I don't think it shows anything about the merits of whether the allegations are true or false. I think it just goes to the procedures that maybe there's a connection between someone or something that's being investigated out of the U.S. Attorney's Office. —University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell
SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah will no longer be involved in the federal investigation of Attorney General John Swallow.
But that doesn't mean federal officials aren't continuing to look into his dealings with indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson, as well as his relationship with some election campaign donors.
"In consultation with the Department of Justice, it has been determined that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah would be recused from this matter going forward," according to a statement from the office Monday. "The Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice will continue the investigation."
The office did not cite a reason for the move.
University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell said the change isn't a signal that the investigation has turned less or more serious.
"I don't think it shows anything about the merits of whether the allegations are true or false. I think it just goes to the procedures that maybe there's a connection between someone or something that's being investigated out of the U.S. Attorney's Office," he said.
Cassell, a former federal judge, said the move is unusual but not unheard of, noting the office removed itself from the Salt Lake Olympic bribery investigation in favor of the DOJ.
The recusal comes three days after Johnson revealed in a court document that the U.S. Attorney's Office has apparently been looking at Swallow for nearly a year. Johnson said federal prosecutors wanted him to answer questions about Swallow last June but he refused.
Swallow spokesman Paul Murphy said the attorney general has never received a "target" letter from a federal agency informing him that he is under investigation.
The U.S. Attorney's Office acknowledged in January that it was investigating Swallow on the heels of Johnson's accusation that Swallow helped arrange a $600,000 deal to enlist Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to derail a Federal Trade Commission investigation of his Internet marketing company in 2010. Reid has disavowed any knowledge of Johnson's case.
Swallow himself sent a letter to U.S. Attorney for Utah David Barlow asking for an investigation. In it, he denied participating in a scheme to bribe a member of Congress and that he expected no special treatment.
In reply, Barlow assured him that the U.S. Attorney's Office and the DOJ place a high priority on alleged federal crimes.
"We will carefully review any information you or others provide and take any necessary and appropriate action,'' Barlow wrote.
Investigators also are looking into allegations that Swallow, a Republican, promised during his election campaign to not go after certain telemarketing firms in exchange for donations.
Cassell said it's "tricky" but not impossible for another agency to pick up an investigation midstream.
"That Olympics prosecution ultimately went down in flames because I don't think the people from Washington fully understood the situation out here in Utah," he said. "That's always the danger. You do get an unbiased look at something but you may miss some of the local color and local nuance that a local prosecutor could pick up."