SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who is facing scrutiny for his decadelong friendship with the embattled founder of an anti-child-trafficking organization, announced Friday that he will not seek reelection in 2024.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes speaks during a press conference following the announcement that Utah filed a lawsuit against TikTok at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah on Oct. 10, 2023 | Photo by Bethany Baker/The Salt Lake Tribune via The Associated Press, St. George News

The Republican had announced in September that he would seek a fourth term. Reyes is now backtracking on that decision and has pledged to dedicate his final year in office to investigating the sex abuse claims against his longtime friend Tim Ballard.

Ballard, the now-ousted founder of the nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad, has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women and is the subject of a criminal investigation. His organization rose to prominence last summer as a focal point of the film “Sound of Freedom,” which was widely praised by conservative moviegoers and included a producer credit for the attorney general.

In a video announcement, Reyes said he sat down with each person who had come forward with accusations to tell them that he believed them and was heartbroken for the trauma they had endured.

“I apologized to each of them that my past friendship with Tim Ballard and past association with OUR contributed to an environment that made them feel powerless and without a voice for so many years,” he said. “I cannot give them back those voiceless years, but I intend on spending my last year in office working together with these survivors and any others who come forward so that their voices are heard.”

In a file photo, Tim Ballard arrives at OUR’s walk against child trafficking in St. George, Utah, July 30, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Melissa Hill Photography, St. George News

Reyes said he plans to integrate them into a task force to support sex abuse survivors statewide and protect others from the same fate.

The SPEAR Fund, an organization that has been issuing statements on Ballard’s behalf, did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment on Reyes’ remarks. Ballard has previously denied the sexual assault allegations.

Despite Reyes’ recent attempts to distance himself from Ballard, a bipartisan group of more than two dozen Utah state lawmakers initiated an audit of his office last month, calling into question his administrative practices, spending and close ties to Ballard. The state is now investigating whether Reyes directed state resources to help Operation Underground Railroad or the film and whether he engaged with outside prosecutors investigating his friend’s organization.

Reyes is named as a defendant in a lawsuit against Ballard that alleges he abused his position as attorney general to try to silence a critic of the nonprofit.

Protecting children and other vulnerable Utahns from human trafficking and illegal drugs has been central to his platform as attorney general, Reyes said.

His office has sued insulin manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers over the high cost of the hormone needed to treat diabetes. It also sued Meta — the parent company of Facebook and Instagram — alleging the companies violated Utah consumer protection laws by designing platforms that lead to children overusing them and causing severe mental health issues.

Attorney General Sean Reyes and Tim Ballard embrace after Reyes finished his speech at OUR’s walk against child trafficking in St. George, Utah, July 30, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Melissa Hill Photography, St. George News

He has also stirred controversy in Utah over his strong support for former President Donald Trump.

Following the 2020 election, Reyes faced backlash from top Utah Republicans, including then-Gov. Larry Herbert, when he got involved in a Texas lawsuit that sought unsuccessfully to invalidate the results in the U.S. presidential race by challenging electoral votes in four battleground states won by Democrat Joe Biden.

He also signed on to several court documents, including an amicus brief opposing a gag order against Trump in the criminal case that alleges Trump plotted to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Reyes signed onto another brief arguing government overreach in the search for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.

State Democrats accused Reyes on Friday of using his position for political and personal gain and urged him to leave office before the end of his term.

“While his decision not to run for reelection is good news for Utahns, who deserve a competent, ethical and accountable attorney general, he should resign instead of spending the next year continuing to abuse his position of authority and failing to do the work of the people,” Party Chair Diane Lewis said.

Written by HANNAH SCHOENBAUM, The Associated Press

Associated Press reporters Amy Beth Hanson in Helena, Montana, and Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this report.

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