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Retired federal prosecutor Brent Ward issued a news release Saturday, disputing a Salt Lake Tribune story that quoted several officials who suggested he had closer ties to embattled former Utah Attorney General John Swallow than previously reported.

"As I have said before, I do not know John Swallow," Ward wrote in a three-page news release. "I have never had a personal relationship with him of any kind. I have never spoken with him on the telephone. Although it is possible that I exchanged an email with him, I cannot remember doing so."

Ward also denied assertions that he had any knowledge of a possible job offer if Swallow won election as attorney general.

Questions have arisen about whether Ward had a conflict of interest when prosecuting recently convicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, who at times threatened to expose a deal that could have undermined Swallow's candidacy.

For two days before The Tribune story appeared, Ward did not respond to various telephone calls, texts and emails seeking his comments.

In his Saturday release, though, Ward reiterated that he had met Swallow only once early in 2011 at a lunch arranged by Bountiful resident John Harmer in which they discussed whether Ward was considering a rival run for attorney general.

"At this lunch, Swallow asked if I planned to run for attorney general. I told him no, I had no such plans," Ward wrote. "At the end of the lunch, he asked me if he could list me as one of his supporters. I said, yes, as long as he did not mention my title as a trial attorney in the Justice Department.

"Other than that single occasion I have never seen or spoken with Mr. Swallow, except to shake his hand in passing at a large banquet of The Lighted Candle Society," Ward said of the anti-obscenity group Harmer founded.

The Tribune story quoted former three-term Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff as saying he witnessed interactions by Ward and Swallow at a Lighted Candle event and that they appeared to be "buds."

"This careless and haphazard statement is without any truth," Ward wrote.

The article also quoted former Lighted Candle Vice President James P. Christensen as saying Ward and Swallow were "very, very close friends." Ward said there was "no basis at all for such a statement" and that Christensen knew he and Swallow served on the group's board at different times (a point that the article noted).

Shurtleff also said Ward had twice sought a job in his office while he was attorney general and that Swallow had told him he was thinking of hiring Ward as his chief deputy if Swallow succeeded Shurtleff as the state's top prosecutor.

"I have never spoken with anyone about the possibility of employment under Mr. Swallow in the attorney general's office," Ward wrote. "If Swallow spoke with Mark Shurtleff about such employment, it was and remains outside my knowledge."

The Tribune story also noted that Ward at one time had agreed to put into the court record a change of plea hearing for Johnson a list of people that the defendant wanted to protect from future prosecution in the businessman's case and that Swallow's name was on that tally.

Then-Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, had previously commented that "the fact that Brent Ward was willing to grant John Swallow blanket immunity without an investigation stinks to high heaven."

Said Ward: "I could not have granted such immunity, even if I had wanted to. It was not within my power to do so."

"Suffice it to say that other than allowing Swallow to list me as a campaign supporter, I have never given, offered to give, or even considered offering to give any benefit to John Swallow in any way, shape or form. From a quid pro quo standpoint, there could be no purpose for doing so, since I never had any reason to expect or desire anything from him. There never was any conflict of interest on my part relating to the Johnson case."

Questions about Ward's role are part of a wide-ranging investigation by Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, who, according to court documents, hopes to convene a state grand jury to hear evidence in a number of areas.

"The state of Utah has been actively seeking to interview former federal prosecutor Brent Ward," Rawlings wrote in an email.