Who’s really politicizing Palin’s ‘Troopergate?’

There’s a lot of misinformation out there, so let’s be clear: Alaksa Gov. Sarah Palin was for cooperating with a bipartisan-backed, independently conducted investigation of her possible abuse of power before she was against it, and all that really happened in between was her Republican vice-presidential nomination.

Palin denies that she fired former Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan because he refused to fire a state trooper who was her ex-brother-in-law, involved in a nasty child-custody battle with her sister; although her husband and her staff spoke with Monegan and his staff about the trooper repeatedly, she says Monegan was fired because of insubordination on budget issues and other policy differences.

Alaksa’s Legislative Council, a bipartisan panel of state representatives and senators who tend to legislative business when lawmakers aren’t meeting in regular session, decided an investigation was warranted. This panel of four Democrats and eight Republicans voted 12-0 in late July to spend up to $100,000 to hire an independent investigator “to investigate the circumstances and events surrounding the termination of former Public Safety Commissioner Monegan, and potential abuses of power and/or improper actions by members of the executive branch.”

Sharon Leighow, Palin’s spokeswoman, at the time said, “The governor has said all along that she will fully cooperate with an investigation and her staff will cooperate as well.”

Legislative Council chairman state Sen. Kim Elton days later announced veteran Anchorage prosecutor Stephen Branchflower would conduct the probe; Palin said she welcomed an investigation, although Branchflower’s muscle wasn’t needed. “I know he’s a prosecutor, probably a heavy duty prosecutor, and so that kind of puzzles us why we are going down that road when we are very, very open to answering any questions anybody has of me or administrators.”

But as soon as John McCain announced Palin as his vice-presidential pick Aug. 29, things began to change.

That very same day, Palin’s new lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, wrote a letter to Branchflower requesting a full list of documents, other evidence and witness statements. Van Flein also demanded that the investigation — already almost a month in progress — be handed over to a three-person state personnel board – of which one member was re-appointed by Palin in January, and the other two appointed by previous Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski.

State Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Hollis French responded Sept. 1, noting he’d done so rather than Branchflower because Van Flein had challenged the Legislature’s jurisdiction. French wrote “it would be highly unusual for an investigator to share information with one of the targets of the investigation.”

It was in the context of these sudden, new obstacles that French then told ABC News that McCain’s campaign had never contacted anyone involved in the investigation while vetting Palin. “If they had done their job they never would have picked her. … Now they may have to deal with an October surprise,” he said, referring to the previously scheduled Oct. 31 release of the committee’s final report.

Now Palin won’t talk to Branchflower, and Alaska’s Republican Attorney General has told state employees to ignore subpoenas in the case. And on Tuesday, five Republican state lawmakers — none of whom sit on the council that launched the investigation — filed a lawsuit to delay the probe until after the Nov. 4 general election. The Liberty Legal Institute — a Plano, Tex.-based nonprofit conservative law network that’s helping represent the lawmakers — is part of the Free Market Foundation, where president and chief counsel Kelley Shackelford was a member of the GOP’s Platform Committee this year. Shackelford told a reporter at the Republican National Convention that McCain’s selection of Palin had “resurrected” the party’s social conservative base.

They say the investigation is biased because French and Elton are both Democrats and Barack Obama supporters. But French and Elton aren’t conducting the investigation; Branchflower is.

And that was good enough for Palin until a national election was on the line.

So who’s really politicizing the investigation?

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Marietta

    I see that nowhere in this article did it say the Monegan was offered another position for the State but turned it down? I think this all started because he didn’t get his way. Took his marbles and cried foul!