SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow accused current Attorney General Sean Reyes and his operatives of orchestrating a political “assassination” to remove him from office after Reyes lost in the Republican primary election eight years ago.

In documents and videos posted on his campaign website, Swallow lays out an alleged plot to oust him as attorney general and how he is now “defending his honor” in an attempt to win his old job back after resigning amid one of Utah’s biggest political scandals.

“I just laid it out there because they’ve been attacking me,” Swallow said of his opponents.

Reyes’ political consultant Alan Crooks called the allegations “vintage John Swallow.”

Utah Attorney General John Swallow appears on “The Doug Wright Show” in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“I have run campaigns against him in the past and he has always done the same thing. He goes very negative and just throws out last-minute accusations. The delegates and voters are smarter than that and they will see through it,” he said.

The race for attorney general has quietly become nasty leading up to the state party conventions being conducted online this week due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Reyes, Swallow and Utah County Attorney David Leavitt are competing for the Republican nomination, while longtime Salt Lake defense attorney Greg Skordas and Kevin Probasco, a defense lawyer who ran for Congress as a Republican, are seeking the Democratic nomination. Libertarian Rudy Bautista also is in the race.

Utah’s Attorney General Sean D. Reyes speaks to supporters of Amendment 3 gathered for a rally on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, inside the state Capitol. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Swallow shocked the state when he filed to run for attorney general just before the deadline last month, three years after a jury acquitted him of multiple felony charges, including bribery, making false statements and misuse of public money. The state ultimately paid Swallow $1.5 million to cover his legal costs.

Swallow maintained his innocence through multiple federal, state and local investigations as well as a Utah House special investigative committee report that concluded he had “hung a veritable ‘for sale’ sign” on his office door as attorney general.

“I was innocent of any form of corruption. Let’s end this discussion and move on,” he said, adding he expects his opponents to accept that he was cleared on all levels.

But his opponents say that while he was acquitted of public corruption in a criminal case, it doesn’t mean he’s innocent of all wrongdoing.

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt speaks during a press conference about the criminal case involving the death of Provo police officer Joseph Shinners at the Utah County Commission Chambers in Provo on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. | Kristin Murphy

Leavitt said there’s a difference in the legal system between innocent and not guilty, but he doesn’t intend that as a slam on Swallow. Still, he’s skeptical about Swallow’s claim that he was the object of a smear campaign.

“If you’re going to buy off on that, you’re going to have make the Utah Legislature, the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office and everyone else complicit in that,” Leavitt said.

After Swallow filed his candidacy in March, Crooks said Swallow is “apparently claiming he is innocent,” adding that he wanted to comment but couldn’t stop laughing.

Swallow, who resigned 11 months into his first term, said he left office “honorably” to spare the state from distraction and to clear his name. As attorney general, he said he would work to hold prosecutors and state agencies more accountable and protect people from government abuse.

Both Leavitt and Skordas acknowledge Swallow was acquitted in the criminal case and is entitled to run for office.

Defense lawyer Greg Skordas questions a witness in a preliminary hearing for his client Larry Graff, 52, charged with first-degree felony murder for the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Candice Christina Melo in Third District Court in West Jordan, Wednesday, April 8, 2015.
Defense lawyer Greg Skordas questions a witness in a preliminary hearing in West Jordan on Wednesday, April 8, 2015. | Al Hartmann

“Do I still think that he acted unethically? Yes. Do I still think that the charges should have been brought against him? Yes,” said Skordas, the likely Democratic nominee.

Leavitt and Skordas, though, have their sights set more on Reyes than Swallow.

Both say pay-to-play still permeates the attorney general’s office, citing some large campaign donations Reyes has accepted, including $51,000 from Washakie Renewable Energy, whose principles were found guilty in a billion dollar fraud case in federal court.

Calling his behavior “shameless,” Leavitt said it’s time for Reyes to stand up and say the attorney general is not for sale. Reyes, he said, is motivated by politics, and political and prosecutorial authority are a bad mix.

Leavitt, who still recovering from COVID-19, has hinged his campaign on criminal justice reform, including forms of punishment other than jail for nonviolent criminals. He also wants to reduce the number of plea bargains in favor of jury trials to return power to the people rather than prosecutors.

Skordas said he thought Reyes was robbed by Swallow in the 2012 election, but “he’s doing the exact same thing. He’s no better. In fact, in some respects he’s worse because some of his contributions have just been huge.”

Mark Anthony Ott, center, who pleaded guilty to aggravated murder in connection with the death of 6-year-old Lacey Paige Lawrence in 2002, appears with his attorneys Elizabeth Hunt and Rudy Bautista before Judge Michael G. Allphin in 2nd District Court in Farmington to see whether can can withdraw his guilty plea Monday, June 6, 2011. The hearing was continued until August 8. (Erin Hooley/Standard-Examiner)
Mark Anthony Ott, center, appears with his attorneys Elizabeth Hunt and Rudy Bautista, right, before Judge Michael G. Allphin in 2nd District Court in Farmington on Monday, June 6, 2011. | Erin Hooley

In addition to “cleaning up the office,” Skordas said he wants to ensure residents’ voices on ballot initiatives are recognized and get the state out of costly lawsuits. He criticized Reyes for joining a lawsuit to undo the Affordable Care Act when Utah voters have passed Medicaid expansion.

In his reelection campaign announcement, Reyes said his results as attorney general speak for themselves. Utahns, he said, know that he stands for the rule of law and justice for all, not just the elite.

“Regardless of what Sean Reyes’ opponents are trying to throw out there, it is the opposite,” Crooks said. “Sean has a strong reputation of vigorously protecting Utahns, upholding the law and defending Utah’s rights.”

During his time in office, Reyes has worked to protect children, families, laws, lands and economic prosperity, according to his campaign announcement. He has also taken on the opioid epidemic, suicide, human trafficking, cybercrime and white-collar fraud.

Crooks said Reyes is a great attorney general and even a better person. He said he is kind, he cares and he works hard to make a difference and is “even willing to risk his own safety and life to do it.”

Campaign finance disclosures filed this week show Reyes has raised more than $1.3 million since the 2016 election, including $395,000 this year.

Leavitt, the brother of former Utah GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt, has raised about $27,000, with $20,000 of that coming from Leavitt family businesses.

All of the nearly $21,000 Swallow disclosed came from his own pocket.

Skordas put $100,000 of his own money into the campaign and has raised about $16,000 from donors.

Probasco had not filed a financial disclosure as of Tuesday. Bautista listed only a $794 reimbursement from the Libertarian Party for his candidate filing fee.