Utah A.G. John Swallow: 'No way to convince people I'm innocent'
MATT GADE, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — John Swallow walked away from the attorney general's office Monday, but the ending to his scandal-ridden 11 months as Utah's top cop remains unwritten.
"I've decided that there's no way in the world that I'm going to convince people that I'm innocent," the first-term Republican said Monday. "I just have to go quietly away, work on that and know that my family and I and anyone else that really matters in my life will know and understand I have not done the things they said I've done."
Swallow said he resigned because it became apparent to him that he wouldn't get a fair shot in a public forum.
"It's like having someone look at your life in the worst possible way every day," he said on KSL NewsRadio's "The Doug Wright Show."
Swallow didn't spend time at his office Monday, but called his division heads on the phone to thank them for their work. He cleaned out his desk over the weekend.
Brian Tarbet, former adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, will run the office until Gov. Gary Herbert chooses a replacement. Tarbet now works as the office's general counsel.
Kirk Jowers, who heads the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, said it's unreasonable for Swallow to want a blanket finding of innocence from the public.
"He uses the word innocent like Bill Clinton used the phrase the 'definition of is is,'" he said. "I think the public will believe he's innocent of some things, but there's so much and it seems proven beyond doubt that he is not innocent of (campaign) disclosure violations and misjudgment or worse."
Other than try to clear his name, Swallow hasn't said what he intends to do after leaving office. He said he's proud of his service as attorney general, noting efforts to safeguard schoolchildren and to control public lands. But it's difficult to pinpoint any major accomplishments the past year.
"The fact is no one has really noticed because of the negative attention on him," Jowers said.
And even though Americans have an insatiable appetite for second acts, Jowers said, he'd be shocked if Swallow won an elected post again.
Though Swallow won the 2012 attorney general's race by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, he didn't enjoy much public support as allegations of impropriety began to spill out days after he took office in January.
St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson claimed Swallow was involved in a plan to bribe a U.S. senator to thwart a federal investigation into Johnson's Internet enterprise.
The BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy found in June that 78 percent of Utah voters thought Swallow should resign. He fared slightly better in a follow-up poll in October, with 71 percent in a survey conducted shortly after the U.S. Department of Justice declined to file criminal charges against him.
Still, the number of people who thought he didn't do anything illegal but did something unethical rose 4 points to 66 percent from June to October.
In leaving Monday, Swallow has four years of service in state government to nearly the day and qualifies for a state pension when he turns 65. He began working as chief deputy to his predecessor, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, on Dec. 1, 2009.
Swallow would not directly answer questions about whether he planned his resignation date to become eligible for a pension.
"It happens to correspond with four years of service, which is the vesting period for retirement in this state, so people can make it look like John just hung on until he could retire," Swallow said.
He said he hadn't thought about stepping down until four days before he announced it on Nov. 21 and that a long-planned vacation over Thanksgiving didn't leave time for a transition.
Swallow said he resigned due to the strain that the Utah House special committee investigation was having on him, his family and his finances.
The state elections office released a report the day after Swallow made his announcement, outlining five instances of probable cause that Swallow broke campaign finance reporting law.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox declined to seek a civil complaint against Swallow, but he handed the scathing report to two county attorneys to review for possible criminal charges.
Because that would have been a civil action, Cox said the state has no authority to bar Swallow from drawing a pension. But if Swallow were convicted in criminal court of breaking election laws, he would not be entitled to the benefits of his job, he said.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings intend to use the report in their ongoing investigation. The two county attorneys, along with investigators from the FBI and the Utah Department of Public Safety, have been looking into a variety of allegations against Swallow since at least February.
Breaking state election laws could result in misdemeanor charges against Swallow. The joint investigation is anticipated to continue into next year.
The bipartisan House panel intends to meet Saturday to wind down its investigation, said Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, the committee chairman. Its investigators have interviewed 140 witnesses and the committee has issued 15 subpoenas, several of which are being challenged in court.
The committee still must issue a report of its findings, which likely will include proposed changes to state election laws. A finished report isn't expected for weeks if not months.
Swallow also is the subject of a complaint with the Utah State Bar, a complaint which apparently remains outstanding.
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