Richard Davis: Cloud over Swallow needs to be resolved soon

Published: Wednesday, May 15 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah Attorney General John Swallow speaks out Jan. 14, 2013, in his office at the state Capitol about allegations that he was involved in improper deals. A new bill would ban the type of consulting work he did while serving as chief deputy attorney general.

Scott G Winterton, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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The allegations against Utah Attorney General John Swallow are piling up. They aren't just coming from someone under indictment, such as Jeremy Johnson, or a convicted felon such as Mark Jenson. The Alliance for a Better Utah and Traci Gundersen, former director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, have lodged their own accusations about Swallow's behavior. A cloud hangs over the attorney general's office. It is time for that cloud to be dispelled.

Some positive steps have been taken to that end, but they're not enough. The office of Utah's U.S. Attorney, David Barlow, investigated Swallow. But that investigation has gone on too long with no resolution. And now that he has handed over the file to the Justice Department, any decision about whether to prosecute is likely to suffer even more delay.

Another positive step was Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell's decision to appoint a special investigator to investigate accusations of illegal campaign activities. But that investigation is limited to a narrow range of accusations. The accusations regarding Swallow's other alleged crimes may or may not be investigated by the federal government. Their investigation has been wrapped in secrecy. That merely leaves the accusations out in the open with no resolution in sight.

It is time for one of two actions to occur. One is for John Swallow to resign. Resignation would allow the attorney general's office to carry on its business without distraction. If Swallow resigned, he could spend his time clearing his name. The accusations against him are not trivial and he needs to devote his time to addressing them.

If he does not resign, which is likely, the other action is up to the state Legislature. It should institute impeachment proceedings. The Utah constitution allows for the governor "and other state and judicial officers" to be impeached for "high crimes, misdemeanors, or malfeasance in office." If the accusations against John Swallow are accurate, there would be grounds for impeachment.

Are they accurate? Answering that question is exactly what the impeachment process is for. A bill of impeachment would result in a public examination of the charges against the attorney general. The Utah House of Representatives could investigate the alleged crimes, take testimony, and give Swallow his opportunity to explain officially what he did and why. Then, the Senate could begin a trial to determine whether the impeachment charges are warranted and Swallow should be removed from office.

Beginning the impeachment process also would free the attorney general's office from any association with Swallow's troubles because the Utah constitution prohibits him from functioning in the office until he is acquitted. Swallow requested an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's office. Perhaps he should ask for an impeachment investigation as well so he can concentrate on the charges lodged against him.

It takes two-thirds of the members of the House to call for convening a session for the purpose of impeachment. Speaker Becky Lockhart should poll the members to determine whether there is support for impeachment, and members should support such a move. Only then can the House begin to carry out its constitutional duty to settle this issue.

If Swallow is acquitted, he will have faced down his accusers in an impeachment hearing and a Senate trial and acquired the legitimacy for his office that has been tarnished by the stream of accusations. On the other hand, if he is found guilty, he would be removed from office. Either way, the cloud would have dissipated and Utahns would have confidence again in the state's chief legal officer.

Richard Davis is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of BYU. Email: Richard_Davis@byu.edu

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