Utah Democrats are calling on the governor to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether state laws or ethics rules were violated by not only embattled Attorney General John Swallow but also his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff.
Swallow is the subject of an ongoing federal probe, which is exploring his relationship with southern Utah businessman Jeremy Johnson and also Swallow’s practices as a fundraiser for Shurtleff.
But while that federal inquiry is ongoing, the Utah Democratic Lawyers Council and the Utah Democratic Party said Gov. Gary Herbert should appoint a special prosecutor to see whether state laws were broken.
Matt Lyon, executive director of the party, also said the Legislature should create an independent ethics commission with subpoena power to investigate whether Swallow acted inappropriately. Legislation is pending that would create a commission, but it would not be retroactive.
“To stand there,” Lyon said, “and throw up our hands and say we can’t do anything is ridiculous.”
But Herbert wants to wait for the federal investigation to wrap up.
“If it uncovers evidence of state law violations, federal authorities will, as they have in the past, refer those violations to the appropriate local authorities,” said Ally Isom, Herbert’s deputy chief of staff. “Nothing should be done that would jeopardize the ongoing investigation.”
For his part, Shurtleff lambasted the Democrats’ action.
“The Democrats’ purely political request of the governor, based on nothing more than rumor, slander and innuendo, is the very type of ugly, ‘gotcha’ politics that the American public is sick of,” he said. “It should be rejected.”
But Utah Democratic Lawyers Council president Blaine Carlton said appointing an investigator would “stop the bleeding,” in terms of the public’s confidence in the Attorney General’s Office amid a constant stream of stories implicating Swallow and Shurtleff.
“The situation is so dire that, at this point, it is far from certain whether John Swallow can maintain his position and restore the public trust,” Carlton said, “even if he were to be completely cleared of all allegations.”
Swallow is accused of having helped Johnson try to fend off an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission during Swallow’s time as Shurtleff’s chief deputy attorney general. Swallow has said he connected Johnson to the late Check City founder Richard Rawle to arrange for Johnson to hire a pair of lobbyists; Johnson has said Swallow helped arrange a payment to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, which Johnson, at times, has called a bribe.
Swallow denies it was a bribe and insists the $23,500 he received from Rawle was for consulting work unrelated to the Johnson deal. Reid’s office has denied the senator had any knowledge of Johnson’s case.
In addition, three Utah businessmen, speaking anonymously, recently said they were approached by Swallow, when he was Shurtleff’s top aide, with the suggestion that campaign contributions would buy them some level of protection in the Attorney General’s Office.
Swallow’s campaign adviser has dismissed those allegations as unworthy of response, and Shurtleff has said he never gave special treatment to anyone.