Swallow's lawyer expects feds to clear his client maybe soon
An attorney for embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow says he believes the U.S. Department of Justice is winding down its investigation, and he anticipates his client will be cleared of wrongdoing, potentially in the near future.
But if Utah's top cop does receive a declination letter from Justice's Public Integrity Section, it could have little bearing on other investigations into Swallow's conduct, particularly a budding inquiry by a special Utah House committee that could lay the groundwork for impeachment.
Swallow's attorney, Rod Snow, said he has been in contact with the Justice Department and believes lawyers there are wrapping up the federal probe.
"My sense of it is it could be six months, it could be 30 days, it could be two weeks," he said Friday. "I don't really have a timeline. They've refused to give me a timeline. They've been adamant about not giving me a timeline. Obviously, I've pressed them for it."
Snow said that, based on the evidence he is aware of, he sees no grounds for criminal charges against the Republican attorney general, who took office in January.
"They [federal officials] have made it clear," Snow said, "they would let me know promptly when they've made a decision."
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said the agency doesn't discuss the status of investigations.
Federal agents have been investigating Swallow since last year. In January, U.S. Attorney for Utah David Barlow confirmed the probe was underway. In May, Barlow's office recused itself due to conflicts of interest and handed the case to Washington.
Even if federal authorities decline to prosecute, Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, head of the House investigative committee, said Friday that its work would continue.
"Our committee has a responsibility that we have been given from the House of Representatives," he said, "and we'll continue to try to fill that responsibility."
Dunnigan said that while some other investigationsare looking strictly at criminal violations, the House committee has a different mission.
"Our task is to determine what the facts are and present them to the full House," he said, "so I'm not sure that other investigations â¦ affect us."
The House recently hired, as the committee's special counsel, Steven Reich, a veteran of the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton who also led an investigation that spurred the resignation of Connecticut's then-Gov. John Rowland.
Dunnigan said he has been conferring with Reich and evaluating information.
The committee, whose probe could cost up to $3 million, is also in the process of hiring investigators. Five firms submitted bids for that job by Friday's deadline.
Quin Monson, director of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said the House may feel some pressure to back away if the feds decline to prosecute, but ultimately it is up to the Legislature to decide what to investigate and whether the findings warrant impeachment.
"The matter for the DOJ is: Can we convict? Is it worth it, given the evidence?" Monson said. "That same evidence could give the Legislature great pause â¦ so even if he didn't technically commit a crime, according to the DOJ, he's still caused a lot of heartburn and made people question the integrity of the office, and that's the job of the Legislature."
Monson said that, given Utahns' concerns about the Swallow matter nearly 80 percent in a BYU poll in June said he should resign and 70 percent said they supported impeachment proceedings it would be surprising if the House abandoned its work.
"It would lead to negative repercussions for the Legislature. The cost of moving forward is less than the cost of backing down now," he said. "They are an elected body answerable to constituents, and if the constituents share the grave doubts and the Legislature backs down, they face a consequence no elected official wants to face, and that is angry voters."
Two county prosecutors Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, a Democrat, and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, a Republican have piggybacked onto the federal probe to see if Swallow or his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, broke any state laws. They declined to comment Friday.
At least two complaints also have been filed with the Utah State Bar, alleging Swallow violated attorney ethics, and the lieutenant governor's office has hired a special counsel to determine if he broke campaign financial-disclosure laws.
Snow said that, if the Justice Department does not bring charges, those leading the other investigations should take heed.
"It should have a huge impact on what the county attorneys think they may want to do," he said. "Frankly, my hope is it would have an impact on the [House] special committee, because if [Justice officials] haven't found any basis for criminal charges, what are we doing spending this money? They've done a very thorough investigation, I know that much. I would hope that it would lead to a rapid conclusion of all of the investigations."
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis, who is also a state senator, said he has faith in the Justice Department and, if it declines to prosecute, the case didn't meet the high standards and he accepts that conclusion.
"I think you either believe in the integrity of the system or you don't. And I just don't think those guys play games," Dabakis said. "That will be the end, as far as I'm concerned."
It won't be the end, however, of the other investigations, which he said should each continue.
"Each really has their own completely separate jurisdiction," he said. "It's really somewhat alarming to see so many different agencies looking at so many different issues."
Summary of allegations
Utah Attorney General John Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, have come under scrutiny on a number of fronts:
Indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson has, at times, accused Swallow of helping to arrange to bribe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Swallow says he only helped Johnson set up a lobbying deal.
Three Utah businessmen have said Swallow, as a fundraiser for Shurtleff in 2009, suggested that a contribution to Shurtleff's campaign would win them special consideration from the attorney general's office if there were complaints about their operations.
At least two ethics complaints have been made to the Utah State Bar, including one by the state's former director of consumer protection alleging Swallow violated attorney-client rules by discussing a consumer-protection case with a potential donor and suggesting the target meet with Shurtleff.
The lieutenant governor's office has hired a special counsel to investigate a complaint that Swallow concealed business interests on his candidate financial-disclosure forms, including a company central to the Johnson deal.
Convicted businessman Marc Sessions Jenson said Swallow and Shurtleff took posh vacations to his Newport Beach, Calif., villa on Jenson's dime while he was free on a plea deal with the Utah attorney general's office. Lawyers for Jenson, who is behind bars for securities violations and staring at new felony charges, also have alleged Swallow and Shurtleff orchestrated a "shakedown" of their client.
Businessman Darl McBride provided a recording of a 2009 breakfast meeting in which Shurtleff offered him $2 million to take down a website criticizing Mark Robbins, Jenson's former business partner. Shurtleff said he could get the money from Jenson because of his plea deal. Jenson said he refused.
Bidders for investigator job
Five firms submitted bids Friday to serve as investigators for the House committee looking into the conduct of Attorney General John Swallow. They are:
Ritucci & Associates, Park City
Lindquist & Associates, Salt Lake City
Kane Consulting Inc., Bountiful
James Mintz Group Inc., New York City, bidding with Clark Investigations L.C., Eden