(WASHINGTON) — Two local prosecutors in Utah say a corruption investigation looking at state politicians and online gambling interests has yielded evidence that could implicate Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah.
The two district attorneys — one Democrat and one Republican — already working with a team of FBI agents, are urging federal prosecutors to pick up the case and investigate – something the Department of Justice has thus far declined to do.
The Utah officials say the evidence relates to suspect campaign contributions and other financial transactions.
Reid, a liberal Democrat, and Lee, a rising star in Republican politics, could not be more opposite politically but both have ties to the online poker world, the prosecutors say.
“The most appropriate entity to review those type of things, if they would, would be the Department of Justice,” Davis County District Attorney Troy Rawlings, a Republican, told ABC News. “Basically to look at their own. To look at allegations of conduct or misconduct involving federal officials.”
Sim Gill, a Democrat, who is the district attorney for Salt Lake County, agreed.
“Could there be an innocent explanation for [the evidence]? Possibly. Could there be a more sinister explanation for it? That’s also possible,” Gill said. “So I think the — those are the things that we have to try to figure out.”
Rawlings and Gill first took over the investigation in late 2012.
When they began, their effort was narrowly focused on allegations of corruption facing the newly elected Utah Attorney General, John Swallow. Swallow has denied the allegations against him, but resigned his state post in November, less than a year after being elected.
Both prosecutors expressed disappointment that the Department of Justice had declined last year to embrace the investigation into what the local officials considered “serious allegations.”
“They already made the decision that the Department of Justice is going to run away on this case. That’s done,” said Rawlings. “So I guess unless they change their mind about that for some reason there will be no federal prosecution.”
The investigation, with the assistance of the FBI team, has continued to focus largely on state players. But the two local prosecutors said they may be forced to consider expanding it to include federal players if the Department of Justice remains on the sideline.
“If somebody commits crimes and there’s a nexus to the state of Utah and we can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, it doesn’t matter who they are,” Rawlings said. “Even a U.S. senator. And no, we’re not afraid of that. That’s our job.”
A spokesperson for the FBI declined to comment, but a senior law enforcement official told ABC News the unusual arrangement between the FBI and local prosecutors was, “satisfactory because the main concern is that justice is served.”
Over the past year, the FBI agents and state investigators have collected more than 100,000 bank records, e-mails and other documents and interviewed more than 200 witnesses as part of the bi-partisan probe, according to the two district attorneys, who gave their first interviews to ABC News and The Washington Times this week.
The prosecutors said they obtained a federal judge’s order to allow them access to information obtained from a federal grand jury and praised the work of the FBI agents.
“They’ve done an incredible job, and we’ve certainly benefited from that,” said Gill.
In their interview, the two prosecutors said they were limited in what they could share because the investigation is still unfolding. But they confirmed their agents have forwarded evidence to the FBI that raises questions about contributions to the campaigns of both Senators.
Rawlings said the agents began picking up “bread crumbs” that raised questions about Senator Reid’s contacts with representatives of online poker industry.
“As we do our investigation focusing primarily on the state officials, we are sweeping up these bread crumbs and then, [will] combine them to see where they go,” Rawlings said. “We’re not ready to pronounce [the] prosecutions of any federal officials. But I will tell you this. By virtue of somebody being a federal official — be it an elected or an appointed official, whatever it is, does not give them immunity from state crime.”
Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for the Senate Majority Leader called the statements by the district attorneys “a publicity stunt.”
He said Reid, “has never been contacted in regards to this investigation” and said questions about the investigation submitted by ABC News were, “nothing but a fever-brained witch hunt.”
A spokesman for Senator Lee said in an email that no one from the prosecutor’s office or from the FBI has contacted the senator about the investigation.
Rawlings and Gill said they remain unsure where the evidence will lead, but they believe a deeper, federal investigation is needed.
“We’re limited and we’re bound by only what we can prosecute — under Utah state code. But are there ramifications beyond that? Absolutely,” Rawlings said. “The breadth, the scope and the depth of this investigation is far beyond I think what’s out there in the general public knowledge.”
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Adam Forsgren, EastIdahoNews.com Columnist
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