Probe Finds Palin Abused Power in Case of Trooper
Saturday, October 11, 2008
An Alaska state legislative investigator found yesterday that Gov. Sarah Palin abused executive power when she and her husband engaged in a campaign to oust her former brother-in-law from the state police force.
The 263-page report released in Anchorage also found that while Palin was well within her right to fire Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan, his dismissal came in part because he refused to remove her sister's ex-husband from the Alaska State Troopers.
Investigator Stephen Branchflower found evidence that Palin actively joined her husband, Todd, in pursuing a personal vendetta against the trooper and that she used state employees to try to settle a score in a bitter family feud.
"Governor 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," said the report released by a bipartisan legislative committee.
Defenders of Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, called the report's release, coming less than four weeks before Election Day, a politically motivated attempt to damage the ticket of Sen. John McCain and Palin. In a statement, McCain spokeswoman Meg Stapleton said the Palins "were completely justified in their concern regarding Trooper Wooten given his violent and rogue behavior."
The report, which makes no specific recommendation for further action, will go to the Republican-dominated state legislature.
Branchflower said that Alaska's ethics code discourages state employees from "acting upon personal interests in the performance of their public responsibilities and to avoid conflicts of interest in the performance of duty." He identified 18 events to substantiate an effort over an extended period of time to get Wooten fired.
"She had the authority and power to require Mr. Palin to cease contacting subordinates, but she failed to act," the report said.
Palin had been accused of dismissing Monegan, a career law enforcement official, after he rebuffed attempts by her, her husband and cabinet officials to reopen an investigation of Wooten's conduct. Wooten was involved in a divorce and custody dispute with Palin's sister, Molly.
The report said Palin knew that "the disciplinary investigation was closed and could not be reopened. Yet she allowed the pressure from her husband, to try to get Trooper Wooten fired, to continue unabated over a several month-period of time."
Branchflower investigated the charges for six weeks, interviewing 19 people, after he was hired by the Joint Legislative Council. He concluded that while Monegan's rebuff of the entreaties played a role in his firing, other concerns such as budgetary issues and trooper vacancies also were factors.
"I find that, although Walt Monegan's refusal to fire Trooper Michael Wooten was not the sole reason he was fired by Governor Sarah Palin, it was likely a contributing factor to his termination as Commissioner of Public Safety," Branchflower wrote. "In spite of that, Governor Palin's firing of Commissioner Monegan was a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority to hire and fire executive branch department heads."