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When it's Reyes, it pours 

If it's true that there's no such thing as bad publicity...

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Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes addresses the crowd during a 2018 election watch party held at Mitt Romney’s Orem campaign headquarters. - EVAN COBB, DAILY HERALD
  • Evan Cobb, Daily Herald
  • Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes addresses the crowd during a 2018 election watch party held at Mitt Romney’s Orem campaign headquarters.

If it's true that there's no such thing as bad publicity, then Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is having one helluva time. Since his appointment as the state's top prosecutor in 2013, Reyes' name has been a regular fixture in local news headlines, albeit not always for the best reasons.

It would be unfairly reductive to evaluate the performance of an attorney general based solely on high-profile criminal takedowns. But it's also hard to deny the dearth of memorable convictions and/or settlements in Reyes' proverbial trophy case, particularly when compared against a pattern of questionable campaign fundraising, opaque private-sector contracting and unilateral intrusions into federal court disputes, in which Utah's Attorney General has sought to—among other things—repeal Obamacare in the midst of a pandemic, restrict abortion rights, roll back LGBTQ workplace protections and, most egregiously, throw out the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Here's a look at some of the ways that Reyes made news in the lead-up and aftermath of his reelection last year.

—In May 2019, the Attorney General's Office (AGO) entered into a contract with Liberty Defense to test artificial intelligence-driven body-scanning technology at crowded, public events. Critics questioned the terms of the contract—like allowing a private company to use Utah State and AGO imagery on promotional materials—as well as the privacy implications of the technology, which generates and analyzes 3D facsimiles of a person without their knowledge or consent.

—Later that year, in August 2019, AGO representatives were pressed to explain their partnership with another next-generation security company, Banjo, during a heated legislative hearing in which both Republicans and Democrats chafed at the company's "live time" threat-detection software, describing it as a Big Brother-style mass surveillance operation. Multiple pieces of legislation were sponsored in response aiming to limit the funding and scope of the Banjo experiment.

—Two months later, in October 2019, Reyes announced that charges would be filed against an Arizona elected official who was ultimately convicted of fraud and human smuggling. The arrest in that case, and the bulk of prosecution, were handled by Arizona law enforcement.

—In January 2020, Reyes' reelection campaign admitted to lying on multiple occasions about its use of more than $50,000 in donations from Washakie Renewable Energy, whose executives have pleaded or been found guilty of fraud. After federal indictments were leveled against the company, a spokesman for Reyes' campaign asserted that the donations had been placed in escrow, going so far as to call this reporter's questions about the matter "stupid" and refusing to comment further. In fact, the funds had already been spent on campaign operations when those questions were raised.

—A few weeks later, in April 2020, the Attorney General's office was compelled to cancel its contract with Banjo after revelations surfaced that the company's founder had participated in Ku Klux Klan activities—including the drive-by shooting of a synagogue—around 1990. An investigation by the Utah State Auditor later found that Banjo had misrepresented its ability to perform "live time" data analysis, and that the AGO had failed to properly vet the company before agreeing to pay it $20 million.

—That summer, in July 2020, the vulnerability of Reyes' incumbency was demonstrated when the attorney general survived a competitive primary challenge by Utah County Attorney David Leavitt. The Republican nomination was ultimately decided by a margin of less than 10 percentage points before Reyes went on to comfortably secure reelection in the general election against Democrat Greg Skordas.

—Newly reelected, in November 2020, Reyes cast undue aspersions against the nation's election results, saying that defeated former President Donald Trump would win a second term once all of the "legal" votes were counted. He also announced that he'd be taking "personal time" to assist an unfounded—and ultimately unsuccessful—attempt to overturn Arizona's certified election results.

—The following month, in December 2020, Reyes unilaterally involved Utah in a Texas lawsuit challenging the results of the 2020 election, drawing public criticism from both outgoing Republican Gov. Gary Herbert and incoming Republican Gov.-elect Spencer Cox. Despite that lawsuit failing, and claims of significant voter fraud being thoroughly, and repeatedly, debunked, Reyes has never publicly apologized for, nor withdrawn, his anti-democratic statements and actions.

—Also in December 2020, Reyes launched lawsuits against Google on behalf of the state, accusing the company of acting as a monopoly and charging unreasonable fees through its app store. Dozens of states would later join a Utah-led, bipartisan legal challenge against the tech giant.

—In January of this year, state Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, filed legislation to begin an impeachment inquiry into Reyes, specifically over the Attorney General's support for the Big Lie of widespread ballot fraud and Trump's efforts to subvert the 2020 election results. The impeachment legislation was dead on arrival.

—In March 2021, Reyes signed onto another out-of-state, federal lawsuit, this time challenging the Biden Administration's plans to calculate the social costs of greenhouse gasses. Reyes and his fellow Republican attorneys general argued that the mere act of estimating the impact of climate-change-accelerating emissions is an unconstitutional overreach by the executive branch. The lawsuit was dismissed in late August.

—In July 2021, Reyes announced that Utah would receive $309 million from opioid manufacturers and distributors, or roughly 1% of a $26 billion settlement stemming from thousands of lawsuits nationwide against pharmaceutical companies.

—And last month, in September 2021, Reyes preemptively signalled that he and other Republican attorneys general intend to sue the Biden Administration over an as-yet-unreleased executive order requiring private-sector employees to be either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to routine infection testing. cw

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Benjamin Wood

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