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Feds acknowledge Attorney General John Swallow under investigation

Published: Friday, Jan. 25 2013 6:31 p.m. MST

Utah Attorney General John Swallow speaks out Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, in his office at the state Capitol about allegations that he was involved in improper deals. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Utah Attorney General John Swallow speaks out Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, in his office at the state Capitol about allegations that he was involved in improper deals. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah issued a statement Friday confirming Attorney General John Swallow is being investigated in coordination with the Department of Justice and the FBI.

Neither the DOJ nor the U.S. Attorney's Office typically confirms investigations, but an exception was made "because of the extraordinary public interest in this matter, we want to reassure the public that we, along with the FBI, have been investigating the allegations and will follow the facts and the law in doing so," according to the statement.

The statement said none of the federal agencies involved will have further comment.

Swallow had asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate allegations he helped broker a deal to bribe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to stop a federal investigation into a St. George businessman, allegations he strongly denied.

The businessman, Jeremy Johnson, faces fraud charges in federal court related to his Internet marketing company. Swallow is alleged to have put Johnson in touch with his former employer Richard Rawle, the owner of a payday lending company.   

Swallow earned more than $23,000 in consulting fees from Rawle while he served as chief deputy attorney general but said he was not part of any scheme or wrongdoing. His spokesman, Paul Murphy, has said Swallow has no plans to resign.

Murphy Friday called the announcement of the investigation "good," noting because of Swallow's position, "it is an extraordinary situation."

"The attorney general wants the facts to be known as much as anyone else," Murphy said.

The acknowledgement of an ongoing investigation comes the day after Gov. Gary Herbert called for the establishment of an ethics panel to deal with complaints about the state's elected executives, including the attorney general.

Herbert also said the public needs to wait for the results of a criminal investigation before looking into the ethics of Swallow's activities. The governor endorsed a legislative proposal to bar the attorney general and his or her staff from outside employment.

Earlier in the week, Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright said in a statement that Swallow had "at a minimum" made mistakes and called for a series of what he labeled "common sense" ethics reforms, including an ethics panel.

Neither the governor nor the state Republican Party had any comment on the announcement of the federal investigation.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said the investigation is in the best interests of Utahns and Swallow. He said Democrats believe the allegations "demand a serious, impartial, non-Utah investigation to follow the facts wherever they may lead."

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said he appreciated federal authorities "accepting the responsibility to conduct an independent investigation. I would hope that we can get to all the facts and get a really clear picture of what actually happened with our attorney general."

Valentine, who has said he may seek the attorney general's post, suggested Swallow may be helped by the investigation being made public. "A lot of public officials have asked for the same thing," he said of the investigation. "It gives him a place to clear his name."

Maryann Martindale, executive director of the progressive Alliance for a Better UTAH, said the acknowledgement of the investigation may make it more difficult for Swallow to stay in office. 

"I think it would be difficult for legislators or other officials to take legal advice from someone who themselves is under federal investigation. He may dig in his heels, but I think this makes it harder," Martindale said.

University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said the longer the investigation goes on, the more pressure to resign Swallow may face.

"It doesn't ever help to be under federal investigation," Burbank said. "It could go on for a long time, and if you're the attorney general, you can't have this cloud hanging over your head for a long time."

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