Candidates seeking to replace Swallow include pair with ties to his accusors

Published: Monday, Dec. 2 2013 10:13 p.m. MST

Embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow grimaces after completing a press conference where he resigned as the state's attorney at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. Swallow cut a deal with the lieutenant governor's office to resign in order to avoid facing criminal charges. A report from the special counsel the office hired to investigate alleged election law violations recommended that Swallow be charged with three misdemeanors, a source said. In lieu of the criminal charges, the office negotiated a deal calling for only civil sanctions if Swallow would step down. The deal would prevent his election from being invalidated in a court action and his office from being up for grabs in a special election.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In the race to replace former Attorney General John Swallow, so far two candidates are connected to his chief accusers, two promise not to run again and one was his primary election opponent.

Those seeking the job given up Monday by Swallow, still the subject of a criminal investigation led by the Salt Lake and Davis county attorneys, have until 5 p.m. Friday to file with the state Republican Party.

The party's central committee, made up of GOP leaders from around the state, is scheduled to meet Dec. 14 to choose the three candidates whose names will be forwarded to Gov. Gary Herbert. The final choice is up to the governor.

All that state GOP Chairman James Evans will say about the selection process is that it's political. Whoever is appointed by the governor will have to run in 2014 for the remainder of Swallow's term.

"The purpose of the party is to get Republicans elected, so that's the lens through which we look," Evans said. "We have a great chance of retaining the office because I think voters tend to make decisions based on the person that's there."

Brent Ward, a former U.S. attorney for Utah who now works for the U.S. Department of Justice, withdrew Monday as lead counsel in the federal government's case against St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson.

It was Johnson who claimed shortly after Swallow took office in January that Swallow was part of an effort in 2010 to bribe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to stop a federal investigation into Johnson's business.

Ward said while he has not heard any concerns raised about his being involved in the case as a candidate, he decided withdrawing was "best for the case and best for me," giving him the "latitude to concentrate on my message" in the race.

"I have no ties to the previous attorney general. I'm prosecuting a case that may have led to his downfall," Ward said. "That's certainly something I am proud to say."

Ward said the only time he talked with Swallow was in 2012, when Swallow asked him if he was still considering running for attorney general. Ward said he told Swallow he'd decided not to get in the race.

"I told him he could use my name," Ward said, as long as Swallow didn't mention his association with the U.S. Attorney's Office or the Justice Department. "I didn't know the guy, but I figured he would be the Republican candidate."

Asked if he was sorry now that he'd offered to help Swallow get elected, Ward said, "Sure, I am." But he said he would have done the same for any other GOP candidate.

Ward said if chosen as attorney general, he would not begin to campaign for re-election until a month before the November 2014 election and would set limits on the size and source of campaign contributions.

Bret Rawson, the first candidate to file for attorney general after Swallow announced his resignation on Nov. 21, said he sees no conflict with representing convicted criminal Marc Jenson, who has accused Swallow of influence peddling.

"Just because my work in this case has exposed information that is negative concerning the attorney general's office, all it does it compel me to speak up about cleaning it up," Rawson said.

He said he believes that if he becomes attorney general, voters in the 2014 special election would have "a degree of confidence that even before this campaign we were involved in and taking steps to clean up this office."

Other candidates, however, said the attorney general's office should be put in the hands of someone who won't seek re-election and is freed from having to focus on another race less than a year away.

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