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SALT LAKE CITY — The retired adjutant general of the Utah National Guard has new troops to command for the next few weeks, and he didn't rule out a bid to replace his former boss in the state attorney general's office.
Gov. Gary Herbert appointed Brian Tarbet to oversee the office until he chooses a successor for John Swallow, a first-term Republican who resigned in the face of several investigations of wrongdoing.
Asked if he was running for attorney general, Tarbet said, "Not at this point."
When pressed if he would be at that point by Friday's filing deadline, Tarbet replied, "No comment."
"I'm open to helping this office in any way that I can," he said.
Tarbet, who has a law degree from the University of Utah, has worked as general counsel in the attorney general's office since January. A major general, he served 12 years as head of the Utah National Guard until retiring in 2012.
So far, six Republicans have filed as candidates to replace Swallow. The Utah Republican Party will accept candidates until 5 p.m. Friday. The GOP Central Committee will meet Dec. 14 to select three names to send to the governor for consideration. The person picked would have to run for election in 2014 to fill the remaining two years on Swallow's term.
We need a leader. What we don't need is someone chiefly interested in politics.
–Brian Tarbet, acting Utah AG
Tarbet said his first order of business as interim attorney general is to praise the staff for its good work. Employees have taken care of the "day-to-day meat and potatoes" very well, he said.
The office also learned from the investigations of Swallow, Tarbet said.
"Do we have problems? Yes. Are we going to fix them? Yes, we are," he said.
The investigations caused some wear and tear on employees, which Tarbet said became clear during a legal education seminar in early November.
"To his credit, John picked up on that and made his decision accordingly," Tarbet said of Swallow, who announced his resignation Nov. 21.
Some Republicans and Democrats have called for Herbert to appoint a caretaker as attorney general until the 2014 election.
Tarbet wouldn't offer an opinion on that proposal but said, "We need a leader. What we don't need is someone chiefly interested in politics."
Herbert's chief of staff Derek Miller said the governor sees value in having someone focused on restoring the public trust and morale in the office, but isn't necessarily convinced that the right person couldn't do that and run for election.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis reiterated Tuesday his call for a yearlong caretaker who can focus on bringing back integrity and trust, not running for office.
"It is ugly to imagine a political figure moving into the office and immediately restarting the fundraising machine that led Utah to this sad state of affairs," Dabakis said.
Tarbet said the next attorney general needs to make a careful assessment of the office's organization and personnel, make some tough decisions and move forward.
One goal would be to work with the Legislature to boost the pay for attorneys in the office whom Tarbet said are paid far less than the standard for public-sector lawyers. He said that's tough to push while a Utah House committee investigates Swallow.
Republicans who had filed for the office as of Tuesday are Fraternal Order of Police attorney Bret Rawson; Swallow's 2012 primary election opponent, Sean Reyes; federal prosecutor Brent Ward; former Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael Wilkins; former Iron County Attorney Scott Burns; and Michelle Mumford.
Mumford, the assistant dean of admissions at the BYU law school, is married to Marcus Mumford, who represents one of Swallow's chief accusers, imprisoned businessman Marc Jenson. Rawson also worked with Marcus Mumford on the Jenson case.
Ward, until withdrawing Monday, was the lead prosecutor in the criminal case against St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, who also accused Swallow of improprieties.
Contributing: Richard Piatt