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Swallowed up

Published April 20, 2013 1:01 am

Cloud over A.G.'s office will remain
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Gary Herbert is neither an attorney nor a law enforcement officer. So he may be forgiven for not understanding that the kind of investigation that is now engulfing Utah Attorney General John Swallow is not something that is likely to be wrapped up in a few weeks, or even months.

And Herbert likely reflects the views of many average people he represents as governor of Utah when he complains that the mere knowledge that such an investigation is going on leaves a cloud hanging over the A.G.'s office. It is a situation that can only make it much more difficult for Swallow to do his job effectively. That's why Herbert Wednesday expressed a desire for federal investigators to either file charges against, or finally exonerate, the attorney general.

But as a savvy politician, Herbert ought to realize that the situation is not the fault of the FBI, the U.S. attorney or any other organization that is or might be looking into the political and financial doings that Swallow was up to his neck in before taking office. He ought to realize that even if the FBI held a press conference tomorrow to announce that the probe was over and no charges were being filed, Swallow's reputation would still be tarnished, probably irretrievably.

If Herbert really cares about the ability of the attorney general's office — and thus all of state government — to do its job, he should join those who are calling for Swallow to resign his office forthwith.

These are troubles that Swallow and his associates created for themselves. They are woes that, even if Swallow is never found to have committed a crime, flow from his pre-election career of lobbying for, and raising money from, businessmen engaged in enterprises that often attract the unwanted attention of state and federal investigators.

The root of the problem is Swallow's admitted role in helping St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, whose Internet-based consulting enterprise was under investigation by federal officials, to funnel money into a scheme to lobby (said Swallow) or bribe (said Johnson) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid into blocking the probe.

When a state elects a chief law enforcement officer whose background is less about the law and more about political fundraising and fixing, it cannot be surprised to find that official tied up in problems such as this.

When a state's political system is so dominated by one political party, and when that party selects its nominees in tightly wound caucuses and conventions rather than through open primaries, we should note that such a bad outcome is also our fault.