Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was one of a passel of state attorneys general, all Republican, who were laughed out of court Thursday as they tried to defend the indefensible conduct of former President Donald Trump.
They had it coming.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled the Department of Justice had every right and duty to examine the stacks of documents, much of it carrying the highest level of top secret classification, found in various hidey holes scattered about Trump’s Florida country club.
The court tossed aside the brief, led by Texas Attorney General Ted Paxton and co-signed by Reyes and attorneys general of nine other states, that basically argued a current president can’t investigate wrongdoing by a former president.
Whatever absurdities Reyes put forward, the clear point of his action was to curry favor with the former president and his shrinking but devoted following. It is a badge of honor Reyes is likely to sport in coming elections, especially if he challenges Sen. Mitt Romney in 2024.
It is the same motivation behind other Reyes’ anti-federal actions, attacking vaccine mandates for members of the armed forces, military readiness be damned, and the responsibility of the federal government to manage the land it owns within the state, all while defending anti-LGBT bias in public schools.
His support for Trump’s Big Lie has been noted here before. It has also attracted the attention of a national legal ethics group known as The 65 Project, which has filed an ethics complaint against Reyes alleging that his efforts to undermine public confidence in the results of the 2020 election amount to an abuse of his law license and public office.
Here’s a wild idea. How about if, instead Reyes would try to win the votes of Utahns by working in their interests here at home? It would be more work than just signing onto legal briefs drafted by other red state attorneys, but it would be doing the job he was elected and is paid - by all of us - to do.
Utah’s independently elected attorney general is, in theory, beholden to the people. Not the governor, the Legislature, any political party or any current, past or future president. The idea is the AG has the freedom to enforce the law even if it means investigating the Legislature or the governor’s office, questioning the doings of local governments, uncovering fraud committed by, or victimizing, any public body or official.
What about the inland port?
If our attorney general were to give up his habit of performative opposition to federal actions and instead train his legal eye on matters that affect Utah taxpayers, a good place to start would be to follow up on a recent report about Utah’s Inland Port Authority.
Auditors told the Legislature the other day that the port, under the management of former Executive Director Jack Hedge, entered into millions of dollars in no-bid contracts for projects and services that, in many cases, seemed poorly defined or which have resulted in no concrete benefit to the port or the taxpayers that fund it.
Auditors made no accusations of fraud or other criminal or civil wrongdoing. And the port’s enabling legislation specifically exempts it from standard rules other state agencies must follow in purchasing and bidding. But the report laid out in some detail the fact that neither Hedge nor the Inland Port Authority Board, as it was then constituted, seemed to have a clear vision of what they were doing or why they were spending all that money.
A part of the audit that seems particularly fishy — as previously reported by The Salt Lake Tribune — was a $2 million no-bid contract with a California outfit called QuayChain. It called for the creation of a 5G, artificial intelligence network of cameras and sensors to keep track of the comings, goings and activities of shipments through the envisioned port facilities in the northwest corner of Salt Lake City.
It sounds really neat. Except there is no indication that QuayChain has any experience in building such a creature, much less that it possessed any unique qualifications that would justify a sole-source contract rather than going through an open bid process. Except, perhaps, that QuayChain’s CEO Andrew Scott worked for the Port of Los Angeles at the same time as Jack Hedge.
Hedge has since moved on and the Legislature has reorganized the port’s board. The new management requested the legislative audit, which was a good start.
One can only wonder whether the brief and troubled history of the port authority might have been different if everyone knew that Utah had an attorney general’s office that was interested in real nuts and bolts legal matters right here in the Beehive State.
If current or former attorneys general had a track record of looking into air quality violations alleged against, for example, the now-defunct Stericycle medical waste processor. Of keeping a watch on fishy land deals that involved previous incarnations of the Utah Transit Authority. Of evaluating whether funds intended to mitigate the impact of fossil fuel development are used to encourage more fossil fuel development.
The envisioned independence of many public officials in the 21st century is compromised by an atmosphere of partisanship and crony capitalism that the authors of both the Utah and U.S. constitutions would abhor. But Reyes’ eagerness to suck up to the extreme elements of the state and national Republican parties, rather than bring an unbiased eye to the rule of law, is appalling even by modern standards.
Utahns who care about the law and the conduct of public business should contact our attorney general and remind him who he’s supposed to be working for.