Utah leaders waiting for feds in Swallow investigation; but will they share answers?
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah legislative leaders say they're waiting on the outcome of a federal investigation before considering any action of their own regarding embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow.
But the Department of Justice might never shed any light on the alleged improprieties connected to the first-term Republican.
"My sense is that it's very likely the ultimate result will be not to file any charges here, at least charges against a Utah politician," said Paul Cassell, a former federal prosecutor and judge. "But that isn't going to clear up the questions people would like to have cleared up."
And questions are mounting as the embattled attorney general endured a rough past week, including:
• The former head of the state Division of Consumer Protection filed a professional misconduct complaint against Swallow with the Utah State Bar. Two bar complaints are now pending against him.
• An imprisoned businessman produced receipts showing he covered Swallow's expenses for three trips to a lavish Southern California resort in 2009. Marc Sessions Jenson said Swallow bragged that he would soon be working as the attorney general's chief deputy and could help with his legal troubles.
• The lieutenant governor's office announced it will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Swallow violated state elections laws related to allegedly false and misleading campaign finance reports.
Overarching those developments is the ongoing federal investigation into Swallow's dealings with indicted Internet marketer Jeremy Johnson. The St. George businessman claims Swallow helped broker a $600,000 deal to enlist a powerful U.S. senator to derail a Federal Trade Commission investigation into his company in 2010.
Swallow maintains he has done nothing illegal.
Cassell, a University of Utah law professor, said the DOJ won't issue any kind of report if it decides not to file criminal charges against Swallow. And, he said, a decision could be months if not years away.
"Unfortunately, this is not a very good vehicle for answering questions. It may just end up leaving the questions unresolved," he said.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said that would create a difficult situation for lawmakers because they're looking for clarity from the federal investigation before making any decisions.
"I haven't thought about not having answers on a permanent basis," he said. "I think that is problematic."
A series of new questions arose this week after Jenson produced receipts showing he paid for Swallow and former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to stay at his upscale Newport Beach villa in 2009. Swallow didn't work for the attorney general's office at the time but would become Shurtleff's chief deputy later that year.
Swallow acted as if he worked for the attorney general's office while on the trips and suggested he could help with his legal troubles once he became chief deputy, Jenson said. Swallow, he said, also wanted to meet some his wealthy friends in hopes of raising campaign funds.
Jenson — speaking from the Utah State Prison — said he turned over the receipts and other documents to the FBI and was interviewed twice as part of the federal investigation into Swallow.
In a statement Thursday, Swallow said his interactions with Jenson occurred when he was a private attorney. He said he walled himself from Jenson's criminal case in June 2011.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah this week removed itself from the Swallow investigation, handing it off to the Department of Justice Public Integrity Section in Washington, D.C.
DOJ spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said the state doesn't have to wait for the feds. He called on Gov. Gary Herbert to appoint a special state prosecutor to investigate all the allegations against Swallow.
Swallow will likely be a topic of discussion next week when state lawmakers convene for interim study meetings. One state senator want to consider taking political campaigning out of the attorney general's office by making it an appointed position.
Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Democratic-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, said she wouldn't be surprised if legislators talk about impeachment. Better Utah filed the elections petition and one of the bar complaints regarding Swallow.
"I think the Legislature is going to look for a way they can somehow get out of this because it's a mess," she said.
Martindale said Utahns have lost confidence in Swallow and he should resign for the good of the state.
Niederhauser said he doesn't think the situation is to the point where the attorney general should step down. Swallow, he said, should have the benefit of being presumed innocent.
"We have a lot of allegations from people who are in trouble," he said. "In a way, we're grasping at straws."
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