Alaska panel finds against Palin in “Troopergate” probe

An Alaskan legislative panel found against Gov. Sarah Palin today releasing their findings of the investigation into the attempted firing of her brother-in-law, an Alaskan state trooper. Democrats have been waiting for this come out, hoping there would be something against Palin, however, the finding isn’t that strong once you read the language.

There are two stories running here, side-by-side. The man who WAS fired was Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan, not Palin’s brother-in-law who is still an active Alaska state trooper. Monegan was fired, according to Palin, because he was insubordinate and would not consider trimming his department’s budget when requested.

Her brother-in-law, Mike Wooten, is the trooper in question who had allegedly tasered his son, had a DWI, and had made death threats against the Palin family. There were allegations that Palin had used her power as Governor to lean on Monegan for Wooten’s firing, though he never was.

I explained this all because I had to sort it out for myself since there are parallel storylines here and they have gotten convoluted.

The report from Yahoo News:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Sarah Palin unlawfully abused her power as governor by trying to have her former brother-in-law fired as a state trooper, the chief investigator of an Alaska legislative panel concluded Friday. The politically charged inquiry imperiled her reputation as a reformer on John McCain’s Republican ticket.

Investigator Stephen Branchflower, in a report by a bipartisan panel that investigated the matter, found Palin in violation of a state ethics law that prohibits public officials from using their office for personal gain.

The inquiry looked into her dismissal of Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan, who said he lost his job because he resisted pressure to fire a state trooper involved in a bitter divorce with the governor’s sister. Palin says Monegan was fired as part of a legitimate budget dispute.

The report found that Palin let the family grudge influence her decision-making even if it was not the sole reason Monegan was dismissed. “I feel vindicated,” Monegan said. “It sounds like they’ve validated my belief and opinions. And that tells me I’m not totally out in left field.”

Branchflower said Palin violated a statute of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.

“I disagree,” said Palin attorney Thomas Van Flein. “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.”

Palin and McCain’s supporters had hoped the inquiry’s finding would be delayed until after the presidential election to spare her any embarrassment and to put aside an enduring distraction as she campaigns as McCain’s running mate in an uphill contest against Democrat Barack Obama.

But the panel of lawmakers voted to release the report, although not without dissension. There was no immediate vote on whether to endorse its findings.

“I think there are some problems in this report,” said Republican state Sen. Gary Stevens, a member of the panel. “I would encourage people to be very cautious, to look at this with a jaundiced eye.”

The nearly 300-page report does not recommend sanctions or a criminal investigation.

So the bottom line on this release is that it recommends no sanctions or criminal investigations, which means this story probably isn’t going much further.

This tidbit, however, seems buried in the AP story:

Wooten had been in hot water before Palin became governor over allegations that he illegally shot a moose, drank beer in a patrol car and used a Taser on his stepson.

Though, for the record, he was never fired and is still an Alaskan state trooper.

Voters will decide how much this matters as the news plays out and how the McCain campaign handles it. I foresee Obama and Biden probably bringing this on the trail, making mention of the findings and calling her integrity into question as a reformer.

Among McCain/Palin supporters, I don’t think this is going to even register as anything important since she has explained it many times. However, some undecideds may be swayed in these remaining days.

We shall see.. isn’t it exciting?

Update

McCain campaign responds, via Fox News:

ARLINGTON, VA — McCain-Palin 2008 spokeswoman Meg Stapleton issued the following statement on today’s release of Stephen Branchflower’s report:

“Today’s report shows that the Governor acted within her proper and lawful authority in the reassignment of Walt Monegan. The report also 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. 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.”

If you’re interested, the entire PDF of the report can be found here.

Actual statements from the report:

Finding Number One

For the reasons explained in section IV of this report, I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) provides

The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust.

Finding Number Two

I find that, although Walt Monegan’s refusal to fire Trooper Michael Wooten was not the sole reason he was fired by Governor Sarah Palin, it was likely a contributing factor to his termination as Commissioner of Public Safety. In spite of that, Governor Palin’s firing of Commissioner Monegan was a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority to hire and fire executive branch department heads.

Seems like a contradiction in the findings. The panel found she abused her power, however, they also found she was within her right to fire Monegan, the Public Safety Commissioner, under the Alaska constitution based on his insubordination.

You make the call..