Election 2008

Kyle Ericson/AP
Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin speaks to the crowd as her husband,
Todd, looks on during a rally at Saint Louis University.

Palin Abused Power in 'Troopergate' Case, Panel Finds

October 10, 2008 08:40 PM
by Liz Colville
An Alaska legislative panel, which met behind closed doors with an independent investigator today, found that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin abused her power when she ordered the replacement of state safety commissioner Walter Monegan.

Commissioner Reassignment is Focus of Inquiry

Independent investigator Steve Branchwater presented his findings on the so-called Troopergate incident to Alaska’s Legislative Council. The Associated Press reports that the investigation "concludes that a family grudge wasn't the sole reason for firing Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan but says it likely was a contributing factor." It also concluded that Palin violated a statute of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act, but the report "does not recommend sanctions or a criminal investigation."

Troopergate centers on a family dispute between the Palins and state trooper Mike Wooten, who is the ex-husband of Gov. Sarah Palin’s sister. According to reports from state employees and state public safety commissioner Walter Monegan provided in an October 9 New York Times article, Monegan was repeatedly told that Wooten was unfit for the job of trooper by the Palins, either over the phone or in person.

Monegan was never outright told to fire Wooten by either Gov. Palin or her husband, Todd. However, both made “dozens of calls” to Monegan about Wooten over the course of Palin’s time in office, according to the Times. In July, Monegan was reassigned by the governor to another department, but decided to quit rather than take up the new position.

On Thursday, October 9, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled against six Republican legislators who sued to abandon the Troopergate investigation on grounds that it violates the Alaska Constitution and is biased, writes the Anchorage Daily News.

The McCain campaign continues to dismiss the investigation, saying it is “politically driven and that Palin replaced Monegan as public safety commissioner because of budget differences,” the Daily News reports.

Background: The Palins and Wooten; beginnings of Troopergate

Gov. Palin has indeed stated that she reassigned Monegan because of a dispute over budgeting matters. She was later quoted as saying Monegan displayed a “rogue mentality” and “outright insubordination.” Monegan contends that he was reassigned “because he refused to submit to pressure, from Palin’s husband, Todd, and other aides, to sack Wooten,” the U.K.’s Guardian reports.

Complying with a subpoena, Todd Palin answered 30 interrogatory questions submitted by the investigation. As part of those answers, a statement by Todd Palin reproduced on the Anchorage Daily News Web site says, “I had hundreds of conversations and communications [about Wooten] over the last several years with my family, with friends, with colleagues, and with just about everyone I could—including government officials. (In fact, I talked about Wooten so much over the years that my wife told me to stop talking about it with her.)” Palin added that he had "no regrets" about trying to protect his family.

Walter Monegan’s special assistant Kim Peterson told the New York Times, “To all of us, it was a campaign to get rid of him as a trooper and, at the very least, to smear the guy and give him a desk job somewhere.”

Troopergate arose out of a meeting at a bar between Mike Wooten and Andrew Halcro, a former political opponent of the governor, who began blogging about the Palins’ alleged “vendetta” against Wooten and Monegan in late 2007, according to a Talking Points Memo post from October 9.

Talking Points Memo writes that the McCain campaign released its own report, also on October 9, to “preempt” the state investigation. It concluded, “It is tragic that a false story hatched by a blogger after drinks with Trooper Wooten led the legislature to allocate over $100,000 of public money to be spent in what has become a politically driven investigation.” View the McCain-Palin campaign's report via the Alaska Daily News site.

Wooten has allegedly verbally threatened his ex-wife, Gov. Palin’s sister, as well as their father, as reported in The New York Times. An internal investigation into Wooten’s behavior did occur in March of 2006, according to a July article in the Anchorage Daily News. The report found that Wooten had “a serious and concentrated pattern of unacceptable and at times, illegal activity occurring over a lengthy period,” including using a taser on his stepson, shooting a moose, drinking a beer in his patrol car, and telling others his ex-father-in-law would “eat an f’ing bullet” if he helped his ex-wife get an attorney for their divorce.

As to the reassignment of Monegan, the McCain-Palin camp has said that the “last straw” was an unauthorized lobbying trip Monegan made to Washington, D.C. The blog Hot Air concluded in a September 20 post that Monegan had been authorized to take the trip until it became clear that his agenda was to “seek federal money for a plan to assign troopers, judges and prosecutors who could exclusively handle sexual assault cases—one of the state’s most intractable crime problems.” That money-seeking agenda had not been authorized by the governor’s office, according to special counsel John Katz.

The McCain-Palin team held a press conference October 9, where they read statements from Todd Palin and defended the Palins' role in the events leading to the investigation.

Three days after Monegan quit his job, Wooten apparently told his ex-wife, “You guys are going down. Get ready for the show,” reports Talking Points Memo.

Time magazine created a “primer” about Troopergate in September, including an answer to whether the investigation is “just partisan politics.” The article notes that the Legislative Committee “is actually composed of eight Republicans and four Democrats, though not all Republicans in Alaska are fans of Palin. But the chairman, Hollis French, is a Democrat who made several ill-advised comments in media interviews that suggested he had already concluded Palin was lying, including mentioning an ‘October surprise’ and using the word impeachment.”

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines