JUNEAU, Alaska – Alaska’s investigation into whether Gov. Sarah Palin abused her power, a potentially damaging distraction for John McCain’s presidential campaign, ran into intensified resistance Tuesday when the attorney general said state employees would refuse to honor subpoenas in the case.
In a letter to state Sen. Hollis French, the Democrat overseeing the investigation, Republican Attorney General Talis Colberg asked that the subpoenas be withdrawn. He also said the employees would refuse to appear unless either the full state Senate or the entire Legislature votes to compel their testimony.
Colberg, who was appointed by Palin, said the employees are caught between their respect for the Legislature and their loyalty to the governor, who initially agreed to cooperate with the inquiry but has increasingly opposed it since McCain chose her as his running mate.
“This is an untenable position for our clients because the governor has so strongly stated that the subpoenas issued by your committee are of questionable validity,” Colberg wrote.
Last week French’s Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed 13 people. They include 10 employees of Palin’s administration and three who are not: her husband, Todd Palin; John Bitney, Palin’s former legislative liaison who now is chief of staff for Republican House Speaker John Harris; and Murlene Wilkes, a state contractor.
French did not immediately return a telephone call Tuesday for comment.
Earlier in the day Harris, who two months ago supported the “Troopergate” investigation, openly questioned its impartiality and raised the possibility of delaying the findings.
In a letter, Harris wrote that what “started as a bipartisan and impartial effort is becoming overshadowed by public comments from individuals at both ends of the political spectrum,” and he urged lawmakers to meet quickly to decide on a course.
“What I may be in favor of is having the report delayed, but only if it becomes a blatant partisan issue,” he said, while indicating he already believes it has become politically tainted.
Democratic state Sen. Kim Elton, chairman of the Legislative Council, the 14-member panel that authorized the probe, had no immediate comment on Harris’ request. Under an unusual power-sharing agreement, the council is made up of 10 Republicans and four Democrats.
At issue is whether Palin abused her power by pressing the commissioner to remove her former brother-in-law as an Alaska state trooper, then firing the commissioner when he didn’t.