As Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin works to derail a legislative
inquiry into her firing of the public safety commissioner, state officials are
vowing to finish a report on the controversy by Oct. 10 and to weigh contempt
proceedings against Palin�s husband early next year.
Palin, who initially welcomed the investigation into her
dismissal of state Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan in July, now appears
determined to block completion of the inquiry before the Nov. 4 election when
she hopes to become the next Vice President of the United States.
But her delaying tactics may extend the controversy into the
start of John McCain�s presidency should he win. That could create a
distraction for the new administration, especially if Palin�s husband Todd
faces possible arrest for ignoring a subpoena from the state legislature.
Palin�s handling of the case also raises more questions
about her credibility as a �reformer� who says no one is above the law. She now
seems to be counting on her newfound celebrity and the hardball tactics of
national Republican operatives to shield her from legislative oversight.
Further, Palin�s resistance to the investigation may remind
some voters of the disdain that President George W. Bush has shown toward
congressional oversight, including a similar pattern of ignoring subpoenas
issued to Bush�s top aides who were involved in the 2006 firing of nine federal
prosecutors deemed not �loyal Bushies.�
With the McCain campaign battling Democratic accusations
that a McCain presidency would mean �more of the same,� the image of Palin and
her husband refusing to answer questions about an alleged abuse of power might
recall the troubling image of Bush stonewalling congressional oversight.
Palin�s �Troopergate� scandal centers on whether the
governor, her husband and several of her senior aides pressured commissioner
Monegan to fire Mike Wooten, a state trooper who was in an ugly divorce and
child custody dispute with Gov. Palin�s sister.
In Alaska, the battle lines around the scandal have grown
sharper in the past two weeks as the McCain campaign dispatched national
Republican operatives to advise Palin and her inner circle how to contest and
discredit the legislative inquiry.
Demeaning the prosecutor
Rescinding her earlier promise to cooperate, Palin then
began challenging the legitimacy of the investigation and demeaning the
professionalism of independent counsel Steven Branchflower, a longtime
prosecutor hired to conduct the probe.
Palin�s lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, toughened the rhetoric
this past week, claiming the investigation was �being pursued for partisan
purposes� and arguing that the Judiciary Committee has no authority to investigate
the governor�s office.
Additionally, Van Flein said the subpoena issued for Todd
Palin is �unduly burdensome� due to �preexisting travel plans� because his wife
is the Republican Party�s vice presidential nominee.
McCain-Palin campaign aide Meg Stapleton offered up another
novel legal argument last Thursday, saying Alaska law prohibits action on
ethics violations while someone is running for elected office.
�That law was passed to insulate investigations from exactly
the kind of political maneuvering we are seeing in this inquiry,� Stapleton
said. However, the law pertains to individuals running for statewide office,
Stapleton also said Monegan was fired because of
�insubordination with respect to the budget process,� not because he balked at
Palin�s demands that he oust her ex-brother-in-law.
Despite Palin�s success rallying some state Republican
lawmakers to her side in the Troopergate battle, other legislative leaders from
both parties appeared unwilling to back down in the face of the governor�s
Alaska Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat, recommended on Friday
that Todd Palin and the two other Palin aides be held in contempt for their
refusal to honor the legislative subpoenas.
French, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told
Senate President Lyda Green, a Republican who has been critical of Palin�s
recent behavior, that the Alaska Legislature must decide whether to impose
fines or pursue contempt charges that could lead to Todd Palin�s arrest.
�The full Senate will decide what action to take,� an aide
to French said. �Provisions in the statute range from fines to arrest. But that
will be at the discretion of the legislative committee.�
However, the Alaska Senate does not convene until January,
meaning that the issue of the subpoenas will likely spill over into the start
of a new administration in Washington.
Report still planned
Despite the obstructions from Palin and her advisers,
counsel Branchflower still believes he has enough evidence to proceed with his
plan to release a report by Oct. 10, according to people involved with the
These people said Branchflower has documentary evidence and
information from witnesses showing that individuals in Palin�s camp may have
illegally tried to deny trooper Wooten worker�s compensation benefits for a
back injury that he suffered last year when he slipped on icy pavement while
pulling a body from a wrecked automobile.
They added that it is considered likely that Wooten will file
a civil suit against Palin and members of her administration after
Branchflower�s report is issued, a situation reminiscent of civil lawsuits that
dogged President Bill Clinton from his days as Arkansas governor after he moved
to the White House.
While Palin denies that she fired Monegan because he balked
at firing Wooten, some of the newly available evidence confirms Palin�s
obsession with her ex-brother-in-law who she claimed had threatened physical
harm to her family during heated arguments about the divorce.
Palin sent an e-mail to Monegan on July 17, 2007, with a
copy to Attorney General Talis Colberg, regarding proposed handgun legislation
that would bar weapon sales to people who had made violent threats.
�The first thought that hit me,� Palin wrote, �about people
not being able to buy guns when they�re threatening to kill someone went to my
ex brother-in-law, the trooper, who threatened to kill my dad yet was not even
reprimanded by his bosses and still to this day carries a gun, of course. . . .
�We can�t have double standards. Remember when that death
threat was reported, and follow-on threats from Mike [Wooten] that he was going
�to bring Sarah and her family down� -- instead of any reprimand WE were told
by trooper union personnel that we�d be sued if we talked about those threats.
�Amazing. And he�s still a trooper, and he still carries a
gun, and he still tells anyone who will listen that he will never work for that
b*tch (me) because he has such anger and distain [sic] toward my family.
�So consistency is needed here. No one�s above the law. If
the law needs to be changed to not allow access to guns for people threatening
to kill someone, it must be applied to everyone.�
At the time, Palin was unaware that Alaska state troopers
had already conducted an internal investigation into more than three dozen
complaints that she and her family had filed against Wooten and that he had
been suspended for five days.
The contents of that disciplinary investigation were sealed
in Wooten�s personnel file until February 2008, when he was required to release
it to his ex-wife�s attorney as part of a custody hearing.
Though that information was not public record -- and was
never introduced into the court record -- Palin apparently learned about its
contents from her sister. The campaign to get Wooten fired gained momentum.
In February 2008, Palin�s director of state boards and
commissions, Frank Bailey, pressed police Lt. Rodney Dial about why Wooten had
not been dismissed.
On July 11, 2008, Palin abruptly fired Public Safety
Commissioner Monegan, who then went public with his account of the mounting
campaign against Wooten from the governor�s family and staff.
Though Palin vehemently denied that she was involved in the
pressure campaign, a review by the attorney general�s office found that half a
dozen state officials had made about two dozen phone calls regarding Wooten.
The 14-member Legislative Council, with 10 Republican
members, voted unanimously in July to launch an investigation, which Palin said
she �would never prohibit or be less than enthusiastic about.�
�Let�s deal with the facts and you do that via an
investigation,� Palin said in July.
However, in early September after McCain plucked her from
obscurity to be the Republican vice presidential nominee, Palin�s response to
the investigation changed into outright resistance.
Democratic Sen. Kim Elton, who chairs the Alaska Legislative
Council, wrote to Attorney General Colberg, a longtime Palin ally, criticizing
the Palin administration�s broken promises about the investigation.
�Bluntly, I feel like Charlie Brown after Lucy moved the
football,� Elton wrote.
Leopold is the author of �News Junkie,� a memoir. Visit
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