Dan Liljenquist: Utah Attorney General John Swallow is now trapped

Published: Thursday, Nov. 14 2013 9:20 a.m. MST

Utah Attorney General John Swallow

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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Aesop, in his fable of the fox and the ape, tells of how the beasts of the forest gather, after the death of the lion, to choose a new king. The ape captivates the audience with an entertaining performance, wins the election in a landslide, and accepts the crown. The fox, none-too-pleased with the ape’s good fortune, and knowing of a baited trap in the woods, approaches the new king, bowing ceremoniously, and says: “May it please your majesty, I have found on your domain a treasure, to which, if you will deign to accompany me, I will conduct you.” The ape naively follows, reaches for the bait, and the steel jaws snap on his fingers. Caught in the trap, suffering, devastated by shame, the ape rebukes the fox as a traitor and a criminal, to which the fox replies: “You a king, and not understand a trap!”

Like the ape in Aesop’s fable, Attorney General John Swallow is caught in a trap. Over the last 10 months, as his questionable dealings with a whole variety of foxes have been catalogued, scrutinized and questioned, Swallow has insisted that, in the end, he would be vindicated by a thorough investigation.

But last week, after it became clear that much of Swallow’s correspondence from the three years he served as chief deputy attorney general has been deleted, the trap has finally sprung on Swallow, and he has no one to blame but himself (and perhaps a very fox-like Jeremy Johnson). I believe that it is now not a matter of if, but when, that the Legislature will initiate impeachment proceedings.

Over the last 10 months, much has been said and written about the now infamous meeting between Swallow and Johnson at the Orem Krispy Kreme in April of 2012. That conversation, initiated and secretly recorded by Johnson and later transcribed and published by the Salt Lake Tribune, is full of salacious conversation. It is clear from the transcript that Johnson was trying to entrap Swallow, straining to get him to say something that might implicate himself in an alleged scheme to bribe U.S. Senate President Harry Reid. Swallow did not take the bait, carefully measuring his responses to Johnson’s inquiries.

Toward the end of the conversation, however, Swallow made a critical mistake. In 2009, while Swallow was serving as chief deputy attorney general, Johnson offered and Swallow accepted the use of Johnson’s $1 million Lake Powell houseboat for a family vacation. Swallow’s use of Johnson’s houseboat was a clear violation of Utah’s ethics laws, and Swallow knew it. During the Krispy Kreme conversation, Swallow asked Johnson if there were any “paper trails” associated with his Lake Powell vacation. Johnson assured him that no paper trails existed, all the while creating a brand new “trail” of the event with his secret recording.

In the subsequent months, as Swallow has offered numerous explanations of the Krispy Kreme meeting, he has never addressed the “paper trail” comment.

Now that the investigating House Committee has learned that Swallow erased every potentially relevant email and calendar item, on every electronic device that he used, both at home and at work, since he started as chief deputy attorney general, the Krispy Kreme “paper trail” comment is one of the only statements in the record that the committee has to go on to establish Swallow’s intent. The House committee will not just take his word that he did nothing wrong, especially when Swallow, himself, acknowledged last week on the Doug Wright radio program that “maybe I suffer from a little bit of a lack of credibility right now.”

Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate.

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