Troopergate Report: Palin Abused Power

Palin says she did "nothing unlawful or unethical" in firing of official.

October 10, 2008, 12:31 PM

Oct. 11, 2008— -- Gov. Sarah Palin abused her power when she fired her public safety commissioner this July, a state investigation has concluded.

The Alaska legislature voted Friday to release the 263-page report on the "Troopergate" scandal, a state kerfuffle which has come to haunt Palin's vice presidential bid. The scandal centered around her firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. Monegan and others believed Palin fired him because he refused to take action against Mike Wooten, a state trooper under him who had been involved in a messy divorce with Palin's sister, Molly.

The investigator, Stephen Branchflower, found that Monegan's refusal to fire Wooten "was not the sole reason" but was "likely a contributing factor" to his firing.

Branchflower also said Palin's attorney general failed to provide him with e-mails of Palin's that he had requested as part of the probe.

The report found that Palin let the family grudge influence her decision-making, even if it was not the sole reason Monegan was dismissed.

Palin said Saturday that she did "nothing unlawful or unethical" in removing Monegan from his position. As Palin left the Pittsburgh Westin Hotel this morning to board her campaign bus, a pool reporter yelled out, "Governor, did you abuse your power?" Palin paused as she boarded the bus and responded, "No, and if you read the report you'll see that there was nothing unlawful or unethical about replacing a cabinet member. You gotta read the report, sir."

In an interview with reporters from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last night following an evening fundraiser, Palin defended her handling of the case.

"It is important for a governor to take on the responsibility of making sure that everybody in her cabinet is in the right place at the right time to best serve the public," Palin said. "I dismissed a cabinet member because he wasn't the right person at the right time in his position -- dismissed him having nothing to do with telling him to hire or fire anybody else."

Reached at home Friday night, Monegan told he felt relieved by the report's findings. "Vindicated is too harsh of a word," he said from his kitchen, where he said he and his wife were making stew. "But I honestly feel a little conflicted, as well. ... We were trying to protect her from this very moment," he said.

"We warned her, we warned her, we warned her," said Monegan of efforts to insulate Palin from personnel questions concerning Wooten. "I think we failed."

Meg Stapleton, the spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign, said in a statement Friday night: "The report [...] illustrates what we've known all along: this was a partisan-led inquiry run by Obama supporters and the Palins were completely justified in their concern regarding Trooper Wooten, given his violent and rogue behavior. Lacking evidence to support the original Monegan allegation, the Legislative Council seriously overreached, making a tortured argument to find fault without basis in law or fact."

Bill McAllister, Palin's Alaska communications director, released a statement saying the report "vindicated the governor by finding that she acted within her constitutional authority to remove 'at-will' employees." But he questioned the report's abuse of power finding.

"We question how Mr. Branchflower reached the conclusion that Governor Palin abused her power with respect to Trooper Mike Wooten. That finding required speculation and assumptions on Mr. Branchflower's part and could not be supported solely on the basis of the evidence that he collected," McAllister's statement said.

It was not immediately clear whether legislators would seek punishment or censure for Palin as a result of the probe's findings.

"To me, that's the smaller issue of all this," said Democratic Rep. Les Gara, who has been an outspoken critic of Palin's. Any action against the governor would properly come from the state personnel board, said Gara.

That panel is currently conducting its own Troopergate probe -- at Palin's prompting. The governor has held, since September, that the personnel board was the proper body to investigate her.

The report's release brought a palpable sense of relief from some legislators, who had been besieged for weeks by reporters from the national media, and a driven effort by the McCain-Palin campaign and its allies to discredit their probe and those involved in it.

"What I would like more than anything is an apology," said Gara. "An apology from the McCain campaign to the people they attacked to try to stop this investigation."

Palin violated the state Ethics Act, Branchflower found.

"The evidence supports the conclusion that Gov. Palin, at the least, engaged in 'official action' by her inaction, if not her active participation or assistance to her husband, in attempting to get Trooper Wooten fired [and there is evidence of her active participation]," Branchflower concluded.

"[Palin] knowingly ... permitted [husband] Todd Palin to use the governor's office and the resources of the governor's office ... in an effort to find some way to get Trooper Wooten fired."

In an interview with ABC News' Charlie Gibson in September, Palin denied her concern over Wooten had any connection to Monegan's firing.

"[Wooten] is still a trooper," Palin said during the interview. "Commissioner Monegan was replaced because he wasn't reaching the goals that our cabinet members were to reach, find efficiencies, put new vision, new energy into all of our departments."

But Palin attorney Thomas Van Flein told The Associated Press, "In order to violate the ethics law, there has to be some personal gain, usually financial. Mr. Branchflower has failed to identify any financial gain."

The statute says "any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that [public] trust."

The 14-member, Republican-dominated Legislative Council met in closed session this morning with Branchflower. After seven hours of exhaustive review, the legislators voted unanimously to release the report to the public.

"I'm going to vote to release it, but it's not a vote in total agreement," said Republican Sen. Gary Stevens.

"There's not a consensus for the conclusion," said Republican Rep. Bill Stoltze. He said he expected there would be "robust and vigorous intellectual debate on that in other corners."

Stoltze said he had received hundreds of e-mails from all over the country, calling for the public release of the report. The state added extra servers to handle the traffic expected when the report is posted electronically to the legislature's Web site.

The Legislative Council voted unanimously to initiate the investigation in late July, shortly after Palin fired Monegan. The probe was to determine whether she fired Monegan because he refused to take action against a state trooper who had been through a messy divorce from Palin's sister.

Palin denied wrongdoing and initially voiced support for the investigation. But after she joined the national Republican ticket, she and her supporters said the legislature had no right to investigate her, and accused legislators involved in the probe of supporting Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's presidential bid.

A lawsuit to stop the probe, which echoed many of the campaign's charges, was thrown out Thursday by the state Supreme Court.

In her statement, Stapleton said, "The governor is looking forward to cooperating with the personnel board and continuing her conversation with the American people regarding the important issues facing the country."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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