A group of Alaska Republican lawmakers, with the support of a Texas-based conservative legal group, has filed suit to stop the Alaska Legislature's "Troopergate" probe into Gov. Sarah Palin.
The suit alleges the legislature overstepped its authority by probing the Republican's vice presidential pick, "conducting a 'McCarthyistic' investigation in an unlawful, biased, partial and partisan political manner" to sway the upcoming state and national elections.
The suit, filed in Alaska Superior Court, takes aim at Stephen Branchflower, the former prosecutor leading the probe; Sen. Hollis French, the Democratic state lawmaker chosen to manage the investigation; and Sen. Kim Elston, the Democratic chair of the Republican-dominated Legislative Council, which voted unanimously to conduct the probe.
All three men, the suit alleges, have conflicts which prohibit their involvement in the investigation. French and Elston have publicly supported Obama, the suit notes.
The suit claims Branchflower "developed a friendship" with the fired official at the center of the probe, Walt Monegan, when Branchflower was a prosecutor and Monegan was in law enforcement. It asks that if the probe continues, all three men be removed.
Elston and French were not available for comment. Branchflower did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story. At a hearing late last week, Branchflower said he did not recall ever working on a case Monegan had investigated. He said he mainly knew Monegan from his work at the Office of Victim's Rights in Anchorage, where he issued a report that was critical of the police department there, at the time Monegan was its chief. "Most of my contact with Walter Monegan has been in an adversarial context," Branchflower said.
Rep. Wes Keller of Wasilla, a plaintiff in the suit, told ABCNews.com "we began to be uncomfortable and embarrassed because there was a cloud coming over this investigation. When the opportunity came to me to sign on to civil action I took it."
Palin appointed Keller to his seat in the legislature after its former occupant went to jail on bribery charges. Palin reportedly knew Keller from her church, the Wasilla Bible Church, where Keller was an elder.
Keller said Tuesday he signed on to the suit when the man who filed it, Anchorage attorney Kevin G. Clarkson, approached him about it Sunday afternoon or Monday. Asked who the Legal Liberty Insititute was or how they were involved, Keller said, "I don't know. You'll have to check on that one. I'm not going to be able to give you good information on that one."
LLI Director of Litigation Hiram Sasser told ABCNews.com Tuesday afternoon that Clarkson was a friend of his. "I think he called me, I don't know who called who first, but we ended up talking and this is where we ended up," Sasser explained. Sasser said the help his group was providing included "constitutional law expertise, assist[ance] with the causes of action, that sort of thing."
Alaskan lawmakers in July authorized a probe into whether Palin and her husband used the power of the Governor's office to conduct a personal vendetta against their former brother-in-law, whose behavior during the 2005 was described by the Palin family as threatening.
In a 20/20 interview, Palin told ABC News' Charles Gibson that she dismissed Monegan for poor job performance and that neither she nor her husband pressured Monegan to fire Wooten.
"We never did. I never pressured him to hire or fire anybody," she said.
But Monegan told ABC News that he was summoned to a meeting with Todd Palin in December 2006, shortly after his wife became governor.
"I was called to her Anchorage formal Governor's office to talk with Todd Palin about an issue that was a private family matter," recounted Monegan. Todd Palin became "upset," Monegan said, when told the allegations had already been investigated and the case would not be re-opened.
Sarah Palin initially agreed to "cooperate fully" with the Alaska state legislative investigation but since being chosen as John McCain's running mate both she and her husband have refused to testify voluntarily. Last week, the legislature issued a subpoena for Todd Palin and a group of Palin aides.
At that time, Palin's lawyers said those subpoenas were a "legal issue that will have to be evaluated and discussed with clients."
This case is something of a departure for Liberty Legal Institute, which has focused almost exclusively on religion and state and First Amendment cases for individuals, groups and churches since its founding in 1997. Sasser said that recently his group has "branched out, getting involved in broader constitutional issues."