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A.G. Swallow asks GOP leaders for patience as he's investigated

But surprise appearance appeared to have little impact on committee members

Published: Saturday, June 22 2013 11:59 p.m. MDT

Chairman James Evans talks at the GOP Central Committee meeting at Salt Lake Community College's Sandy campus on Saturday, June 22, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SANDY — Embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow made a surprise appearance Saturday in front of fellow Republican leaders, asking for their patience as the allegations against him are investigated.

“I want you to know that I feel really badly for the firestorm that’s out there right now and I can imagine how many of you must feel about that,” Swallow told members of the state GOP central committee at their quarterly meeting.

He repeated his belief that he will be exonerated and said if he felt otherwise, he would not put his state, family and party through the past months. "I would not be standing before you today if I thought I was merely delaying the inevitable," Swallow said.

The attorney general — the subject of federal, state and local investigations including a new probe by the Utah House — said he has done everything he could to mitigate their impact, including calling immediately for an inquiry.

But his words appeared to have little impact on many of the nearly 200 state party leaders. Swallow received seemingly polite applause from the group gathered in the Salt Lake Community College Sandy campus auditorium.

Lisa Shepherd, a central committee member from Utah County, said after Swallow's first address to party leaders since the controversy started shortly after he took office in January, she still wants Swallow to resign.

"He's not been responsive for six months and not shown up to one meeting," Shepherd said. She called his 18-minute speech "a great political PR move" but said it failed to earn him any support.

Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, also noted the lukewarm reaction to Swallow.

"He kind of got a 'golf clap' at the end," Lifferth, a member of the House conservative caucus, said. A speech now, however, may be too little too late to win over party leaders. "It'll take the facts at this point," the lawmaker said.

Still, Lifferth said, Swallow needed to make the effort.

"I think it would have been worse had he not been here," Lifferth said. "I think it would be an indication he didn't have confidence in his fellow Republicans," including the call by House Republicans on Wednesday for an unprecedented investigation into Swallow.

Swallow told the party leaders he was “humbled” by the decision to launch a legislative investigation into the impact the allegations have had on the public trust in the attorney general’s office, rather than begin official impeachment discussions.

He said he hoped the work of the legislative committee that will investigate him, set to be determined at a special session of the House on July 3, wouldn’t be “too duplicative” or too expensive.

During his speech, he distributed a copy of a two-page memo sent Tuesday to lawmakers refuting some of the allegations that have been made, including that he helped broker a deal for an indicted Utah businessman seeking to halt a federal investigation into his company.

“Consider the source,” Swallow said of the allegations, which come mainly from that businessman, Jeremy Johnson, and an imprisoned swindler, Marc Sessions Jenson. Other allegations, he said in the memo, are "politically motivated."

He also said the attorney general's office is receiving only one or two calls a week about the allegations, and that morale among the state's attorneys has not been affected.

Swallow said steps were taken even before he was sworn in at the beginning of the year to better screen donors and others who want to meet with him, to avoid "situations that compromise public opinion or the integrity of the office."

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