A second investigation has cleared Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin of wrongdoing in the scandal that has come to be known as "Troopergate." But the probe raised new questions about her use of private email accounts and the conduct of her aides.
"You didn't believe us," Palin told reporters Tuesday morning after voting in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska. "I told you, we had done nothing wrong." Palin said she was "grateful" for the second report's findings.
The Troopergate flap centered around her dismissal of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan in July, after he declined to take action against a state trooper formerly married to Palin's sister.
The probe, by an independent counsel hired by the state Personnel Board, found that there was "no probable cause to believe that Governor Palin violated the Alaska Executive Ethics Act by making the decision to dismiss Department of Public Safety Commissioner Monegan" and offer him an alternate position.
A probe by a special counsel for the state legislature concluded last month that Palin had violated state ethics law by allowing her office to be used by her husband and aides to push Monegan to fire the trooper, Mike Wooten.
"Governor Palin is pleased that the independent investigator for the Personnel Board has concluded that she acted properly" in removing Monegan, said Palin's attorney, Thomas V. Van Flein, in a statement distributed Monday night by the McCain-Palin campaign.
Monegan, reached by phone Monday evening, said he found the new report disappointing. "It casts both investigations in doubt," he said. "You have two investigators looking over the same basic facts and they come up with different conclusions."
Personnel Board investigator Timothy Petumenos explained his findings differed from those of the Legislature because he said its investigator, Stephen Branchflower, used the "wrong statute. . . misconstrued the available evidence and did not consider or obtain all of the material evidence that is required to properly reach findings."
Neither Branchflower nor the senator who managed the Legislature's probe, Hollis French, D-Anchorage, would comment for this article.
Petumenos warned that Palin and at least one senior aide had deleted private emails that may have been relevant to his probe, and cannot be retrieved. "We are concerned about the use by the Governor and some of her staff of private e-mail accounts for government business," he wrote, cautioning that his findings may have been affected.
While he "cannot say that any e-mails were destroyed that were pertinent to this inquiry," stated Petumenos, "neither can it be said that they were not."
Palin lawyer Van Flein said Palin's office was reviewing its email policies and "will consider Mr. Petumenos' recommendations."
Petumenos, in another branch of his investigation, found that one of Palin's aides may have violated the state Ethics Act and Personnel Act in the process of hiring a Palin campaign contributor to a government job.
The report's release, less than a day before Americans went to the polls, came as a surprise. Petumenos had not commented during the investigation, but was widely expected not to complete his probe until after the presidential election.
Palin prompted the Personnel Board investigation by filing a complaint against herself in September, in a gambit to discredit the Legislature's probe, begun in July. Palin had initially promised cooperation with the earlier probe, but after becoming the GOP vice presidential candidate declared the investigation unconstitutional and politically biased. The Personnel Board, she asserted, was the proper body to investigate her.