SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The chairman of Utah's Republican Party says the state's new GOP Attorney General John Swallow made mistakes in his dealings with a businessman who has accused him of brokering a deal to pay people connected to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to quash a federal investigation.
Chairman Thomas Wright issued a statement Wednesday saying he hopes other elected officials will learn from Swallow's experience and "make changes to avoid this kind of situation in the future."
"We won't know the findings from the investigation immediately, but it's clear that while some actions might not have been against the law, some, at a minimum, were mistakes for a state employee and a candidate for attorney general," Wright said.
St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson alleges Swallow set up a deal in 2010 for him to pay $600,000 to people connected to Reid to make a federal probe into his software business disappear.
Swallow, a Republican, denies the allegations. He says he only offered to connect Johnson with a lobbying firm. He was the chief deputy attorney general at the time.
Reid's office denies any involvement.
Wright also calls for ethics reforms in his statement — the first comments he's made since the allegations came out in a story from The Salt Lake Tribune on Jan. 12.
"America is in serious trouble, and situations like this are far too common and plague our political system," Wright said.
He suggests barring private meetings for elected officials and staff members; establishing a limit on campaign contributions per year; banning gifts; creating an independent ethics commission; and requiring a one-year prohibition on state contracts for groups that make political contributions.
Utah Democrats have called for an independent investigation into the allegations. State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said Utah's "overwhelming one-party rule" by Republicans makes it difficult for the public to have confidence in a local investigation.
He asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the allegations.