WASHINGTON – An Alaska state legislative investigator found Friday that Gov. Sarah Palin abused her executive power when she and her husband engaged in a campaign to oust her former brother-in-law from the state police force.
In a lengthy report released in Anchorage, Stephen Branchflower found that Palin also improperly allowed her husband, Todd, to use the governor’s office to pursue a personal vendetta against the trooper.
“Governor Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda, to wit: To get Trooper Michael Wooten fired,” said the report released by a bipartisan legislative committee.
Defenders of Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, called the report’s release, coming less than four weeks before Election Day, a politically motivated attempt to damage the ticket of Sen. John McCain and Palin. They said Palin’s actions were justified.
The report will go to the Republican-dominated legislature for possible further action.
Branchflower said Alaska’s ethics code discourages state employees from “acting upon personal interests in the performance of their public responsibilities and to avoid conflicts of interest in the performance of duty.” He identified 18 events to substantiate an effort over an extended period of time to get Wooten fired.
“She had the authority and power to require Mr. Palin to cease contacting subordinates, but she failed to act,” the report said.
Palin had been accused of dismissing Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan, a career law enforcement official, after he rebuffed attempts by her, her husband and Cabinet officials to reopen an investigation into Wooten’s conduct.
The report said Palin knew “the disciplinary investigation was closed and could not be reopened. Yet she allowed the pressure from her husband, to try to get Trooper Wooten fired, to continue unabated over a several month-period of time.”
After his firing, Monegan said he believed that comments from the Palins and others were an attempt to get him to fire Wooten.
Branchflower investigated the charges for six weeks, interviewing 19 people, after he was hired by the Joint Legislative Council. He concluded that while Monegan’s rebuff of the entreaties played a role in his firing, other concerns such as budgetary issues and trooper vacancies also were factors.
“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,” Branchflower wrote. “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.”
Branchflower also dismissed the Palins’ assertions that they were afraid of Wooten because of threats they said he made. “Such claims of fear were not bona fide and were offered to provide cover for the Palins’ real motivation: to get Trooper Wooten fired for personal family related reasons,” he wrote.
Branchflower’s report initially had been due at the end of the month, but state Sen. Hollis French, D, who managed the investigation, said its release was moved to Friday so it would not come on the eve of the Nov. 4 election.
Before the report was released, the McCain-Palin campaign denounced the investigation and called Monegan’s firing a “straightforward personnel decision” that has become “muddied with innuendo, rumor and partisan politics.”
Monegan said Friday that the report made him feel “relieved a little bit that my gut feeling of why I was fired was to some degree validated.”
The legislative committee unanimously began the investigation in July. Palin had promised to cooperate, but after becoming McCain’s running mate, she changed course, saying the inquiry was politically tainted. She declined to answer Branchflower’s questions, and she started a parallel investigation before the state personnel board, which she appoints. Republican lawmakers sued to stop the probe, but state courts rejected the request.