Over the past two weeks, as the controversy and scandal surrounding Utah’s new Attorney General John Swallow has continued to build, we have avoided making any judgments, preferring see where investigations into the allegations led. But the time has come to add our voice to those calling for Swallow to resign.
What began as a series of allegations made against the Attorney General by indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson, has now developed into a serious and, we believe, unalterable destruction of the credibility and ability of Mr. Swallow to perform his duties as Utah’s top law enforcement officer.
Mr. Johnson’s accusations that Swallow facilitated, and possibly profited from, an attempt to bribe the federal government may turn out to be true or false. But documentation the public has now seen shows that even in the best case scenario, the Republican Attorney General leveraged his position to assist a businessman who was under investigation obtain lobbyist connections for the purpose of circumventing the legitimate investigation of another law enforcement agency. Regardless of whether it was bribery or not, the conduct is completely unbecoming of the office and an embarrassment to the state of Utah.
As former Republican Lawmaker Holly Richardson noted during her call for Mr. Swallow to resign, what we are seeing is not an isolated incident, but rather a pattern of unsavory activities that jeopardizes Utah’s ability to defend its citizens in court. Before the Johnson allegations came to light, both Swallow and now-former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff came under fire last year when Swallow was secretly recorded promising to, if elected, bring other state departments under his purview in order to orchestrate more favorable outcomes for businesses who had donated upwards of $170,000 to himself and Mr. Shurtleff. And in 2010, Swallow and his family vacationed on Jeremy Johnson’s million-dollar yacht for free.
In the last few days, The Salt Lake Tribune has also brought word that other businesses who donated heavily to Mr. Swallow’s election campaign are being charged by the FTC.
Mr. Swallow himself has strongly stated he has no intention of resigning, and has gone so far as to criticize the newspapers, media, former lawmakers and citizens who have called for resignation – claiming that they are rushing to judgment. We find this turn-the-tables anger a bit insulting, as every call for his resignation, including ours, has made a specific point to note that we do not know what really happened between him and Johnson. What we have all stated is that because of the level of trouble he’s gotten himself in, it no longer matters if the allegations are true or false – he is no longer capable of performing as Attorney General.
Enough is enough. To work effectively as Utah’s chief lawyer, an Attorney General and his or her office must have impeccable credibility and integrity as they maneuver, make deals, and navigate major court cases. While John Swallow remains in the office, that ability is nearly non existent, and the burden and consequences of that inability falls directly back onto the people of Utah who should demand only the highest ethical standards from the state’s chief defender.
The outcome of the investigation (assuming one is launched) into Johnson’s claims is months, if not years, from coming, and the people of Utah cannot afford nor deserve to have their Attorney General’s office paralyzed until a determination is reached (if a determination is reached at all). We are not, and will not, pass judgment on Mr. Swallow until all the facts are brought to light, but the situation has developed beyond guilty or not guilty.
Whether or not John Swallow actually facilitated the accused bribe, his serious lack of judgment in the situation has put us at risk, and there is no stepping back or rationalizing that away. All trust in Attorney General Swallow has evaporated, and it’s time he does what is best for the people of Utah: resign his office immediately.
*This editorial was co-written by Eric Ethington & Curtis Haring