Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow, ousted by scandal, wants his old post back

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) In this March 2, 2017 photo, former Utah Attorney General John Swallow talks to members of the media after his trial in Salt Lake City. Swallow was acquitted of criminal charges and his legal fees were paid by the state.

John Swallow — the one-time Utah attorney general, driven from office by one of the state’s largest political scandals before being acquitted at trial — is running to reclaim his former seat.

Swallow filed for candidacy with the lieutenant governor’s office on Thursday, just minutes before the 5 p.m. deadline. That paperwork came in the wake of his filing of a “Statement of Organization” and a conflict of interest form, which lists his legal work for Vested Law, LP, work in product development and sales, as well as some pro bono public speaking.

Swallow was unavailable for comment Thursday noon but referred questions to his campaign website. He is the second Republican to challenge current Attorney General Sean Reyes. Utah County Attorney David Leavitt declared his candidacy earlier in the week.

Alan Crooks, a spokesman for Reyes, remarked that Swallow is “apparently claiming to be innocent.”

“I would give you a comment on that,” Crooks said, “but I can’t stop laughing.”

Also in the race are Democrats Greg Skordas and Kevin Probasco, and Libertarian Rudy Bautista. Asked if he had any comment or reaction to Swallow’s candidacy, Skordas said “not that won’t get me in trouble.”

Probasco told The Tribune that he is not paying any attention to the attorney general’s race.

“It is unimportant right now,” he said. “We have serious threats to survive at a base level.”

Swallow was chief deputy to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and was his anointed successor when Shurtleff opted to not run for a fourth term. Swallow won the 2012 election, but days after his inauguration, The Salt Lake Tribune reported his involvement in an alleged scheme to help a friend, Jeremy Johnson, enlist then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s help to avoid criminal prosecution.

Johnson had surreptitiously recorded a meeting with Swallow at an Orem Krispy Kreme where they discussed the deal.

Subsequently, another man, Marc Sessions Jenson, accused Swallow and his predecessor, Shurtleff, of extorting gifts and favors while Jenson was free from prison and under the supervision of the attorney general’s office.

Swallow denied the allegations, which prompted a probe by state and federal investigators, as well as a separate investigation into potential election law violations by the lieutenant governor’s office.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives also conducted an investigation that could have laid the groundwork for his impeachment had Swallow not resigned from office in November of 2013, citing the financial and emotional toll the scandal had taken and maintaining his innocence.

The House report concluded that Swallow had engaged in widespread destruction of evidence, fabricated documents to cover his trail, documented efforts by the attorney general to peddle influence to payday lending interests, and to skirt state campaign finance law.

Swallow had, the report concluded, put a “For Sale” sign on the door of the office.

Reyes was appointed by Gov. Gary Herbert to replace Swallow. He won election in 2014 and reelection in 2016.

Swallow and Shurtleff were arrested in July of 2014 and later charged with numerous felonies, but the case against Shurtleff was dropped in 2016. Swallow went to trial in March 2017 and he was acquitted of all charges. Last year, the state agreed to pay $1.5 million to compensate him for his legal expenses.

In addition to filing paperwork with the lieutenant governor’s office, Swallow has launched a campaign website that describes his previous term being “cut short by false allegations fed in part from political opponents in high positions in government.” He compares his experience in office to that of President Donald Trump, with multiple criminal investigations into his activities launched shortly after being inaugurated into office.

“Having cleared his name,” the website states, “John is prepared to return and finish his vision for the State of Utah, better prepared to protect Utahns from the abuse of their rights by the government.”

Before his election as attorney general, Swallow served three years as a deputy in the office. Prior to that he served in the Utah House representing a Sandy district from 1997 to 2002. In 2002, he was the Republican nominee for the 2nd Congressional District seat, but was defeated in the general election by first term Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson.

Leavitt, the Utah County attorney running for the state post, said that Swallow’s run is “unusual." But he added that Swallow has every right to run after being acquitted of his alleged crimes.

“That’s our country,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt, a brother of former Gov. Mike Leavitt, said he decided to challenge Reyes, the incumbent attorney general, to promote a platform of criminal justice reform. He said that continues to be his principal message to voters, and declined to speculate on how Swallow’s candidacy would change the race.

“If people want reform, I’m their guy,” Leavitt said. “If they don’t want reform, I’m not their guy.”