Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
In the history of the state of Utah, we have seen our fair share of political scandals, from falsified war résumés to embezzlement of campaign funds to prostitution solicitations in downtown Salt Lake City. While every scandal damages the fragile trust between the public and our elected officials, there are some scandals that cause lasting damage to our public institutions themselves.
The scandal swirling around Attorney General John Swallow is only getting worse. We know by his own admission that while serving as chief deputy attorney general, Swallow lined up embattled businessman Jeremy Johnson with a lobbyist to try to influence a federal investigation. Swallow received more than $20,000 in consulting fees from the individual Johnson paid to help stop the federal investigation. (Swallow denies there is a connection between the two events, but in a recorded conversation with Johnson said, "Let's assume that you paid me to put the deal together … What's wrong with that?")
Swallow also received inappropriate, and perhaps illegal, gifts from Johnson when he used Johnson's Lake Powell houseboat for a family vacation. Finally, Swallow tried to hide both the consulting fees and the houseboat use from the people of Utah by not disclosing them on his campaign filings and by trying to ensure there were no paper trails to follow.
I believe these circumstances alone demonstrate that Swallow, at best, lacks the personal judgment to continue to serve as Utah's chief law enforcement officer.
Last week, former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff revealed to the Deseret News that he met with the FBI about Swallow in October 2012. He also revealed that the FBI is actively investigating whether Swallow, during his time as Shurtleff's chief fundraiser and during his own campaign for attorney general, offered favorable treatment from the AG's office in exchange for campaign contributions.
The Salt Lake Tribune confirmed that the FBI is indeed investigating Swallow for a potential pay-for-protection scheme after speaking with two businessmen in the online sales industry who met with the FBI personally on the subject. This is the most troubling development by far — one that threatens to cause lasting damage to the state of Utah.
Our system of government depends upon the fair and impartial application of the law. We hold our courts, our judges, our prosecutors, and our other law enforcement officers in high regard precisely because of their willingness to stand on the wall and protect our way of life. Our law enforcement officers must be above reproach, for even the slightest hint of favoritism unravels the social compact that keeps us safe.
I cannot imagine a more damaging blow to that social compact than to have the chief law enforcement officer of the state of Utah under investigation for corruption. Should Swallow continue in office, even if no federal charges are ever brought against him, every decision made by the attorney general's office during his tenure will be under a cloud of suspicion.
I have heard multiple times over the last several weeks that we should not rush to judgment with respect to Swallow. I fully endorse the constitutionally guaranteed rights to due process under the law, and Swallow deserves the presumption of innocence should federal criminal charges be brought against him.
But I strongly disagree with the premise that public officials have a right to the public's trust. They do not. Our public institutions are far more important than the political career of one individual. It is time for John Swallow to resign as attorney general. If he refuses to do so, he should be removed from office.
Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate.
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