Republicans. The suit demanded that the electoral votes in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — enough votes to swing the election for Trump — be invalidated. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the case.

Reyes said he joined the lawsuit because there were questions about the election process and constitutional integrity that needed to be answered nationally. Specifically, when are executive and judicial branches allowed to change or disregard state law without approval of the legislative branch or referendum process.

“I know many state legislators along with a majority of Utahns wanted this question answered and still do. I understand the Supreme Court is hesitant to address even important constitutional issues like this amid political controversy. Nevertheless, it is a question that remains and needs to be answered before the next election cycle,” Reyes said in his Tuesday statement.

Stoddard said his bill is not meant as a display of incivility or partisanship, and that he filed it after “much consideration.”

“My decision comes from a desire to make sure that our state is represented ethically and to hold public officers to the highest standard of public responsibility,” he said.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said the bill needs more “thoughtful consideration” by Stoddard and should be “buried” until Stoddard meets with Reyes.

“Lowering the bar for impeachment such that it becomes a political tool when one disagrees with another elected official, is a dangerous path,” McCay said in a tweet.

Citing the acrimony in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said he doesn’t want to see impeachment proceedings in Utah.

“I would much prefer the good representative withdraw that,” he said.

As a legislator, Stoddard said his options to investigate potentially unethical and impeachable offenses is limited. He said he could either file a government records request or open a bill file seeking impeachment.

State law allows members of the Utah House of Representatives to file a resolution of impeachment against public officers for “high crimes, misdemeanors, or malfeasance in office.” The House has the sole power of impeachment but requires at least a two-thirds vote to succeed. The Senate acts as judge and jury under Utah law.

In July 2013, the Republican-led Utah Legislature formed a special committee to investigate alleged wrongdoing by then GOP Attorney General John Swallow, but did not move to impeachment proceedings. Swallow resigned in December 2013, citing the strain that the committee investigation was having on him, his family and his finances.

Several organizations, including the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah and the centrist United Utah Party, have called for Reyes to resign. Hundreds of Utahns also signed a petition demanding Reyes step down if he’s unwilling to apologize for involving Utah in the lawsuit challenging presidential election results in other states.

Correction: An earlier version identified state Sen. Karen Mayne as a Republican. She is a Democrat.