Even if they were to find ironclad, 100 percent proof the attorney general was absolutely innocent, they couldn't say that. All they could say is we've chosen not to indict anyone. —Paul Cassell, University of Utah law professor
SALT LAKE CITY — Embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow said Wednesday he hopes a two- or three-week investigation into allegations that he helped arrange a deal to bribe a member of Congress will clear his name.
But the U.S. Attorney's Office investigation that Swallow has asked for — if it's conducted at all — wouldn't be done quickly and might not shed light on what happened.
"They're not a Ken Starr-type independent investigator that tries to ascertain the validity of allegations or not and then issue a report," said Brett Tolman, a former U.S. Attorney for Utah.
The office could refer the matter to an investigative agency such as the FBI, which would take months — not weeks — collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses, he said.
"At the federal level, there are more resources, it would be more thorough, and they would attempt to take a no-stone-unturned approach, especially when it involved a political figure," Tolman said.
Swallow asked the U.S. Attorney's Office on Monday to look into St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson's assertion that Swallow helped broker a $600,000 deal to enlist Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to thwart a Federal Trade Commission probe of Johnson's Internet marketing company. Reid's office said the senator had no knowledge or involvement in Johnson's case.
"They're moving forward, from what I can tell," Swallow told Doug Wright on KSL Newsradio. "I hope that when we wake up in February, we'll have a lot more information than we have today, and I understand that there's a whole lot of information that's out there."
Tolman also had this to say about Swallow seeking a federal investigation: Be careful what you ask for because you might get it. And that might be the last thing you want.
The U.S. Attorney's Office hasn't acknowledged that it is conducting an investigation based on Swallow's request.
"We will carefully review any information that you or others provide and take any necessary and appropriate action," U.S. Attorney for Utah David Barlow replied to Swallow.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office cautioned the media to not infer anything about the timing of the start of an investigation from the exchange of letters with Swallow.
Federal investigations don't move quickly. The complexity of Johnson's story, which he supports with emails, financial records and a secretly recorded meeting with Swallow, would take investigators months to delve into.
"The problem is I don't know that the investigation could produce the sorts of findings that would resolve any questions in this area. The U.S. Attorney's Office indicts people or does not indict people," said University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell, a former federal judge and assistant U.S. attorney.
"Even if they were to find ironclad, 100 percent proof the attorney general was absolutely innocent, they couldn't say that. All they could say is we've chosen not to indict anyone," Cassell said.
Even if there wasn't enough information for an indictment, critics of the attorney general could still say there was a lot of wrongdoing, he said.
Swallow has adamantly denied Johnson's claims, saying he only put Johnson in touch with Richard M. Rawle, who had experience working with Federal Trade Commission lobbyists. Swallow worked for Rawle's company, Check City, as a lobbyist and in-house attorney before being appointed chief deputy attorney general in 2009.
Contacted Wednesday, Johnson said he has wanted to respond to Swallow's statements the past few days, but his attorneys have advised him not to.
The FTC filed a civil complaint against Johnson in December 2010, alleging his company, iWorks, billed online consumers for products and services they didn't order month after month totaling $300 million. Johnson is also charged in criminal court for mail fraud in connection with his enterprise.
Through his attorneys, Stirba & Associates, Johnson issued a statement saying he stands by his comments.
Beginning in fall 2010, under what he continues to believe to be a wrongful federal investigation, Johnson participated in a series of communications with Swallow and Rawle. The communications focused on an arrangement in which Johnson paid $250,000 that he believed would eventually go to Reid to end the FTC investigation, according to the statement.
"Johnson relied on assurances from John Swallow, a trusted friend and public official, that a monetary arrangement could alleviate continued government action. Any assertions by the newly elected Utah attorney general that he is unaware of or was not involved in the situation are untrue," the statement said.
Johnson's attorneys said he would not do any more interviews on the subject.
Swallow on Wednesday also said he doesn't plan to do any more interviews until the investigation is complete.
One possible piece of evidence investigators might look at is an affidavit Rawle wrote three days before he died of cancer Dec. 8, 2012.
It's unclear why Rawle made the declaration, which Swallow provided the media after the story broke and called a "critical" piece of his defense to the allegations.
"I do have to speculate because I don't know why," Swallow said. "He knew he was going to die. He had heard rumblings of these types of allegations that might be out there, and he wanted to set the record straight. … He wanted to make sure his voice could heard beyond where he is now."
Tolman said while investigators might want to look at the document, it would be considered hearsay in court because Rawle can't be cross-examined.
"You have a real issue there," he said.
The statement isn't necessarily admissible and would be viewed with skepticism due to the circumstances under which it was made, Tolman said.
Rawle explains in the affidavit how he used some of the $250,000 Johnson and his business associate Scott Leavitt paid him. He wrote that he did not agree to pay Swallow for introducing him to Johnson. He also said he had no knowledge of a plan to influence Reid with the money.5 comments on this story
Rawle, who set up a company called RMR Consulting after meeting with Johnson in October 2010, said he paid lobbyists with a portion of the money and took $50,000 for his fee, part of which he used to pay "miscellaneous" expenses. One of those bills was from Swallow's company, P-Solutions, for consulting on a cement project Rawle had in Nevada.
Swallow later returned the check, which came from the RMR account, and asked it come from another account. Rawle then paid Swallow $23,500 from another account, according to the affidavit.