OPINION – While not quite on the level of Richard Nixon’s duplicitous assertion of innocence in the Watergate crimes, Utah Attorney General John Swallow is digging himself a heck of a hole.
On Nov. 18, 1973, Nixon told a gathering of news reporters: “People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”
Just last week, Swallow told KSL Radio’s Doug Wright that he’s being tried in the media and will be exonerated when all investigations are complete.
“I’m happy to let them investigate me. I have opened everything up,” Swallow said. “I have nothing to hide … I’m not a perfect person, but I tell you I’m sure not a criminal.”
A growing number of people, including Gov. Gary Herbert, however, are beginning to doubt that statement.
“I’m increasingly alarmed with the stuff that’s bubbling out, the stuff that is ethical challenges, ethical violations,” Herbert told reporters. “I can only say if he worked with me before with all that is coming out, he wouldn’t be working for me today.”
The highly conservative Sutherland Institute has called for his resignation, saying he should put the integrity of his office ahead of his self-interest.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that State Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, also has called on Swallow to step down; State Rep. Spencer Cox, R-Nephi, has said many legislators share that feeling and that the chamber should seriously consider Swallow’s impeachment; and Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, has said he believes Swallow should take a leave of absence pending the outcome of federal and state investigations.
Several new organizations across the state have also called for Swallow to resign.
I must agree.
This all began with accusations from Jeremy Johnson, charged with numerous federal crimes, who said Swallow offered him a way to buy favor with the feds, for a hefty price of $600,000. Swallow and his supporters tried to put the kibosh on it all, claiming Johnson was just trying to deflect attention from his case.
However more, much more, has surfaced, so much that, well, I agree that it is time for Mr. Swallow to bid adieu to an office that has been on shaky ground for some time now, dating back to his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff.
Our AG is up to his neck in accusations and admissions, enough so that he cannot lend credibility to the office.
While all elected officials should be beyond reproach, it is most critical to our system of law that the state’s top law enforcement officer be squeaky clean, without the slightest taint of scandal.
That simply is not the case here.
Besides the Johnson allegations, Swallow is also the target of complaints filed with the Utah State Bar Association, according to a Salt Lake Tribune article. One complaint alleges that he violated attorney-client privilege during conversations with a business owner cited for breaking telemarketing laws. The other alleges general violations of ethical standards required of attorneys.
The newspaper also reported that Swallow received $105,000 in campaign contributions from companies or individuals who had run afoul of state regulators—even though the attorney general’s office he was running for could be called upon to prosecute some of those same donors — and another $170,000 from companies or officers who later would be cited for infractions by state or federal authorities.
As a fundraiser for Shurtleff, Swallow has been accused by three donors of Swallow shaking them down for campaign contributions with the promise that they would be given special consideration should complaints against them be filed with the Attorney General’s office.
A petition has been filed alleging he violated state election laws.
Let’s also remember that he has taken it upon himself to continue his predecessor’s position of decriminalizing polygamy, even though there are laws on the books making it a crime.
Still, Swallow’s attorneys say this is all politically motivated and without merit, and that, oh, yeah, the media is out to get him.
Yeah, right. When all else fails, blame it on the media for bringing your transgressions to public light, right Mr. Swallow? We just don’t understand that secret meetings in donut shops, which he has admitted to, and lapses in judgment, which he has also admitted to, are no big deal; that, my goodness, we got it all wrong about him.
Look, this isn’t some left-wing conspiracy. There aren’t enough liberals in Utah to comprise a conspiracy. However, some of us in the media have had a lot of exposure to Swallow, particularly those of us who have been around awhile and covered the political beat in 2002 and 2004 when he lost to Rep. Jim Matheson in the 2nd Congressional District race. I got to know a lot about him back then and, in all honesty, every time I walked away from him I felt like I had to go wash my hands.
The shakedown allegations? If Johnson were the only person to come forward, we could look upon his charges with a degree of suspicion, however there have been others making similar claims.
The Utah House Republican caucus is scheduled to discuss the impeachment process during an extended meeting today. What happens next is not clear, but there seems to be a growing wave of anti-Swallow sentiment.
Swallow has already fired a preemptive strike, claiming impeaching him for unethical behavior would be illegal.
Not so, Mr. Attorney General.
The Utah Supreme Court has already ruled that an elected official can be impeached for either committing a crime or violating the public’s trust through unethical behavior or other means.
At this point, what amount of trust can the public have in the Swallow, who has only been in office six months?
The Utah Attorney General’s website clearly states the mission of the office, which is “to uphold the constitutions of the United States and of Utah, enforce the law, provide counsel to state agencies and public officials, to work with law enforcement and protect the interests of Utah, its people, environment and resources … As we see it, it is our duty to diligently work with integrity every day to fulfill these responsibilities as we serve the citizens of Utah. That is our entire focus. That is our mission.”
Swallow, as we have seen, has been selective, at best, in upholding the constitution of the State of Utah and enforcing all of its laws.
And, as far as “working with integrity,” we think there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.
It’s time for him to go.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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