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Originally published Sunday, October 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Report: Palin didn't fear for safety

One of the paramount reasons that Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband have given for voicing concerns to Alaska public-safety officials about former brother-in-law Michael Wooten is that they and their relatives live in fear of him.

The New York Times

One of the paramount reasons that Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband have given for voicing concerns to Alaska public-safety officials about former brother-in-law Michael Wooten is that they and their relatives live in fear of him.

They have complained that Wooten made threats of violence against the family, used a Taser on his 10-year-old stepson and generally has struggled to control his anger.

But an independent investigator for the state Legislature — who has concluded that Palin abused the powers of her office by pressuring subordinates to dismiss the trooper — contends that the claims of fear were a facade to mask a maneuver in a family dispute.

In a report released Friday on the so-called "Troopergate" scandal, the investigator, Stephen Branchflower, said evidence, such as the governor's decision to reduce the manpower of her security detail, showed that "such claims of fear were not bona fide and were offered to provide cover for the Palins' real motivation: to get Wooten fired for personal family related reasons."

Branchflower described what he considers another inconsistency: If Wooten was inclined to harm any of the Palins, having him terminated could lead to an act of retaliation. Forcing him out of his job "would not have de-escalated the situation or provided" Palin or her family with "greater security," the report stated.

The assertion about Palin's motivations in trying to have Wooten dismissed were one of the conclusions in the report, the culmination of an inquiry into whether she used her office to try to settle a family score. The investigation was unanimously opened in July by the 14-member, Republican-dominated Legislative Council, about one month before Palin was selected by Sen. John McCain to be the Republican vice-presidential nominee. The panel voted unanimously Friday to release the report amid accusations by the McCain-Palin campaign that the inquiry was a pro-Obama witch hunt.

A key finding was that Palin was within her legal right to dismiss her public-safety commissioner, Walt Monegan — Wooten's boss. The report says Monegan's failure to bend to pressure from Palin, her husband, Todd, and others in the administration and dismiss the trooper was a reason for his ouster, but that evidence suggests it was not the only factor.

Campaigning in Altoona, Pa., on Saturday, Palin insisted the inquiry found "no unlawful or unethical activity on my part" and added "there was no abuse of authority at all in trying to get Officer Wooten fired."

But Branchflower, in his report, stated that Palin violated the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act by applying pressure to have Wooten dismissed, as well as allowing her husband and subordinates to press for his firing. The trooper had been ensnarled in a bitter divorce and child-custody battle with Palin's sister, Molly McCann, resulting in ill will toward him.

Branchflower wrote that Palin "knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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