On the same day Alaska state Sen. Hollis French announced he would speed up the investigation into whether Gov. Sarah Palin abused her power by firing a public safety commissioner, a top ally of Sen. John McCain in the Alaskan House called to unseat French as the head of the commission.
Representative John Coghill of North Pole, Alaska, said French, a Democrat, is "steering the direction of the investigation, its conclusion, and its timing in a manner that will have maximum partisan political impact on the national and state elections."
Coghill, a longtime McCain backer, said the McCain camp knew of his letter before it was sent to the legislative council (aides were "generally supportive," he said) and reiterated his support of the McCain-Palin ticket.
"I actually called them when Palin got picked and said, 'Hey, I'm your boy now," said Coghill. "I want to help them as much as I can now, but this is totally different from that."
Reached by phone in the North Pole Friday afternoon, Coghill accused French of stepping out of bounds by making what he said were politically-fueled comments.
Coghill cited French's recent interview with ABCNews.com, in which the senator said the report was going to be an "October surprise" and would "likely be damaging to the administration," as an example of what he considers to be the senator's bias.
"When we decided to look into this issue, everybody on the committee, including the chairman, agreed that we need to be an arms-length away from this," said Coghill, "and it's just ended up in the political arena because of Sen. French."
When asked about his involvement with McCain aides now, Coghill said he isn't working on the presidential campaign but plans on putting out a yard sign and passing out bumper stickers to help, even though, he said, his political support should not be confused with his pushing for French to step down.
"I will do whatever I can to help them, believe me," Coghill said. "I'm trying to separate this issue from that."
His call came the same day French announced that the investigation's findings will be delivered nearly three weeks early to avoid being too close to election day and that the governor will not be subpoenaed, a move Coghill said was a coordinated effort. He wanted the issues to be presented equally, he said, and had to rush to get his letter ready since he knew French was slated to make his announcement Friday morning.
"I wanted to make sure that I was bringing this issue up," Coghill said, adding that he wanted the messages to be presented together.
Coghill and French spoke Thursday, and French was aware that the letter was to be released, according to both men. But French said he has no plans to step down and said he'll attend a house and senate judiciary meeting Sept. 12 where the council will consider issuing subpoenas to witnesses who have cancelled depositions.
"The thing to keep in mind is that I'm not the investigator, Steve Branchflower is," French said, referring to the retired state prosecutor who is the lead investigator in the case. "He's working independently of me and everybody else. He's going to gather the facts, prepare a report, release the report and, ultimately, it will be him that defends the report."