In our opinion: A darkening cloud is hanging over AG John Swallow

Published: Monday, Oct. 5 2015 1:22 p.m. MDT

Utah Attorney General John Swallow. (Scott G Winterton, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Utah Attorney General John Swallow. (Scott G Winterton, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

With each passing day, it seems, the cloud over Utah Attorney General John Swallow becomes darker. Allegations of improper relations with people under investigation, ethics complaints filed against him with the Utah State Bar, criminal investigations by federal and local officials and the pending appointment of a special prosecutor by the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office all are taking a toll on the image of the state's top law enforcement officer.

House Republicans are scheduled to meet today to discuss the matter. Democrats have asked to join the meeting. Given the lack of public trust in Swallow, we urge these lawmakers to open public impeachment hearings.

That is a grave step to take against any elected official, but at this point there is little choice.

Much as with the federal system, impeachment in Utah is the responsibility of the House. Members of that body would conduct an investigation, hear witnesses and examine evidence, then decide whether to present articles of impeachment to the Senate, which would then try the case as a jury.

Swallow and his supporters argue that criminal investigations should be allowed to run their course, and they should. But impeachment proceedings are political by nature, and the Attorney General's Office, as a political entity, is in crisis. It is not only appropriate, but necessary at this point, for Utah lawmakers to carefully examine evidence and determine whether Swallow is fit to remain in political office.

These proceedings must be entirely open to the public, available through the Internet or any other appropriate medium. The result of such a procedure may range from removal from office to censure, or to a complete exoneration.

Regardless of outcome, the people of Utah deserve a thorough examination of the facts. Criminal probes, meanwhile, should continue separately.

Swallow has argued that the allegations against him come primarily from convicted criminals who therefore lack credibility. This is indeed a concern. It is equally troubling, however, that those people allege Swallow tried to extract favors in exchange for light treatment or that he tried to obtain political donations to the former attorney general in exchange for special considerations.

A new poll by the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy shows Utahns, the people who elected Swallow by a large margin last November, overwhelmingly want to see him resign or face impeachment.

Within a margin of error of 3.4 percent, the BYU opinion poll found that 78 percent of Utahns think Swallow should resign, and 72 percent believe the House should begin impeachment proceedings. Only 3.6 percent of those who were aware of the allegations against Swallow believe he has done nothing wrong.

No office as important as the state's attorney general can effectively function under such a cloud. It's time to bring some clarity to the swirling allegations, and to do it in such a way that the public can watch and examine.

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