Utah Attorney General John Swallow is at the center of bribery accusations leveled by Jeremy Johnson, an indicted southern Utah businessman. The resulting media firestorm has attracted national attention and generated a number of heated responses. Partisans are outraged, and, just days after Swallow was sworn into office, at least two Utah newspapers have already called on him to resign.
Let's step back for a moment.
There's no question that the allegations are serious enough to merit attention. Swallow and Johnson met on a number of occasions, and financial records indicate that Johnson's company, iWorks, paid $250,000 to a consulting firm called RMR Consulting, which was created to help Johnson deal with the Federal Trade Commission's case against him. Johnson insists that this money was a down payment on a $600,000 bribery scheme to influence Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who denies any knowledge of or involvement in the matter. Swallow counters that he was merely helping to procure lobbying services, which are both legal and expensive.
At this point, however, it's impossible to determine which side of the story is right, or if the truth lies somewhere in between.
If Swallow was soliciting bribes, then it would be necessary for him to step down. But we don't know that. We're nowhere near knowing that. In fact, we've barely begun the due process necessary to verify such explosive claims. The attorney general protests that he is blameless in this, and he is entitled to the same presumption of innocence as anyone else. To try this matter solely in the court of public opinion is to do a grave disservice both to John Swallow and to the state he was elected to serve.
At the same time, it will be impossible to remove the cloud over the Attorney General's Office without a comprehensive investigation that includes the full cooperation of Swallow and his staff. The Utah State Democratic Party has created an online petition calling for "an independent investigation into any criminal, civil or ethical violations on behalf of Utah's elected and public officials in connection with Jeremy Johnson or the company iWorks." Such an investigation would be entirely appropriate. The people of Utah deserve no less. The U.S. Justice Department ought to conduct the investigation in order to best assure an independent review.
But until the process has had a chance to make a determination, everyone ought to resist jumping to conclusions. When scandal strikes, all too often the first casualty is common sense.