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Gov. Gary Herbert wants new ethics panel, but says AG John Swallow doesn't need state investigation

Published: Thursday, Jan. 24 2013 6:47 p.m. MST

Gov. Gary R. Herbert unveils Utah's Outdoor Recreation Vision in collaboration with Outdoor Industry Association Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, in Salt Lake City. Herbert called on lawmakers Thursday to establish a new panel to review ethics complaints against Utah's elected executives.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert called on lawmakers Thursday to establish a new panel to review ethics complaints against Utah's elected executives, but he said he was not calling for an ethics investigation into embattled Attorney General John Swallow's activities.

"I'd like to see what the facts are before we make any rush to judgment or jump to conclusions," Herbert said during his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7. "That being said, I do believe there is need for some reform."

The governor stopped short of agreeing with Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright, who said Wednesday that "at a minimum," Swallow made mistakes that could be avoided through a series of common sense reforms aimed at state executives.

"It appears we're kind of piling on the attorney general right now because of his unique circumstances and his challenges right now," Herbert said, calling criticisms of Swallow from the sidelines "a little disingenuous."

The governor said he believes Swallow regrets having meetings that led to accusations he helped broker a deal to bribe a congressional leader. The attorney general, Herbert said, "probably thinks that's a mistake."

But the governor did agree with the state Republican Party chairman that an ethics commission should be created to look into potential complaints against the governor, attorney general, treasurer and auditor.

Herbert also said he supports a proposal expected to be introduced at the 2013 Legislature by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, to bar the attorney general and his staff from working outside the office.

Swallow was working as a consultant and as the deputy attorney general when he allegedly got involved with a St. George businessman attempting to stall a federal investigation.

Weiler said he's getting a lot of questions about how Swallow was able to work as both a consultant and a top official in the attorney general's office.

"Most of us legislators weren't even aware this was permissible," Weiler said. "I think most people have agreed that 100 hours of consulting and a $23,000 invoice … that just doesn't look right."

Swallow spokesman Paul Murphy said the attorney general already is reviewing all of the office's policies as part of his transition. Murphy said Swallow has not worked as a consultant since getting in the race.

"I think there are a great deal of government employees that have second jobs," Murphy said. "We are looking at every policy to make sure first and foremost, it's fair to taxpayers" as well as employees.

The governor's office already has a similar policy against outside employment, Herbert said, noting his general counsel, John Pearce, had to give up his position at a law firm when he joined the staff but was allowed to teach at the University of Utah law school.

Herbert said the public needs to be patient and wait for the results of the federal investigation that Swallow himself requested into the allegations shortly after they surfaced earlier this month.

He said if Swallow is not found to have violated federal law, "that's going to bring a lot of confidence to his tenure as attorney general." The governor said an indictment would make his situation more difficult and "clearly, a conviction would warrant resignation."

No federal investigation has been confirmed into claims made by Jeremy Johnson, a St. George businessman, that Swallow helped arrange a $600,000 deal to enlist Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to stop a federal probe into Johnson's Internet marketing company. Johnson faces fraud charges in federal court related to his business.

Gun control

Also at Thursday's news conference, the governor said the courts are the place to fight new federal restrictions on guns rather than by threatening to arrest federal agents attempting to enforce them.

"We need to adhere to the law. Whatever the law is, we as a state will adhere to it. Nobody is above the law," Herbert said. "I believe in the system. We've had a Civil War about seceding from the Union, and I think we know what the outcome of that was."

After the taping, the governor said he wanted to talk to members of the Utah Sheriff's Association, who sent a letter to President Barack Obama warning they "are prepared to trade our lives for the preservation of (the Constitution"s) traditional interpretation."

"I think it probably is an emotional knee-jerk reaction to the idea that Washington is somehow going to tell us what to do," Herbert said of the letter. "We have a process in place. Go to court. We don't have to have confrontations at the border."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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