It’s been almost two weeks since a Salt Lake Tribune’s article showed connections between indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson and Utah’s new Attorney General John Swallow. Despite calls for an investigation from almost everyone–including Swallow himself–we have yet to see one.
Accusing Swallow of offering to bribe US Senator Harry Reid, Johnson provided emails, photos, financial records and a transcript of secretly recorded conversation between Swallow and Johnson in April 2012. In an email response to the Tribune, Swallow denied Johnson’s accusations and called for an investigation by the US Attorney for Utah, David Barlow.
“I deny that I have ever participated in a scheme to bribe a member of Congress,” Swallow wrote. “I expect no special treatment. I do not hold myself or anyone else above the law. … I urge your office to look into these allegations and I pledge my full support and cooperation.”
Calling for an investigation is a good move. It also followed my recommendation earlier that day.
— Daniel Burton (@PubliusDB) January 14, 2013
At the time, the Barlow’s office said they would respond to the letter, but would not release that response. If Swallow has received that response, he hasn’t released it, either.
Which leads to the question: will there be an investigation into the allegations? Or will the Utah Attorney General’s office continue to operate under a cloud of scandal?
It’s not the first time Swallow’s been tied to unethical behavior, as I have indicated in previous posts. In addition to Swallow’s history in headlines there, Swallow has had problems keeping his campaigns on the right side of the law. In 2007, Swallow’s campaign was found by the Federal Election Commission to have violated federal law for failing to disclose donations received. At the time, Swallow’s campaign wasn’t the only one investigated. Similar to now, it was Swallow’s donors that were investigated and that led to the finding that Swallow’s campaign had broken the law. You can find out more by search on the FEC’s website.
With a history of troubling behavior relative to his financial backers, Swallow should be a high priority for the appropriate investigative body. In addition to Swallow’s call for an investigation, Utah Democrats have also called for an investigation, seeking it from US Attorney General Eric Holder.
Enid Mickelson, who did not agree that Holder would be an appropriate party to launch such an investigation, did agree there should be an investigation.
“It’s necessary for the public trust that there be an independent investigation. If John Swallow hasn’t done anything wrong, it’s an opportunity for him to clear his name,” she said. “The other issue is, I think, that we are lacking in ethics laws and the campaign finance laws we have in this state.”
In a somewhat more delayed response to the allegations against Swallow, Utah GOP chair Thomas Wright called for a series of reforms to address gaps in Utah’s ethics laws because “It’s clear that, while some actions might not have been against the law, some, at a minimum, were mistakes for a state employee and a candidate for attorney general[.]”
Wright’s proposal includes disclosure of all meetings involving public officials, a limit on campaign contributions, a ban on gifts and the creation of an independent commission to hear ethics complaints against state officials. While citizens may file complaints against legislators, currently no mechanism exists under state law for making similar complaints against state officers, such as the governor, auditor, treasurer or attorney general.
It’s a gap in Utah’s ethics laws that is causing more than a little trouble. Not only has it allowed Swallow to make “mistakes” that skirt the line of what is ethical, it also has provided no mechanism for recourse when such behavior is found. As a result, Utah’s attorney general begins his term in office under a cloud on his integrity. If Swallow acted appropriately, or at least legally, the citizens of Utah deserve to know. Or, as has been summarized elsewhere, Utahns deserve to know their attorney general is not a crook.
Which brings us back to the beginning. Where is the investigation?
APROPOS: If nothing else, this whole affair has burnished the credentials of the Salt Lake Tribune’s journalists, especially Robert Gehrke and Tom Harvey. Despite a general knowledge among Utah’s political insiders about the events, persons, and issues that have surrounded Swallow from before his election to the Utah Attorney General’s office, Gehrke and the Tribune alone have provided any amount of sunlight into the affair. It’s unfortunate that no one with any kind of responsibility to Utah’s voters has stepped forward to lead or call for an investigation.
- Democrats seek probe into claims about Utah AG (sfgate.com)
- Where there’s smoke: a brief history of John Swallow in headlines (publiusonline.com)
- GOP calls for ethics reform amid Swallow investigation (ksl.com)
- Indicted businessman ties Swallow to alleged scheme (sltrib.com)
- Time for Swallow to step down (hollyonthehill.com)
- Harry Reid and Utah Attorney General Implicated in Fraud Scheme Payoff (godfatherpolitics.com)
- Utah AG accused of soliciting bribes in federal case (fox13now.com)
- Harry Reid Denies Bribery Allegations (freebeacon.com)