Alaska's Family Feud

Monday, October 13, 2008

IN THE scheme of things -- that is to say, in the larger context of a financial meltdown -- the special counsel's report concluding that Sarah Palin engaged in an unethical abuse of power in trying to have her former brother-in-law fired as an Alaska state trooper is a relatively minor event. But the report nonetheless offers a revealing and relevant portrait of the governor. It shows her and her husband pursuing a personal vendetta against the trooper, Mike Wooten, despite repeated warnings that they were impermissibly intruding into internal -- and already concluded -- disciplinary issues. Likewise, Ms. Palin's decision to repudiate her earlier pledge to cooperate fully with the inquiry does not offer assurance about how she would conduct herself as vice president. The McCain-Palin campaign's response to the inquiry has been internally contradictory -- simultaneously assailing the investigation as a partisan witch hunt and mischaracterizing as vindication the report's finding that Ms. Palin was within her rights as governor to remove the commissioner who had refused to act against her former brother-in-law.

The amount of attention that the newly elected governor, her husband and her subordinates -- her personnel director, attorney general and chief of staff, among others -- devoted to getting Mr. Wooten fired was extraordinary. Within a few weeks of Ms. Palin's inauguration, her newly installed public safety commissioner, Walter Monegan, was summoned to a meeting with the governor's husband, Todd Palin, at which the "First Gentleman" pressed Mr. Monegan to reexamine the already concluded disciplinary case against Mr. Wooten. The governor herself called Mr. Monegan, e-mailed him and met with him in person to discuss her unhappiness with Mr. Wooten's continuation on the force. Equally extraordinary was the Palins' persistence in the face of warnings that their intervention could run afoul of personnel rules and risked creating precisely the kind of public uproar that ensued.

Ms. Palin's refusal to cooperate with investigator Stephen Branchflower reflects poorly on her. So, too, does Ms. Palin's mischaracterization of the report as finding that there was "no unlawful or unethical activity on my part" and "no abuse of authority at all in trying to get Officer Wooten fired." In fact, Mr. Branchflower concluded that Ms. Palin "knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda, to wit: to get Trooper Michael Wooten fired." It's unfortunate that Ms. Palin does not understand -- or chooses not to acknowledge -- the seriousness of the mess she helped create.

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