Swallow resigns, denies any wrongdoing

Thursday , November 21, 2013 - 11:57 PM

Utah Attorney General

Utah Attorney General John Swallow speaks during a news conference Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, in Salt...

Antone Clark, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY — Citing a financial battle against a House investigation he could not afford, embattled Attorney General John Swallow announced Thursday he will resign his office effective 12:01 a.m. Dec. 3.

In an afternoon news conference, Swallow maintained his innocence and lashed out at a “clear political agenda” he said was targeting him.

He said he cannot afford to legally defend himself against a House investigative team, which has a budget of up to $3 million. He estimated his legal fees to be around $300,000 to date. He said he and his wife, Suzanne, decided last weekend he would step aside. He delivered a letter of resignation to Gov. Gary Herbert on Thursday morning.

It will now be up to the governor to appoint a replacement. Herbert asked the Republican State Central Committee to forward three names to consider in filling the vacancy and said Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet will ensure the duties of the AG’s office are performed in the interim.

The GOP committee is scheduled to meet Dec. 14. Early names being circulated among a number of sources include Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem; former AG candidate Sean Reyes; Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George; and Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. Whoever is appointed would serve until the next election cycle, which is in 2014, when the remaining two years of Swallow’s term will be up for election.

The resigning AG said he misjudged the politics of the House probe and thought the dynamic would change when the U.S. Department of Justice chose not to pursue charges against him earlier this year.

”We have been up against an unlimited budget in the House. In the spirit of frankness, my wife and I and many others have been absolutely shocked by those with a clear political agenda,” Swallow said. He said that agenda became apparent when a House investigator said his office was not cooperating with requests for electronic correspondence. Swallow says his office was cooperating.

“If I am truly innocent, as I claim I am, today is truly a sad day in the state of Utah. An election has been overturned,” he added.

The resignation does not stop the House committee from finishing its probe, according to Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, who oversees the committee. He said the committee is charged with preparing a fact-finding report for the Legislature and considering possible statutory changes to election law, as part of its investigation. He expects to meet with investigators to see where they go from here.

He stressed the investigation has been fair and thorough. He became emotional when he said he takes no pleasure in the fact Swallow stepped aside.

“From the outset, our committee was determined to be evenhanded, fair and thorough. There is no malice I have seen on the committee,” Dunnigan said.

The House probe reached $1.5 million in expenditures earlier this week, but Dunnigan declined to speculate how much more it might cost or how much longer the investigative process will go on.

The resignation also does not immediately stop an investigation into election law violations being conducted by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, or a joint probe into other allegations being conducted by the district attorneys in Davis and Salt Lake counties.

Mark Thomas, director of elections, said the elections office will review the resignation’s effect on the ongoing special investigation and will release its final report, once it is complete. Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings did not respond to an inquiry on the impact of the resignation on his probe.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake County, who chairs the state Democratic Party, said the resignation doesn’t answer the question of whether Swallow legally won the election or not. He said the state Democratic Party will file legal action to have a judge answer that question, if necessary.

“If Swallow cheated, the law says that his election was invalid and Utah voters, all of them, must pick his successor,” Dabakis said. If the election was valid, then the issue is left up to GOP delegates and the governor, he said.

In the meantime, Swallow painted himself as an innocent victim who could not overcome an onslaught of negative media stories about allegations that started in his first week of office and a big bankroll to investigate those allegations. He likened himself to a small chick that has a mark on his head, which becomes a calling card for other chicks to peck at until the chick dies.

“Pure and simple, I believe the House investigation was calculated to drive me from office with all of the resources of the state at their disposal. I only had the resources of my family budget. It has not been an easy decision … I thought if we could just hang on, the truth would come out, but it was a great burden. I had no choice but to step aside,” Swallow said.

Swallow has been hit with allegations of impropriety since he assumed office in January. He was the subject of a federal investigation after indicted Utah businessman Jeremy Johnson accused him of arranging to derail a Federal Trade Commission probe by bribing U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

“There are people I wish I’d never met — that’s just the way life is,” he said of some of his associations that have come under scrutiny.

The retiring attorney general said he does not know what he will do next.

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