Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014

House report: John Swallow hung 'for sale' sign on door of attorney general's office

By Lisa Riley Roche and Dennis Romboy, Deseret News

Published: Wed, March 12 11:30 a.m. MDT

 Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. The House Special Investigative Committee was scheduled to release the final report of its investigation into Swallow on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. The House Special Investigative Committee was scheduled to release the final report of its investigation into Swallow on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

(Matt Gade, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The special House committee charged with investigating former Attorney General John Swallow ended its work Wednesday with the release of a report that concluded he "hung a veritable 'for sale' sign" on his office door.

The report — more than 200 pages long with more than 3,700 pages of exhibits — states that "Swallow and others responsible for the abuses described" must be held accountable for their actions.

To that end, the report said the findings of the committee have been turned over to the appropriate law enforcement and professional licensing authorities for further action. Swallow continues to be investigated by the Salt Lake and Davis county attorneys and the Utah State Bar Association.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said the House report complements the criminal investigation and is a "large part of the narrative that we are discovering."

"We have a lot of information to digest," Gill said, "and we're working aggressively to reach certain conclusions, but we're not there yet."

The state bar acknowledged in a statement Wednesday that it has had an active investigation of Swallow since allegations of wrongdoing appeared in the media a year ago January. The bar's Office of Professional Conduct intends to review the House report, as well as any results of the county probe.

The House investigation, which cost $4 million, started as a prelude to a possible impeachment, but Swallow resigned in early December, saying he couldn't compete with the resources of a committee that was out to get him.

The committee found that Swallow "compromised the principles and integrity of the office to benefit himself and his political supporters. In so doing, Mr. Swallow breached the public’s trust and demeaned the offices he held.

"Indeed, the committee concludes that Mr. Swallow hung a veritable 'for sale' sign on the office door that invited moneyed interests to seek special treatment and favors," the report states.

Swallow's attorney Rod Snow disputes that characterization in an email the committee posted online with the report.

"The suggestion the (attorney general's office) was for sale is absolutely false. It is a play on our political system for raising funds for campaigns that is simply untrue and an unfounded distorting of the facts. As much could be said of committee members who accept support from various groups and businesses," Snow said.

New York-based lawyer Steve Reich, a veteran of two impeachment proceedings, headed the investigative team that included the Mintz Group, a New York firm specializing in private investigations. Investigators interviewed 165 witnesses, issued 17 subpoenas and analyzed tens of thousands of pages of documents.

Much of what the report contains has been reported in the media and outlined in the committee's two-day hearing in December, including allegations of "pay-for-play," hiding $450,000 in campaign donations and destroying evidence.

It does, however, include copies of emails the committee recently recovered from the crashed hard drive of Swallow's personal computer. Some of them deal with how his campaign consultant, Jason Powers, used hidden campaign money on attack ads against former Republican Rep. Brad Daw, something Swallow professed to not know about.

“Brad Daw knows (we're) after him," Powers wrote to Swallow in on April 19, 2011.

Another email from Swallow to Powers shows the former attorney general toyed with running for governor in March 2011.

"Jason, the tea party groups are going to be very upset with the governor, and he has not taken a lead in some of the important issues. Is he going to be vulnerable? Who do you know that could take him? Could I if I raised ($500,000 to $750,000) for a convention or primary? Strategy would be to prep for (the attorney general) race and wait and see. Thoughts?" Swallow wrote.

The report also includes avenues the committee pursued regarding other questionable campaign donations and business relationships but wasn't able substantiate for various reasons, including Swallow's lack of cooperation.

The report recommends a list of ethics, campaign and election reforms, some of which the Legislature approved the past few weeks.

Snow noted that the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Section declined to file charges against Swallow after its investigation and the state bar dismissed two complaints.

"For those investigations that were neutral, that is void of political motives and the hope for some political gain, John Swallow has come out just fine," he wrote. "It should have been left with and for those investigations that were impartial, and void of political implications."

While corruption is unacceptable from any elected official, it was even worse coming from the state's top law enforcement official, the report concluded.

"The corruption of the office specifically tasked with ensuring equal justice under law is particularly harmful because it undermines the public’s faith that justice in the state is being dispensed equally and without regard to economic, social or political status," the report states.

Also cited were the "profound" effects of Swallow's actions on those who worked under him at the attorney general's office, who shared their "deep anger and frustration" with committee investigators.

The committee concluded that Swallow "intentionally endeavored to obstruct inquiry into his conduct," based on his lack of cooperation, including what the report termed the "troubling combination of missing and fabricated documents."

The report was released on the House floor by members of the bipartisan committee who stood at the front of the chamber as Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, the chairman of the committee, described their efforts.

"I know there was no joy in this task," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, told committee members after they presented their report. She said lawmakers had a responsiblity to investigate charges that at first "were murky at best."

Lockhart said, although the price tag was high, it was worth the effort.

"We cannot put a price on public trust. One does not cut corners when the very integrity of our justice system is at stake," she said.

The committee received a standing ovation from the House.

"It's actually a load, quite a load, lifted from me. I feel like I just turned in the term report and am done with the semester and can go on to other things," Dunnigan said of completing the eight-month task. "It's been not only time-consuming, but nerve-racking trying to get it right, trying to be careful to be fair and to be even-handed … so you try not to damage people."

Contributing: Richard Piatt

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsPolitics

Recommended
1. Something to think about
Ogden, UT,
March 12, 2014

The investigation will be a 'waste' if nothing is done aa result.

Clearly Mr. Swallow broke the law. We already have the 'evidence'. He should be prosecuted and his 'retirement' should be taken away to defray the costs.

If the elected officials of Utah are truly concerned with this voters 'trust' they need to finish the job!

"A.G..... Do your job!"

2. DN Subscriber
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
March 12, 2014

If purity of conduct in office is the Utah standard, I can support this as a worthwhile investment, and hope that appropriate legal action follows.

However, having set that high standard, we need to apply it to EVERY politician in the state, including Democrats. And we need to pursue allegations of voting irregularities just as vigorously, to ensure that politicians winning elections do so fairly.

Finally, while on a zealous campaign to ensure all our laws are firmly and continuously applied, someone needs to start investigating allegations that some Utah law enforcement heads are negligent in enforcing immigration laws. After all, we have set high standards here in Utah for officeholders, both elected and appointed.

3. David
Centerville, UT,
March 12, 2014

Though the investigation was expensive, I am grateful that there is effort to restore some semblance of trust in state government and law enforcement at the AG level.

However, what of Mr. Shurtleff. Perhaps the corruption in the AG office started earlier than Mr. Swallow?

And what of the federal investigators that found no evidence of wrong-doing? Could there have been a pay-off for such a report?

Interesting, but speculative at this point. But possible none-the-less.

4. ray vaughn
Ogden, UT,
March 12, 2014

Thank gooodness that the legislature ill-conceived attempt to gut the GRAMA rules was rescinded. I shudder to think that this corruption would not have been uncovered without strict GRAMA regulations.

5. LDS Liberal
Farmington, UT,
March 12, 2014

Funny --

I miss seeing certain GOP partisan commentors who went on and on about what a mindless, waste of a witch-hunt this was.

That John Swallow was completely innocent,
and this was only the result of Democrats trying to smear a good, decent, honest public servant.