Not even a full week after he was sworn in as Utah's new attorney general, John Swallow was hit by stunning allegations from a man who is facing federal fraud charges, who claims that, while on the state payroll, Swallow helped him cook up an attempt to bribe a United States senator.
Swallow vehemently denies most of the story being told by Jeremy Johnson, a former financial supporter of Swallow's predecessor and mentor, former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
But Swallow has been unable to deny all of it. And what remains with incriminating emails and a secret meeting at an Orem donut shop casts a debilitating shadow over the ability of the state's new chief law enforcement officer to do his job. A federal investigation was so imminent that, on Monday, Swallow himself asked for one.
Instead, Swallow should resign.
Johnson's story is that Swallow, then chief deputy in Shurtleff's office, helped broker a scheme by which Johnson and his embattled company, I Works, would funnel $600,000 to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. (Reid's office denies any knowledge of or part in the scheme.)
Described by those involved as "lobbying," the plan was an attempt to fight off the Federal Trade Commission, then contemplating a lawsuit charging I Works with bilking customers of that company's Internet advice and consulting business by billing their credit cards for unwanted services.
But Johnson himself later came to view the whole arrangement not only as a bribe, but as a bribe that didn't work. The FTC filed its civil suit. Federal criminal charges, which Johnson denies, followed. Johnson wanted his money back and pressured Swallow to get it, threatening to expose Swallow's part in the plot as he was running for attorney general.
Swallow denies any bribery was involved. But he admits introducing Johnson, a Utah citizen who claimed he was being wronged by federal agencies, to some former business associates of Swallow, associates who claimed enough influence with Reid that they could make Johnson's problems "go away." Hundreds of thousands of dollars changed hands, though Swallow says he came away with none of it.
Swallow's credibility in the matter starts at a disadvantage. His background was not as a prosecutor, but as a fundraiser, political fixer and counsel for payday-loan outfits.
Even if Swallow's version of events is the more accurate one, even if he never cleared a dime from the whole mess, his ethical judgment is clearly flawed. He was then, and is now, an attorney tasked with representing the interests of all Utah citizens, not just a few well-placed ones.
The conduct that Swallow admits to is out-of-bounds for a public official. So a public official is something that Swallow ought not be any more.