State charges sought
The prosecutors said their current focus is pursuing state charges against Utah officials and figures, like former Utah Attorney General John Swallow. To the dismay of the investigators, the Justice Department declined to prosecute Mr. Swallow, a Republican.
On Wednesday, a special committee of the Utah Legislature concluded that Mr. Swallow may have violated as many as eight state laws on abuse of public office.
Mr. Swallow “compromised the principles and integrity of the office to benefit himself and his political supporters,” and he “hung a veritable ‘for sale’ sign on the office door that invited moneyed interests to seek special treatment and favors,” the legislative report concluded.
Mr. Swallow has denied wrongdoing.
A senior law enforcement official familiar with the discussions among FBI, Justice Department and state authorities said that after federal prosecutors declined to take the Swallow case or pursue the accusations about the senators, a decision was made to pursue justice wherever it could be achieved, even at the state level with FBI agents assisting.
“The sentiment was that it doesn’t matter in the end where it occurs as long as justice is served,” the official said, speaking only on the condition of anonymity.
Both state prosecutors said they eventually plan to pursue the accusations involving the senators and other federal officials — at least to determine whether any crimes were committed inside Utah borders that would warrant state charges.
“We’re sweeping up that information and those items of evidence,” said Mr. Rawlings, a Republican. “I think it would be unfair to say we are currently investigating Sens. Reid and Lee at this time. But we are not going to ignore the scraps of evidence coming in about them.
“Do we plan on formally turning attention to all of the scraps picked up about them? We do plan on that,” Mr. Rawlings said.
Justice ‘ran away’
People familiar with the probe said both FBI agents and local investigators have been frustrated for months by the Justice Department’s inaction on the initial accusations and evidence against the two senators, and those concerns were recently elevated to FBI headquarters.
The special agent in charge of the Utah office was summoned earlier this month to Washington to meet with senior FBI officials, and the bureau’s Utah office has been instructed that the FBI agents working the case may only assist in the state probe and cannot pursue federal criminal investigative leads — unless Justice finally approves a corruption probe.
The frustrations have prompted discussions of seeking a special prosecutor who would bypass the Justice Department and U.S. attorney’s office and evaluate the evidence independently.
FBI officials said it was rare but not unprecedented for their agents to assist a state-only investigation.