Swallow, like Nixon, burned by cover-up, investigator says
A lawyer who investigated alleged misconduct by John Swallow compared the former attorney general Tuesday to Richard Nixon during Watergate, saying both men did things to win their elections and later tried to conceal their actions from the public.
"I'm not going to say the comparison between Richard Nixon and John Swallow is perfect," said Matthew Lalli, a special counsel for the lieutenant governor who led a Swallow probe. But, Lalli added, during the course of the investigation "we found ourselves to gradually come to believe that Mr. Swallow probably did things he didn't need to do to win the election."
"We also found a disturbing pattern," Lalli continued, "of Mr. Swallow managing or manipulating information, often retroactively, in an attempt to control what he repeatedly referred to as the 'optics' of various situations."
Lalli laid out to a special House investigative committee five state campaign laws that Swallow violated by failing to disclose consulting work he did as late as June 2012. He also pointed out a string of inconsistencies between Swallow's version of events and the documented facts investigators uncovered.
Swallow explained in his sworn deposition that he didn't disclose tens of thousands of dollars in income he received for outside work done while he was chief deputy attorney general because he wanted the public to know any side work would be in the past.
"It was more about send[ing] a message to the public that I was done with these things. It's on the record that I was involved in these things and I'm just moving on," Swallow testified. "I want to be the attorney general 100 percent of my time for the public if I won. That was my thinking at the time."
As a result, Swallow did not publicly disclose gold coins that were a gift to him from payday-lending kingpin Richard Rawle, who died in December 2012. Swallow later sold the coins back to Rawle when he ran low on money, with Rawle making payments to a prepaid debit card in Swallow's name although Lalli said investigators found no evidence the coins existed. Swallow later lost the debit card, he said.
Swallow also did not disclose work he ostensibly did on a Nevada cement project and $7,000 he was paid by Guidant Strategies, a political consulting firm, for work he did in 2009.
Each of those failures to disclose broke election laws, Lalli said.
"These were clear violations of the statute," Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said. "We thought it was something that was grounds to be removed from office, and we were prepared to proceed."
However, the day in November that the lieutenant governor's report was scheduled to be publicly released, Swallow resigned, insisting he had done nothing wrong but claiming he no longer could bear the financial burden of fending off multiple investigations.
Lalli suggested Swallow may not have disclosed the cement consulting payments to hide his role in another deal: his introduction of Rawle to I Works founder Jeremy Johnson, who faced a federal investigation into his business.
Johnson agreed to pay Rawle $250,000 for what Swallow has described as lobbying. About that time, Rawle agreed to pay Swallow for his work on the cement project ultimately paying him $23,500 even though Swallow originally was not supposed to get paid and instead would receive a share of the project.
Lalli said disclosing the payments from Rawle could have revealed Swallow's association with Johnson and the then-attorney general candidate's ties to the payday-lending industry, which could have been a political liability.
There were numerous other areas, Lalli said, in which Swallow's explanations for the violations investigators found were implausible, inconsistent or appeared to be more about controlling the "optics."
• Swallow retroactively wrote a letter and created invoices to justify consulting work on Rawle's cement project.
• Swallow's attorneys prepared a deathbed declaration for Rawle supporting Swallow's story, then publicly said Rawle's attorneys had prepared it themselves.
• Despite disclosing on his tax returns the money he had received from the sale of gold coins and the $7,000 he had been paid by Guidant Strategies, Swallow did not consider those payments income for the purposes of his personal financial disclosure.
• Swallow withdrew as a manager for two companies in his name the day he filed his personal financial forms, then did not include them on his disclosure, even though he continued to control the finances of both companies and use money paid to them for his personal expenses.
• Even though he was chief deputy attorney general and a candidate for the top spot, Swallow sought election-law advice from an estate planning lawyer, and neither ever read the statute.
• Swallow insisted he was not involved in lobbying on Johnson's behalf, but emails show he helped strategize for Johnson until 11 days before civil charges were filed against the St. George businessman.
Lalli characterized Swallow's cooperation with the lieutenant governor's investigation as "inconsistent," noting that his attorneys tried to interfere with interviews of some witnesses.
Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, chairman of the House Special Investigative Committee, said his bipartisan panel is still waiting for Swallow's lawyers to provide information related to the House probe.
Computer forensic experts were able to recover nearly all of the data from the hard drive on Swallow's home computer, which crashed in January 2012. But they are waiting for Swallow's attorneys to provide data from the drive responsive to a subpoena the committee sent to their client.
Dunnigan said the panel wants that information to complete its written report. A draft of that report may be available to the committee in late January or early February, but may not be released publicly until the end of February.
Taxpayers have paid "well above $3 million" for the House probe.
Some lawmakers have suggested that the committee should press on to answer all outstanding questions before wrapping up its fact-finding mission even though Swallow has left office. But Dunnigan said he doesn't anticipate that happening.
Stewart Peay, the lieutenant governor's special co-counsel, recommended a number of changes to clarify Utah's election laws, including defining better what types of business interests and income have to be disclosed and requiring candidates to itemize more explicitly the services they receive from consultants.
For example, Swallow paid Guidant Strategies $377,284 during his 2012 campaign for consulting work, but it is unclear what services were provided. A political-action committee supporting Swallow also paid Guidant nearly $70,000.
Peay said that, if it had gotten to the point at which Swallow would have to be removed from office, attorneys anticipated Swallow would challenge the constitutionality of such an ouster. He said laws could be strengthened to make clear the lieutenant governor can invalidate an election and force an official out of office. Peay also said Utah should clarify what kind of outside work public officials can do while in office.
Lawson out of jail
Tim Lawson, friend and confidant of former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, has posted bail after spending a month in jail.
Lawson, who faces a half-dozen felonies, was arrested at his Provo home Dec. 12 and is charged with obstructing justice, evading taxes, retaliating against witnesses and engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity.
He was sent to the Salt Lake County Jail, and his bail was set at $250,000, an amount his attorney tried unsuccessfully to reduce.
His next court hearing is slated for Feb. 3.
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