Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin abused the powers of her office by pressuring subordinates to try to have her former brother-in-law, a state trooper...
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin abused the powers of her office by pressuring subordinates to try to have her former brother-in-law, a state trooper, fired, the chief investigator of an Alaska legislative panel concluded Friday. The inquiry found, however, that she was within her right to dismiss her public-safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, who was the trooper’s boss.
A report released by lawmakers in Alaska on Friday found that Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, personally exerted pressure to get state Trooper Michael Wooten dismissed and allowed her husband, Todd, and subordinates to press for Wooten’s firing as a result of a messy divorce proceeding between the trooper and Palin’s sister in 2005.
“Such impermissible and repeated contacts create conflicts of interests for subordinate employees who must choose to either please a superior or run the risk of facing that superior’s displeasure and the possible consequences of that displeasure,” the report said. The report concludes that the action was an ethics violation.
It was not clear what actions the Legislature would take in light of the findings.
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Palin was picked as Sen. John McCain’s running mate in August, about a month after an inquiry was opened into her firing of Monegan, dubbed “Troopergate.”
In the report, the independent investigator, Stephen Branchflower, a former prosecutor in Anchorage, said Palin wrongfully allowed her husband to use state resources as part of the effort to have Wooten dismissed.
Monegan claims he lost his job because he resisted pressure to fire Wooten. Palin says Monegan was fired as part of a legitimate budget dispute.
Monegan’s firing was lawful, the report found, but Palin let the family grudge influence her decision-making, even if it was not the sole reason Monegan was dismissed.
“I feel vindicated,” Monegan said. “It sounds like they’ve validated my belief and opinions. And that tells me I’m not totally out in left field.”
Branchflower said Palin violated a statute of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Lawmakers don’t have the authority to sanction her for such a violation, and they gave no indication they would take any action against her.
Under Alaska law, it is up to the state’s Personnel Board — which is conducting its own investigation into the matter — to decide whether Palin violated state law and, if so, must refer it to the Senate president for disciplinary action. Violations also carry a possible fine of up to $5,000.
Palin attorney Thomas Van Flein disagreed with Branchflower’s conclusions.
“In order to violate the ethics law, there has to be some personal gain, usually financial,” he said. “Mr. Branchflower has failed to identify any financial gain.”
Palin and McCain’s supporters had hoped the inquiry’s finding would be delayed until after the presidential election to spare her any embarrassment and to put aside an enduring distraction.
In an attempt to pre-empt the report, the McCain-Palin campaign on Thursday released its own findings, exonerating the governor and saying the firing was a result of insubordination and a budget dispute.
The probe was conducted for the Joint Legislative Council, a bipartisan committee of 14 lawmakers that conducts business when the Legislature isn’t in session.
The report was released after lawmakers emerged from a private session in Anchorage where they spent more than six hours discussing the report and what portions should be made public. The legislative council voted unanimously to make part of the overall report public, even though there wasn’t agreement on the findings, lawmakers said. The panel did not vote on whether to endorse the findings.
“I think there are some problems in this report,” said Republican state Sen. Gary Stevens, a member of the panel. “I would encourage people to be very cautious, to look at this with a jaundiced eye.”
The state paid Branchflower $100,000 to prepare the report. He interviewed or accepted affidavits from about two dozen people in the eight-week investigation.
A local McCain-Palin campaign spokeswoman, Meghan Stapleton, said Branchflower’s abuse-of-power finding was the result of an “overreach” by the investigator who went beyond “the intent of the original” inquiry.
Stapleton also dismissed the report as “a partisan-led inquiry run by Obama supporters.” While the inquiry was authorized by a bipartisan panel of Alaska’s Republican-led Legislature, it has been dogged by such criticism since Democrat Hollis French, who oversaw the investigation, predicted an “October surprise” for the McCain campaign.
Democratic state Sen. Kim Elton rejected the accusation of partisanship.
“When we began investigating this, we had no idea that Sarah Palin would be a part of the national ticket,” said Elton, an Obama supporter.
The report notes a few instances in which Palin pressed the case against Wooten, but it was her husband, Todd, who led the charge. Todd Palin had extraordinary access to the governor’s office and her advisers, and he used that access to try to have Wooten fired.
Gov. Palin knowingly “permitted Todd to use the governor’s office and the resources of the governor’s office, including access to state employees, to continue to contact subordinate state employees in an effort to find some way to get Trooper Wooten fired,” Branchflower’s report reads.
Wooten had been in hot water before Palin became governor over allegations that he illegally shot a moose, drank beer in a patrol car and used a Taser on his stepson. The Palins said they feared for their family’s safety after Wooten made threats against them.
Wooten’s disciplinary case was settled in September 2006 — months before Palin was elected governor — and he was allowed to continue working.
After Palin’s election, her new public-safety commissioner, Monegan, said he was summoned to the governor’s office to meet Todd Palin, who said Wooten’s punishment had been merely a “slap on the wrist.” Monegan said he understood the Palins wanted Wooten fired. “I had this kind of ominous feeling that I may not be long for this job if I didn’t somehow respond accordingly,” Monegan told the investigator.
Compiled from The New York Times, The Associated Press
and The Washington Post