ST. GEORGE – Attorney General John Swallow has been in the crosshairs of local, state and federal investigations since taking office in January 2013.
It didn’t get any easier when Governor Gary Herbert stood before reporters at a news conference about clean air this week and essentially called for Swallow’s resignation.
“I can only say,” Herbert said, “if he worked for me before all that’s come out, he wouldn’t be working for me today.”
Do Republicans want Swallow to step down?
“Republicans are divided,” Willie Billings, former chair of the Washington County Republican Party and current vice chairman of the Utah Republican Party said, “because we’re looking at the situation and trying to decide what’s real and where the proof is.
“If he’s guilty of consorting with the wrong people it reflects poorly on Utah, but if not, because he’s denying everything — there are a lot of people out there saying what he did — but I’m not quite sure myself. He’s not been indicted or proven guilty. I am a fan of innocent until proven guilty, but when what you’re reportedly involved in is tarnishing your reputation to this extent, even if you’re not guilty, one must question if you’re an effective leader and step down. ‘Am I hampering the progress of Utah and Utah citizens while fighting this battle?’”
A letter leaked last night to utahpoliticalcapitol.com, and reported by writer Eric Ethington, from John Swallow’s attorneys sent to the Utah Legislature outlines the grounds in which impeaching John Swallow would be illegal. It discusses Swallows 2012 candidate financial disclosures, provides precedence from a 1965 Supreme Court case State v. Jones which examines the nature of “malfeasance, high crimes and unethical behavior,” and addresses the issues surrounding Swallow.
“This discussion about impeachment is based on innuendo,” the letter dated June 5 states, “and unsupported allegations in the press from indicted and convicted felons and a few political enemies of Mr. Swallow.”
It continues to state that grounds for impeachment in Utah include “high crimes, misdemeanors or malfeasance in office,” and claims that those words mean convicted criminal acts. Swallow’s attorney also blames the media for “distorted headlines.”
Many legislatures and lawyers argue unethical behavior, abuse of office or corruption is proper grounds, but according to Swallow and his attorneys, impeaching Swallow for unethical behavior is illegal. In the second paragraph of Page 3 within the letter from the desk of John L. Fellows reads, “…belief than an officeholder is no longer effective, or even proof than an officeholder is no longer effective, is not grounds for impeachment. Removal for such a reason not only violates Utah law, but presents a dangerous precedent that undermines the fundamental principle that the decision of the voters is paramount.”
The allegations against Swallow
Reporter Robert Gehrke summarized the allegations against Swallow in an article in The Salt Lake Tribune:
- Bribery allegation: Indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson accused Swallow of helping to arrange to bribe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
- Special consideration: Three Utah businessmen say Swallow suggested they would have protection in the Attorney General’s Office if they were willing to contribute to Mark Shurtleff’s campaign fund.
- Rules violation: Two complaints have been made to the Utah State Bar, one by the state’s former director of consumer protection, alleging Swallow violated attorney-client rules by discussing a consumer-protection case with a potential donor and suggesting the target meet with Shurtleff.
- Withholding information: The lieutenant governor’s office is in the process of hiring a special counsel to investigate a complaint that Swallow concealed business interests on his candidate financial disclosure forms, including a company central to the Johnson deal.
- Posh vacations: Marc Sessions Jenson, a convicted businessman, said Swallow and Shurtleff took vacations to Jenson’s Newport Beach, Calif., villa on Jenson’s dime while he was free on a plea deal with the attorney general’s office. During the trips, Jenson said they pressed him for fundraising help and other financial deals.
Shurtleff’s new business
Former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff started his own government-relations business days after leaving an international law firm. Shurtleff is being investigated by county, state, and federal authorities on allegations that he and his hand-picked successor, Swallow, abused their office.
Swallow’s connection to Jeremy Johnson
The indictment charges brought against Jeremy Johnson and four former employees of his I Works corporation span to 86 criminal counts, including conspiracy, false statements to bank, a variety of fraud counts and money laundering.
During Johnson’s plea agreement, which fell through, Swallow was tied to bribery or other schemes involving Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, designed to end the FTC civil proceeding against Johnson.
Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, said she could not comment on the Swallow case at this time.
As covered by KUTV, issues also concerning the permanent gag order imposed in the U.S. Attorney’s criminal case against Johnson and others, and what public communications are acceptable, continue to be battled before the court.
In an interview with Doug Wright on KSL Radio, Swallow told KSL that he asked for a federal investigation into the allegations against him, even though it is “like putting a fire hose up your nose and turning it on full blast” because he is certain he will be cleared of all allegations. “Why would you step down from a duly elected office when two-thirds of the people in Utah elected you because of your vision and your platform just because of allegations from questionable sources?” Swallow also told KSL, “When this is done people will look at what happened and say ‘My goodness, he didn’t do those things and we’re glad he stayed with us.’ ”
St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this report.
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