Ethics probe involves Palin kin
The first serious scandal in Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's administration has roots in a family feud. It erupted into public view with the July...
Anchorage Daily News
ANCHORAGE — The first serious scandal in Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's administration has roots in a family feud. It erupted into public view with the July 11 firing of the state's top public-safety official.
Some call it Troopergate.
Palin's abrupt firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan is being investigated by a special counsel hired by the Alaska Legislature. The investigator is to determine whether there was official misconduct.
The Legislature is spending up to $100,000 "to investigate the circumstances and events surrounding the termination of former Public Safety Commissioner Monegan, and potential abuses of power and/or improper actions by members of the executive branch."
The investigation is expected to take months.
At issue is whether Palin, her administration or family improperly pressured Monegan to fire Alaska State Trooper Michael Wooten, the former husband of Palin's sister, and whether Palin fired Monegan when that didn't happen.
Palin's sister, Molly McCann, and Wooten are divorced but battling in court over custody and visitation.
Palin has maintained that her decision to fire Monegan had nothing to do with Monegan's refusal to dump Wooten.
Before she was governor, Palin pushed for a trooper investigation of Wooten over a number of matters, including using a Taser on his stepson, illegally shooting a moose and accusations of driving drunk. Palin and her husband, Todd, hired a private investigator at one point.
Troopers investigated, and Wooten was suspended for 10 days, later reduced to five.
Palin initially said that after she took office in December 2006, she broached the subject of Wooten with her public-safety commissioner, Monegan, once, when they discussed her security detail. She said she told Monegan of threats Wooten had made against her father and that Wooten had threatened to "bring me down." She said she thought that was the end of it.
But a week after his firing, Monegan said there was pressure to fire Wooten from Palin's administration and from Todd Palin. The pressure continued until a month or two before he was fired, Monegan said.
Monegan said Palin again brought up Wooten in February. Monegan said he told Palin that he had to keep her at arm's distance on the matter and she agreed.
Todd Palin talked to him several times, and three officials in Palin's administration also put pressure on the department, Monegan said.
The Wooten matter was publicized on the blog of a Palin political rival, Andrew Halcro, soon after Monegan's firing.
On July 17, the Public Safety Employees Association, with Wooten's permission, released the investigative file concerning the complaints brought against the trooper by the Palins, Palin's father and others.
On July 28, the state Legislative Council, a bipartisan panel of senators and representatives, approved hiring an independent investigator to look into Monegan's firing. Retired prosecutor Steve Branchflower was named special counsel.
This month, as her administration gathered materials for the investigation, Palin released a recording of a phone call in which one of her aides pressured a trooper lieutenant to fire Wooten. That contradicted her earlier claims that there had been no pressure. She said she was unaware of the conversation until the investigation uncovered it.
She also disclosed that members of her administration had had about 24 contacts with officials about Wooten.
In the phone call, recorded by troopers, as they do routinely, aide Frank Bailey told the trooper lieutenant that Palin and her husband wanted to know why Wooten still has a job.
Palin has put Bailey on paid administrative leave. She said she never asked him to make that call.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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