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Swallow must go

Published February 15, 2013 1:01 am

A.G.'s effectiveness is destroyed
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Either Utah will soon have a new attorney general, or it faces the prospect of going nearly four years effectively having no attorney general at all.

The professional reputation and political capital of Attorney General John Swallow have been so severely damaged that it is hard to see how he can effectively carry out the duties of his office.

He should resign immediately.

No matter whose version of events proves to be the truth, both the charges leveled against Swallow and the excuses he has made in his own defense make him an embarrassment to his office, and thus an impediment to the whole legal system.

The growing scandal means that any investigation Swallow launches, any criminal charge his office brings — or declines to bring — will be hopelessly tainted in the court of public opinion, and perhaps even in courts of law.

Rather than leap to Swallow's defense, other Republicans are lamenting the situation and refusing to be seen with him. He was persona non grata at the recent Utah County Lincoln Day dinner, and there are rumors that Republican lawmakers are asking about how the impeachment process works.

Former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Swallow's former boss and the beneficiary of Swallow's prodigious fund-raising efforts, is trying so hard not to be tarred by his former protégé that he even told the world that it was he, Shurtleff, who suggested an FBI probe into Swallow's conduct.

But it was only after Swallow was sworn in that anything became public, and the wheels started to come off.

First, a businessman facing federal fraud charges fingered Swallow as the fixer in a complicated, and ultimately futile, scheme to lobby, or bribe, a U.S. senator into blocking the investigation.

Swallow denies any criminal intent. But he admits that, while he was Shurtleff's chief deputy and a candidate for the top job, he did give the accused businessman, Jeremy Johnson, advice on how he might stop the federal probe.

The image of such a high-ranking law enforcement official helping the target of another law enforcement agency's investigation strategize his way out of trouble is disgusting at best. The fact that the story is Swallow's defense is appalling.

More recently, three Utah businessmen have alleged that Swallow and Shurtleff solicited campaign donations from them, promising that such gifts would be remembered if the donors ever found themselves in legal trouble.

Swallow and Shurtleff deny it all and, so far, all we have are allegations from people who remain publicly unidentified for fear of getting themselves into trouble. But the story sadly fits with the habit Shurtleff and Swallow had of spending time with, and getting a lot of money from, businessmen who were making tons of cash in questionable enterprises.

The stink around Swallow is too great, and shows no sign of lifting. His fellow Republicans need to convince him that he should go. Now.