SALT LAKE CITY — Embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow has no intention of resigning his office, his spokesman said Friday, even as rumors swirled about who might take his place.
“The attorney general has no plans to resign,” said Paul Murphy, Swallow’s spokesman. “It’s incredibly shortsighted and ridiculous for people to make a rush to judgment.”
Murphy also said “anyone who is looking at becoming a replacement for the attorney general ought to take a deep breath and stop and let due process take place.”
Several Utah newspapers have called for the recently inaugurated attorney general’s resignation after allegations surfaced a week ago that he helped broker a deal to bribe a congressional leader.
Publicly, the state’s political leaders have said they want to wait for the results of an investigation sought by Swallow, before taking any position on whether he should remain in office.
Still, members of the Utah Senate GOP caucus acknowledged this week discussing the need to understand the procedures for impeachment. And House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said Swallow could end up being forced out of office.
“That’s definitely a possibility,” Lockhart said, calling the controversy a distraction as lawmakers prepare for the start of the 2013 Legislature on Jan. 28. “You have to consider all of it. I am not John Swallow, thankfully, but he’s going to make decisions on his own obviously.”
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said he would be interested in the office if Swallow steps down. Valentine said he decided against a run for attorney general in 2011 after being called to serve as a Mormon bishop.
“I would consider a run for the attorney general’s office. Am I actively pursuing it now? No,” Valentine said. “I am not going to do anything to interfere with the investigation.”
Valentine said after talking to Swallow, he believes the attorney general will stay put. “He wants to stay in the office to which he was elected,” Valentine said. “My further impression is he wants to stay and fight and prove his innocence.”
Morgan Philpot, a former congressional and gubernatorial candidate, said he’s not going to think too hard about the possibility the attorney general’s job may become available.
“I don’t think I will let a thought like that settle in unless it comes more a reality. I find it flattering being mentioned,” Philpot said. “I don’t want to be one of the wolves pouncing on John.”
Philpot said he doesn’t expect Swallow to resign “unless there’s something we don’t know about. Then it could happen very quickly … There’s always opportunists so I’m sure there’s pressure from certain areas.”
Swallow won’t leave office if he feels he did nothing wrong, Philpot said. “It depends on what his conscience says,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to see John overreact. If he doesn’t’ feel guilty, he’s not going to step down.”
No investigation has been announced, although U.S. Attorney for Utah David Barlow told Swallow in a letter that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Department of Justice place a high priority on alleged federal crimes.
Barlow, who was asked by Swallow to investigate claims made by Jeremy Johnson, a St. George businessman charged in federal court, said the FBI and federal prosecutors handle such matters.
Johnson alleged that Swallow helped arrange a $600,000 deal to enlist Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to stop a federal probe into Johnson’s Internet marketing company.
Swallow has denied the allegations but said he put Johnson in touch with a friend and former client, Richard Rawle. In an affidavit signed three days before his death last month, Rawle said he paid Swallow $23,500 out of the $250,000 he collected from Johnson and a business associate.
Rawle’s family issued a statement late Friday calling Johnson’s accusations “nothing more than a ‘last-ditch effort” to try and influence the current ongoing federal prosecution.” Their statement said Rawle’s consulting company provided Johnson with “nothing more than standard government relations work.”
Murphy issued a statement Friday about Swallow’s consulting work as former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s chief deputy, noting Swallow “complied comfortably” with state statutes and office policy.
Shurtleff also backed Swallow in the statement. “From what I have learned about John Swallow’s out-of-state consulting arrangement with Richard Rawle, I believe John has complied with the policy as I have enforced it during my administration.”
Murphy said in an interview that “hopefully, the truth will come out quickly.” He said Swallow is not feeling any political pressure to leave office.
“He is not. He has kept legislators and the governor and every other individual informed,” Murphy said. “No one is calling up John and saying, ‘John you really have to get out of here.’ “
Should Swallow leave office, it would be up to the Utah State GOP central committee to submit three candidates for attorney general to Gov. Gary Herbert, who makes the final choice. A special election for the remainder of Swallow’s four-year term would be held in 2014.
Among other names circulating as possible replacements for Swallow are Lt. Gov. Greg Bell and Brian Tarbet, the retired Utah National Guard commander recently named counsel to the attorney general, as well as Swallow’s GOP primary opponent. Sean Reyes.
The Utah GOP has not commented on Swallow’s situation. The central committee isn’t scheduled to meet until mid-February and could consider some sort of reprimand against Swallow.