Jeremy Johnson still refuses to testify in Swallow corruption trial

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SALT LAKE CITY — One of the state’s most critical witnesses in the corruption trial of former Utah Attorney General John Swallow still won’t testify.

Jeremy Johnson was brought back to court on Thursday, where he again refused to answer questions.

“I believe that I’m doing the right thing by exercising my right, my Fifth Amendment right not to answer,” Johnson told Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills.

“Despite being ordered to answer the question, you’re going to maintain and refuse to answer those questions?” she asked.

“Respectfully so, yes, ma’am.”

“Thank you, Mr. Johnson,” the judge said, ordering him returned to the Salt Lake County Jail and brought back on Friday morning to try again.

Jeremy Johnson leaves the witness stand after refusing to testify in the John Swallow trial on Feb. 16, 2017. (Courtroom pool image)

Jeremy Johnson leaves the witness stand after refusing to testify in the John Swallow trial on Feb. 16, 2017. (Courtroom pool image)

Johnson smiled at family members in the audience as he was led out of the courtroom.

Johnson’s lawyers argue that any immunity deals offered by prosecutors in the Swallow trial for his testimony don’t mean much, when they worry that federal authorities will use his words against him.

“The federal government is hot after prosecuting Jeremy Johnson for anything they can,” Mary Corporon said in a hearing Thursday morning.

Despite assurances from Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill’s office that he was granted immunity, Johnson’s lawyers said they worried he could still face federal prosecutors as he appeals his conviction of making false statements, stemming from a fraud case they leveled against him.

Johnson’s lawyers said they did not believe a so-called “Queen for a Day” letter offered by the U.S. Department of Justice truly gave him immunity. Corporon hinted at other investigations against Johnson in other states.

Corporon bolstered her argument by saying she was contacted by Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, who was appointed a special prosecutor by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, to investigate the political scandal surrounding Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff. She said Rawlings told her he did not believe Johnson had immunity.

Prosecutor Fred Burmester accused Rawlings of “undermining the state’s case.” He said Rawlings might be a witness for the defense, and shouldn’t be talking to or reading about the trial.

“He’s acting like a Tasmanian Devil, swirling around,” Burmester said of the Davis County Attorney.

Swallow’s attorney, Scott Williams, said he believed Rawlings was doing what he believed the rules of ethics required him to do — even if it is opposed to Gill’s office.

“The DA’s office clearly prefers I not take that appointment and corresponding duties seriously,” Rawlings wrote in a statement to FOX 13.

Rawlings referred to Johnson as a “key figure” in a larger investigation, and accused the DA’s office of asking him to “forget about it.”

“If not hiding things from defendants and witnesses, caring about fulfilling my duties as a Special Assistant Attorney General (including with respect to immunity determinations with key figures) and most importantly my oath to the Constitutions of Utah and the United States makes me a Tasmanian Devil to their agenda, so be it,” he wrote.

Read the full statement here:

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-11-08-29-amJohnson is a central figure in the Swallow scandal and his refusal to testify could impact the prosecution’s case. He is tied to four of the 13 charges against the former Utah Attorney General. Johnson has said he let Swallow vacation on his $1 million houseboat, in one of his homes and use his personal plane.

Swallow is on trial, essentially accused of accepting gifts and donations from people facing investigation by the attorney general’s office. He resigned about a year into office.