Utah A.G. John Swallow resigns, citing toll on family, finances
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General John Swallow announced his resignation Thursday after 10 months of intense public scrutiny that started with an indicted businessman's accusation four days after he took office in January.
His eyes bloodshot, Swallow said the ongoing investigations into his alleged wrongdoing took a toll on him, his family and his finances. In a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert, he said Dec. 2 would be his last day.
Swallow said he doesn't have the money to compete with a Utah House special committee investigation that he contends wants to drive him from office. The House committee has yet to decide what will happen with its investigation.
"Now is the time for the madness to stop and for the state to move forward," Swallow said during a news conference at the state Capitol.
The first-term Republican again proclaimed he has broken no laws and is innocent of all allegations leveled at him. Swallow could still face criminal charges as the result of an ongoing county investigation.
"I believe the things I've done have been cast in the worst possible light, and I maintain that I have been 100 percent ethical and honest in all my dealings," Swallow said.
His resignation came on the day the lieutenant governor's office was expected to release a report saying Swallow violated state election laws and a court should invalidate his November 2012 election. Swallow said he hasn't seen the report and that it didn't factor into his decision. He said he and his wife, Suzanne, decided he would step down last Sunday.
Mark Thomas, chief deputy lieutenant governor and state director of elections, said his office will review the effect Swallow's resignation will have on the ongoing special investigation and "will release the final report once it is complete." That could be as soon as Friday.
A source told the Deseret News that Swallow cut a deal with the lieutenant governor's office to resign in order to avoid facing criminal charges over the elections violations. According to a source in the lieutenant governor's office, that assertion is "factually incorrect" and state law allows only for civil sanctions.
Swallow said at his news conference that he didn't make any deals.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said Swallow “indirectly” approached him several times over the past few days. Niederhauser said he understood he was being asked “to do some negotiating” to stop the House investigation.
“I can only assume they were saying to themselves, ‘I want to resign, but I want to strike a deal before,’” Niederhauser said. “I think he had decided he was going to resign and he wanted to button up as many things as he could before he resigned. That would only be smart of him. You’re in office. That’s one of the cards you hold.”
The Senate president said he sent Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, to meet with Swallow and his attorney Wednesday. “The message sent back with Bramble was, ‘If you’re going to resign, resign. Don’t prolong this out.’”
Bramble said Swallow wanted to know how the Senate would react if he resigned as of the end of the year. “The reaction was, ‘If you’re going to resign, you need to resign immediately,’” Bramble said. “There was no deal cutting.”
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she “spoke with no one about any kind of potential deal or talks” with Swallow.
“I’m not going to make a judgment on that. I’m just going to tell you as speaker of the House, I have an obligation to the House and to the people,” Lockhart said.
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.
Utah Democrats are considering a lawsuit to require a special election to replace the attorney general, rather than leaving the decision to Republicans. The Democratic Party said the lieutenant governor's report recommends a judge invalidate Swallow's election last November.
"This is a critical issue. We risk an appointment tainted by corruption," said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis. "If Swallow cheated, the law says that his election was invalid and Utah voters, all of them, must pick his successor."
The Alliance for a Better Utah filed the elections complaint against Swallow in March, alleging 12 violations of state election law. The elections office dismissed nine counts in May but said three called for further investigation.
Better Utah executive director Maryann Martindale said the organization believed from the beginning its claims against Swallow were serious.
"I wish we had the final report so we could say definitively, but we've been confident all along that there's merit to what we were claiming," she said.
The lieutenant governor's office hired the law firm of Snell & Wilmer as special counsel in July to look into the allegations in what it said would be a four-month investigation costing $200,000.
Two of the counts allege Swallow failed to disclose that he was an owner or manager of a consulting firm and that he received income from another consulting business. The third alleges he made false and misleading statements about his personal financial condition on campaign disclosure forms.
Thomas, the state elections director, earlier said the special counsel would be free to review all of the issues Better Utah raised in its complaint.
Swallow said he's "heartbroken" about stepping down and all he wanted to do was serve the state.
* * *
"I'm proud of my service and I'm deeply disappointed that what I believe is the agenda of political enemies and people with a partial agenda to hurt me or to help themselves at my expense," he said.
"I believe the things I've done have been cast in the worst possible light, and I maintain that I have been 100 percent ethical and honest in all my dealings.”
— John Swallow, who resigned as attorney general effective Dec. 3
* * *
“(John Swallow’s) decision is in the best interests of his family, his constituents and the state of Utah.”
— Gov. Gary Herbert
* * *
“ We've been confident all along that there's merit to what we were claiming."
— Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Utah, which filed elections complaints against John Swallow
* * *
“I take no pleasure in the results that have come today.”
— Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, chairman of the House committee investigating John Swallow
* * *
"This is a critical issue. We risk an appointment tainted by corruption. If Swallow cheated, the law says that his election was invalid and Utah voters, all of them, must pick his successor."
— Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, and Utah Democratic Party chairman
* * *
* The Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office will release the report of an investigation into alleged elections violations against Attorney General John Swallow as soon as Friday.
* The Utah Republican Party will hold a special state Central Committee meeting Dec. 14 to nominate three names to be forwarded to the governor, who will select from them a replacement attorney general.
* The Republican selected by Gov. Gary Herbert would face an election in 2014 to fill the remainder of John Swallow's four-year term.
* Utah Democrats are considering a lawsuit to require a special election to replace the attorney general. Party officials said the lieutenant governor's report recommends a judge invalidate John Swallow's election last November.
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