Yesterday, Democrat’s allegations that John Swallow was investigated by the FBI for corruption hit the Salt Lake Tribune, and almost immediately, I was hit by a storm of emails and a robodial telling me the allegations were false. Not one of them featured a single word from the candidate himself.
I know John Swallow has his career and his election on the line, but really: his campaign should first verify the allegations they’re making before spreading them so far and wide.
Here’s what happened:
- At 9:34 AM, an email arrives in my inbox from firstname.lastname@example.org. Short and to the point, argues three things: 1) John Swallow is conservative; 2) Democrats are attacking Republican John Swallow; and 3) the attacks are illegal. The email was signed by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
- At 9.38 AM, a second email arrives in my inbox from email@example.com. It’s nearly identical to the first, but sent through a different mass email tool, and makes a grammatical correction and minor changes to the language.
- Having received two emails within two minutes, I immediately go to my daily issue of “Political Cornflakes” (shout out to Thomas Burr and Andreas Rivera), which I’ve not yet had time to read, but which has sat in my inbox since 6 AM. Scroll to find this: “AG candidate John Swallow is accused of being person of interest in a 2010 FBI corruption case.” I click on the link to find a story by Robert Gehrke discussing the claim.
A political ad that will hit Republican voters’ mailboxes this week makes a dramatic allegation — that GOP attorney general candidate John Swallow was the target of a federal investigation for intervening in a Salt Lake County bid process.
At first glance, I’m peeved that a Democrat is attacking Swallow. We’re in a Republican Primary, after all. As I read on, though, I’m more than a little surprised that something so serious would be alleged, even by Democrats. Attacking an Assistant AG for being under investigation by the FBI, even one with as little experience as John Swallow, is over the top unless there is evidence to back it up.
The flier, coming two weeks before Swallow’s June 26 GOP primary against attorney Sean Reyes, raises the issue of a contract dispute involving Salt Lake County and California-based Worldwide Environmental Products, which sought to provide emissions-testing equipment to garages in the county.
Awarding the three-year, $12 million contract turned into a bitter fight. Worldwide alleged the bid was rigged, and the attorney general’s office and, eventually, the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office became involved, according to interviews and records obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.
A grand jury was convened to hear testimony relating to the contract. Swallow, Assistant Attorney General Alan Bachman and Bachman’s paralegal were subpoenaed to testify. But the case was apparently scrapped at the last minute; the grand jury did not convene.
The target of the investigation is unclear. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office would not comment.
The article goes on. After Worldwide’s lobbyist pressed for an inquiry, the AG’s office contacted Salt Lake County. The story indicates that Bachmann and Swallow then called the Salt Lake County attorneys with responsibility for the bidding process and mentioned an investigation into the bid process if Worldwide was not given another opportunity. Both Salt Lake County attorneys claim they were threatened.
Bachman told The Tribune that there was a misunderstanding and that he made no such threat, pointing to an email after his call in which he stressed that the state may investigate, not that it would.
At this point, the Salt Lake District Attorney, Sim Gill, said enough is enough. If the bid process is bad, let’s have a real investigation, and he called the FBI.
“If there’s corruption, we want to find it. We want an objective, transparent look at this,” Gill said. “If you call here and make such accusations, then you know what? Be prepared. We’ll pick up the phone [to the FBI] and say, ‘Investigate us, investigate them, investigate everyone else, whoever is involved in this process.’ ”
At the end of the day, the only people interviewed or subpoenaed by the FBI were John Swallow (who did not comment in the story), Alan Bachman, and Bachman’s paralegal. No one in Salt Lake County was interviewed in the investigation into the bid process, which I find a little odd, since that’s the process that was supposedly, according to Bachman, in need of review.
Naturally, if the FBI had investigated Swallow for corruption, it would be a game changer. Who wants an Attorney General who is corrupt?
I get back to work, but it wasn’t the last I would hear about the story yesterday. I received, a third email at 1 PM, this time through the Utah Republican State Party and identical to the second in content, differing only in the Utah Republican Party headers and disclaimers on the bottom. At this point, it’s starting to feel like a lot of email, almost overkill.
Then, at 8:53 PM, I receive a 45 second call from 801-386-9074, the John Swallow campaign phone number. It’s a robodial of a recording of Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. He starts by saying that he took an oath when he became attorney general. I can’t recall whether he said the oath was to be honest or to uphold the law, but both are similar and amount to the same thing. Then, speaking with some animation, he says that Sean Reyes and Democrats are telling lies so they can push their liberal agenda on Utah. This is a shock to me, since it’s very clear that the mailer is not coming from Sean Reyes, but from Democrat Dimitri Moumoulidis‘s Super PAC Ute PAC.
For all the emails and robodials, I still haven’t seen the mailer itself. I’m not sure I would have noticed the story, or at least not seen it so early, but for the attention the Swallow campaign has brought to it.
Conclusions? First, I find it a little unsettling that the chief law enforcement officer of the state is using phrases like “illegal” so blithely and easily. Utah law, which the Attorney General correctly cites in all three emails, requires a number of things, not the least is that the person publishing the mailer must know that their statement is false.
A person may not knowingly make or publish, or cause to be made or published, any false statement in relation to any candidate, proposed constitutional amendment, or other measure, that is intended or tends to affect any voting at any primary, convention, or election.
I have yet to see anything that connects Sean Reyes to the Democratic Super PAC, and so it appears that Shurtleff is accusing Reyes of lying without evidence. It is highly inappropriate, especially for an officer of the court like the Attorney General. While I know that passions during campaign season can get intense, I think the Attorney General, considering the amount of power he holds to investigate and prosecute the law, should be careful about slinging around legal terms that accuse people of crimes.
Further, if there is any truth to the mailer (and again, I have not seen it), a public vetting of John Swallow’s actions is appropriate. In a heavily conservative state like Utah, this is the election for Utah’s attorney general. It is unlikely that in a year like this one, with Mitt Romney on the ballot, a Democratic challenger is going to have a chance , short of a scandal and then it’ll need to be dramatic.
- Did the John Swallow use his office to pressure Salt Lake County on behalf of Worldwide?
- Was he investigated by the FBI?
- Why wasn’t anyone but Swallow, Bachman, and Bachman’s paralegal interviewed?
- If it’s nothing, why not tell us what was asked?
- What did the FBI want to know badly enough to subpoena and interview just members of the Attorney General’s office?
Last observation: why haven’t we heard Swallow comment or deny the allegations? He is the only person, outside of the FBI, that has first hand knowledge of why he was interviewed by the FBI. Looking at Robert Gehrke’s article, the emails, and the phone call, though, I can’t find any statements from John Swallow. Even his campaign consultant Jason Powers, whose modus operandi is to stay behind the scenes, is quoted.
Why nothing from Swallow himself?
- Flyer makes serious allegations against candidate (fox13now.com)
- Utah AG responds to attack on Swallow (fox13now.com)
- Murky SuperPACs funding attack ads in Utah AG race ()
- Exaggerated Claims: Swallow at Supreme Court to “ensure” unconstitutionality of Obamacare? (publiusonline.com)
- City Weekly asks: Is John Swallow offering access to the Attorney General in return for donations? (publiusonline.com)
- Leaked phone call has AG candidate proposing changes to Consumer Protection (fox13now.com)
- Mark Shurtleff refers to Mia Love as “a novelty” (abc4.com)
- Former Senator Bob Bennett endorses Sean Reyes for Utah AG (fox13now.com)
- Primary to decide GOP attorney general nominee (fox13now.com)