As the saga of the scandal swirling around Attorney General John Swallow continues, political groups and legislators may want to think twice before circling the wagons around him.
Friday morning, Attorney General Swallow appeared before a legislative appropriations committee, requesting additional money so he could hire two new attorneys for his office. Freshman Senator Jim Dabakis questioned Swallow, asking if the morale in the AG’s office had been affected by the accusations that Swallow facilitated an attempted bribe of a US Senator (or at least arranged for lobbyists to thwart an investigation), and if so, was hiring two new attorneys appropriate right now. Republican Senator Daniel Thatcher, who chairs the committee, immediately blocked Senator Dabakis, ruling that the questions were out of order and could not be asked. Representative Brian King also tried to question Mr. Swallow, asking that since he was contemplating hiring new counsel, if he was familiar with the Utah statute regarding conflicts of interest in outside employment. Once again, Senator Thatcher shielded the Attorney General, ruling Representative King’s questions were also out of order.
In addition to the protection Attorney General John Swallow received from the Senator this week, on Saturday the Republican Party’s Central Committee (the governing body of the Party), voted against a proposal to place the topic of the Attorney General scandal on their agenda – effectively preventing any official discussion from taking place while reporters were in the room.
Whether Attorney General John Swallow broke any laws while allegedly facilitating the bribe, or when allegedly promising protection from prosecution if donors gave money to his and former-Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s campaigns, is a matter for the FBI and federal prosecutors to sort through. What is known is that by Swallow’s own account, he acted as a top law enforcement officer in Utah to assist a Utah businessman who was under investigation by another law enforcement agency to obtain lobbyists and skirt that investigation. Even Republican Speaker of the House Becky Lockhart has noted that if she had known about the accusations prior to the election, she may have voted another way.
A public opinion poll of 500 voters, done by BYU 3 weeks ago, showed 56% of voters thought that Mr. Swallow has acted illegally or unethically. And KSL’s online poll (which has received 2,865 votes as of this morning) registered 75% believing that Swallow should resign (12% say he should not resign and 13% are undecided). Both Utah Political Capitol, the Salt Lake Tribune, as well as other news agencies and former lawmakers have called on the Attorney General to resign, noting that the scandal itself has severely damaged and weakened the AG’s office past the point of being effective in representing the citizens of Utah.
If the Utah Republican Party or elected officials like Senator Thatcher choose to protect Mr. Swallow, the ramifications could well be a push back on themselves in the next election – if they are perceived as covering up wrongdoings within their own party.
The best thing at this point, is for all sides to push for full and complete transparency, allowing the story to go where it will, and letting the public make up their own minds.