Utah A.G. John Swallow resigns, citing toll on family, finances

Published: Thursday, Nov. 21 2013 10:05 a.m. MST

St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson touched off a political firestorm in January when he claimed Swallow was part of an arrangement to bribe a U.S. senator to derail a Federal Trade Commission investigation of Johnson's Internet marketing company in 2010. Johnson's accusation spawned investigations on the federal, state and county levels.

"The first week in office I had this little speck that people kept pecking at," Swallow said.

Swallow remains the subject of an investigation by Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings. An ethics complaint with the Utah State Bar also is outstanding.

Gill said he and Rawlings are not backing off and Swallow's resignation "has no impact on us."

Swallow said he's looking forward to clearing his name outside the "fishbowl" of public office.

"I feel that if the county attorneys are fair and thorough, then I have no worries about any criminal charges," he said.

Swallow said he had hoped the U.S. Department of Justice decision in September not to file criminal charges against him would have ended the House inquiry.

"I simply misjudged the politics of the House decision," he said.

Swallow said he couldn't match the $3 million budget of the House special investigative committee. Investigators earlier this month discovered a large amount of emails and data missing from his computers and other electronic devices.

"Pure and simple, I believe that the House investigation was calculated to drive me from office. They had all the resources of the state at their disposal, and they knew I only had the resources of my personal family budget," he said.

Swallow estimated his legal bills at about $300,000. "If we could have seen an end point to the investigation and a way to survive financially, I would have stayed until my very last dollar," he said.

The chairman of the House committee investigating Swallow, Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said he needs to meet with the committee’s special counsel before deciding how to proceed. The committee has spent $1.5 million so far on the investigation and was expected to begin holding public hearings next month.

Dunnigan, who said his meeting with the special counsel will likely take place within the next week, said the committee still has a responsibility to produce a final report detailing findings about the allegations surrounding Swallow and whether there needs to be changes in state elections law.

He became emotional when asked how he felt about Swallow’s resignation, saying he participated in the committee “because I am fair, thorough and evenhanded. I take no pleasure in the results that have come today.”

Both Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the head of the state elections office, were out of state Thursday.

Herbert said he received Swallow’s letter of resignation Thursday morning and has asked the attorney general's office general counsel Brian Tarbet to oversee the office until the governor names a replacement.

“John’s decision is in the best interests of his family, his constituents and the state of Utah,” the governor said in a statement.

Tarbet pledged in a statement "to provide a steadying hand for the office and to assure that the significant legal work needed by the state will be accomplished until the new attorney general is selected."

The Utah Republican Party will hold a special state Central Committee meeting on Dec. 14 to nominate three names that will be forwarded to the governor to select a replacement. It will accept candidacy declarations until 5 p.m. Dec. 6.

The Republican selected by Herbert would face election in 2014 to fill the remainder of Swallow's four-year term.

Jockeying for the job appears to have already started, with Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, topping the list of likely candidates. Valentine, who previously considered a run for attorney general, expressed interest in the office in January should Swallow step down.

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