First off, it's a sordid tale of epic political corruption that should teach us all some important lessons. And secondly, the people involved in this Utah scandal are throwing around Harry Reid's name. So, of course, the usual suspects in this state are drawing conclusions that have no basis in the facts known so far.
So what happened? The Salt Lake Tribune has been on top of this story. And reporters there are still trying to sort out this sordid hot mess.
As Utah Democrats called for a federal investigation, Utah Attorney General John Swallow late Saturday issued a strong denial of allegations that he helped broker a deal to help embattled businessman Jeremy Johnson’s legal problems go away — an arrangement Johnson considered a bribe.
Swallow said in a statement that Johnson has done "everything he can to damage me as a desperate way to get out of his own legal problems."
"My intentions were good but I misjudged Mr. Johnson’s character and regret meeting with him," Swallow said.
The statement includes a point-by-point denial of Johnson’s claims that Swallow put him in touch with Richard Rawle, the late founder of the Check City payday loan businesses, to arrange a bribe. Johnson said he agreed to pay $600,000 to Rawle, who would use his connections with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to make Johnson’s problems with the Federal Trade Commission disappear.
"Jeremy Johnson is desperate to do and say anything possible to attempt to secure a better deal with federal prosecutors. He has made false and defaming statements about me," Swallow said. "It is hard to accept anyone would give any credibility to Mr. Johnson’s outrageous assertions."
Earlier Saturday, Utah Democrats called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor with subpoena power to conduct a thorough, independent investigation of Johnson’s allegations.
"The people of Utah need to have confidence that the whole story is going to be told," said Jim Dabakis, Utah Democratic Party chairman. "It’s only fair for John Swallow and for everyone else involved that an [investigator who is] independent, nonpartisan and not part of the Utah system come in and ask the hard questions and have an absolute, follow-the-facts-wherever-they-go, kind of investigation."
Here's what we know so far. St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson wanted the legal equivalent of a magic wand to wave away a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation into his internet marketing company, I Works. So he contacted then Deputy Utah Attorney General John Swallow (R), who then connected him with the late Check City (payday loan provider) owner Richard Rawle.
Now here's where we descend into "he said, he said" territory. Johnson alleges that Swallow & Rawle struck a deal with him where he'd give them $600,000... For them to then bribe Senator Reid into making the FTC investigation of I Works go away.
However, Swallow vehemently denies this allegation. Swallow's version of the story goes as this: He just thought (at the time that) Johnson was facing an unfair probe by the FTC. So he referred Johnson to his former employer Rawle. And he's even presented an affidavit from Rawle (prepared just before his death) stating Johnson paid Rawle $250,000 to hire federal lobbyists to make Johnson's case in DC.
At the very least, some sleazy wheeling-dealing was going on here. And now that John Swallow is Utah's Attorney General, he's facing the political scandal of his life. However, there's been nothing produced so far that confirms that
Reid accepted any kind of bribe from Johnson, Swallow, and/or Rawle.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was never involved in an alleged effort to help derail a federal investigation into Utahn Jeremy Johnson’s businesses, his office said Sunday, dismissing Johnson’s claims that he paid money he believed was meant to bribe the Nevada Democrat.
"Senator Reid has no knowledge or involvement regarding Mr. Johnson’s case," his spokeswoman, Kristen Orthman, said in a statement. "These unsubstantiated allegations implying Senator Reid’s involvement are nothing more than innuendo and simply not true."
Perhaps Richard Rawle was Utah's version of Harvey Whittemore, a prominent Utah power broker who held all the keys to government favor. And perhaps Utah Attorney General John Swallow (R) has been way too close to him and other corporate power brokers to really do his job, which is to serve the people of Utah. And perhaps there may be some truth to Jeremy Johnson's story, though again there's been no actual evidence tying Harry Reid to any of this. (He may have very well been fooled into believing that however much money he paid Rawle would cause Harry Reid to make the FTC drop the investigation.)
All we know for sure right now is that too much corporate money has been allowed to influence the actions of our public servants. We've seen this happen time & again here in Nevada. And now, the people of Utah will have to learn the hard way the consequences of this.
Of course, certain media pundits want to continue drumming up speculation of possible Reid involvement in this scandal. And certain "TEA" flavored instigators want to burn Harry Reid at the stake for something he may have even known absolutely nothing about. And of course, far too many looking at this scandal seem to be missing the point of this story. Hopefully, you're not.