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“We’ve let agents provide expertise and assist on the ground investigations for states in the past, especially in complex cases where federal crimes weren’t clear,” a senior FBI official in Washington told The Times, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to talk to reporters.

“But in this case, DOJ risks creating the perception of a cover-up rather than let agents use the normal tools and follow the evidence wherever it leads — Republican, Democrat, Senate or not,” the senior FBI official said.

Mr. Rawlings criticized the Justice Department for failing to let FBI agents examine the evidence for federal crimes and leaving the matter to state prosecutors with limited jurisdiction.

“Based upon what we know today, we were surprised that the DOJ ran away,” he said.

FBI agents have conducted some interviews in Utah and provided analysis of bank records. But until the Justice Department engages or a special prosecutor is named, the agents are handcuffed from using a federal grand jury to gather evidence. FBI officials requested Justice Department permission last year but were turned down in August, officials said.

Influence-peddling claim

One focus of the investigation is on allegations by federally indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson, who says he was asked by Mr. Swallow and other intermediaries to route hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and consulting payments to an associate of Mr. Reid and other companies in hopes that the senator would intervene on two matters.

The first was a dispute that Mr. Johnson was having with the Federal Trade Commission, which led to a fraud lawsuit against him.

Mr. Johnson says he was instructed by intermediaries to write a $200,000 check to one company and a $50,000 check to a personal friend of Mr. Reid in return for getting the senator to intervene with the FTC, an intervention that did not happen.

The second accusation involves the timing of Mr. Reid’s changing his opposition to legislation allowing Internet poker. Mr. Reid’s aides contend his change of heart was consistent with a broader shift underway in his state — and of the leading industry group, the American Gaming Association.

Mr. Johnson says Mr. Reid announced his new position in 2010 at a fundraiser with online gambling executives in a Las Vegas.

In a recorded conversation published last year by a Utah newspaper, Mr. Johnson is heard telling Mr. Swallow about the Las Vegas event.

Mr. Johnson says Mr. Reid told the gathering: “Look, I’ve polled my constituents and they don’t like online poker, bottom line. … It’s bad for jobs here in Las Vegas. But I’m going to back what you guys are doing here. I’m going to introduce a bill for you.”

On the recording, Mr. Johnson tells Mr. Swallow that, after Mr. Reid departed, Mr. Johnson himself pulled aside an online gambling official to ask about his announcement.

“I [Mr. Johnson] said, ‘How in the hell did you guys get him to do that?’ And he [the online gaming official] says, ‘Let’s just say he got a little something in his retirement fund.’ And I was like, ‘OK, that’s how it is.’”

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