Attorneys for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin met with a special investigator for the Alaska Personnel Board earlier today to broker her cooperation with the panel's own probe of the scandal now known as "Troopergate," according to sources close to the matter.
With help from the McCain-Palin campaign, the popular governor and GOP vice-presidential candidate has fought a separate investigation by the Republican-dominated Alaska state legislature into the scandal. The flap centers around allegations Palin used her power to pursue a personal vendetta against a state trooper who was once married to Palin's sister.
Lawyers hired by Palin and the McCain-Palin campaign met with Tim Petumenos, an Anchorage lawyer hired by the Personnel Board to investigate the matter, after Palin herself filed a formal complaint to the panel.
Initially, Palin had pledged cooperation with the legislature's investigation. She changed her position after joining the GOP ticket, claiming that probe was politically biased and that the legislature lacked constitutional authority to investigate her. She argued the proper venue was the three-member Personnel Board -- part of the executive branch -- and filed a complaint against herself, saying she "welcomed" its investigation.
All three of the board's current members were originally appointed by Alaska's previous governor, Frank Murkowski; one has since been re-appointed by Palin.
Palin's attorneys are expected to make an announcement at a press conference later this afternoon that they have hammered out a "roadmap for cooperation" with Petumenos, including an agreement on what "search terms" to use while sifting through thousands of emails from her government and Yahoo! email accounts for possible evidence.
The Governor's attorneys are also said to be negotiating a plan to turn over paper documents and setting dates for initial interviews with both the Governor and her husband.
Meanwhile, critics say Palin has worked with her allies and the campaign to impede the legislative investigation. Her husband Todd has refused to respond to a subpoena issued for his testimony; the state attorney general, a Palin appointee, reneged on an arrangement to permit subpoenaed testimony for several government employees; and at least two lawsuits have been filed challenging the probe.
"Their goal has been to obstruct the legislative investigation," said Alaska State Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage. "The whole thing has been aimed to obstruct until after the election." The legislative probe is expected to wrap up in mid-October; Gara said he expected the Personnel Board investigation would not release findings until after the election. Petumenos did not respond to an inquiry.
Central to the Troopergate scandal is the allegation that Palin fired her former Public Safety Commissioner, Walt Monegan, because he refused to take action against her sister's ex-husband, State Trooper Mike Wooten, whom she has accused of domestic violence, making threats against her family and more. Wooten served a five-day suspension in 2005 after an investigation confirmed a handful of the allegations; he has denied the rest. Palin fired Monegan in mid-July of this year.
In a filing last week to the Personnel Board, Palin claimed she fired Monegan because he had a "rogue mentality" and was bucking her administration's directives. "The last straw," her lawyer argued, came when she discovered he was planning a trip to Washington to lobby for money to fund an anti-sexual-violence program.
Palin had approved neither the trip nor the program, the filing said. Later in the week, however, ABC News reported that Palin's chief of staff had signed a travel authorization form approving Monegan's trip.
The McCain-Palin campaign said that such authorizations were "routine" and were signed without knowing the purpose of the travel. Monegan's signed form, released through an open records request to the Alaska Department of Public Safety, stated the purpose of his trip was to meet with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
Monegan's lawyer, Jeff Feldman, blasted the allegations Palin made last week, calling her legal filing "their version of the facts" which served as "a vehicle to defame" Monegan, and promised his client would rebut them in their own filing to the panel.
Feldman also said he expected his client to cooperate with Petumenos' investigation, although they have not yet had the opportunity to meet with him. "It's entirely on his schedule," said Feldman.