Hatch inquisitive but avoids condemning FLDS

The Salt Lake Tribune/July 25, 2008

Washington - Two senators from different political parties lashed out at polygamous groups and called for a greater federal role in investigating their potentially criminal activity.

And then it was Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch's turn to speak at the first polygamy hearing Congress has held in 50 years.

Hatch's opening statement lasted all of 40 seconds. He never uttered the word polygamy, didn't denounce polygamous sects, didn't call for federal charges, as did the other senators present. Instead, Hatch, a Mormon, said the hearing should focus on helping the "innocent women and children who are involved in this issue."

Polygamy might be a cut and dry issue in many parts of the country, but Hatch's carefully chosen words show that in Utah it's a little more complex.

The hearing was organized by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Mormon convert, to promote his recently introduced legislation calling for a coordinated federal and state task force to prosecute crimes by polygamous groups, including the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Utah, Arizona and Texas have targeted the FLDS for sexual crimes involving minors.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff supports Reid's calls for a task force. U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman does not. Both are Hatch's friends.

Hatch was the only senator to attend Thursday's hearing who didn't express an opinion on Reid's bill or even the idea of a federal task force, which Reid first broached at the end of April.

His spokesman, Mark Eddington, said Hatch is not up to speed on the issue.

"Senator Hatch hasn't seen it yet, but is looking forward to reading it," he said about Reid's legislation.

While the three other senators in attendance took a firm stand, Hatch managed to place a soft foot down. He questioned the panel of experts about previous task forces on the effort, changes within the FLDS community and the resources available to those wanting to leave the sect.

But his primary goal wasn't to discuss policy, but perception.

Twice he asked witnesses to clarify the distinction between the mainstream LDS Church and the FLDS sect, before a packed committee room that included a dozen cameras. He blamed the media for confusing the two.

Hatch also released two unsolicited statements about the hearing in recent days highlighting that polygamy is not just a "Utah problem."

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