Saturday, October 11, 2008

Troopergate Investigation: Palin Abused Power

Girl meets boy. Girl marries boy (by the way, this is old boy's second or third marriage). They have a kid together. Things go south and girl leaves boy. There's a divorce and a nasty custody battle over the kid. Girl sic's her big sister (who happens to be governor of the state) on boy. The governor pressures the boy's boss to fire the boy. The boy's boss refuses to cooperate. The governor fires the boy's boss... and if you're wondering, that's how they do things in Alaska!

Well, the girl in question is Molly McCann, the sister of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. The boy is Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten. And the boy's boss is Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.

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The New York Times recounts the sordid details of how the Palins (mainly at the behest of Todd Palin, the governor's husband) put extreme pressure on the public safety commissioner prior to him being fired. His successor also was harassed by the Palins before he quit the job.

Excerpts from New York Times story about Palin pressure:

ANCHORAGE — The 2007 state fair was days away when Alaska’s public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, took another call about one of his troopers, Michael Wooten. This time, the director of Gov. Sarah Palin’s Anchorage office was on the line.

As Mr. Monegan recalls it, the aide said the governor had heard that Trooper Wooten was assigned to work the kickoff to the fair in late August. If so, Mr. Monegan should do something about it, because Ms. Palin was also planning to attend and did not want him nearby.

Somewhat bewildered, Mr. Monegan soon determined that Trooper Wooten had indeed volunteered for duty at the fairgrounds — in full costume as “Safety Bear,” the troopers’ child-friendly mascot.

Two years earlier, the trooper and the governor’s sister had been embroiled in a nasty divorce and child-custody battle that had hardened the Palin family against him. To Mr. Monegan and several top aides, the state fair episode was yet another example of a fixation that the governor and her husband, Todd, had with Trooper Wooten and the most granular details of his life.

“I thought to myself, ‘Man, do they have a heavy-duty network and focus on this guy,’ ” Mr. Monegan said. “You’d call that an obsession.”

On July 11, Ms. Palin fired Mr. Monegan, setting off a politically charged scandal that has become vastly more so since Ms. Palin became the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

By now, the outlines of the matter have been widely reported. Mr. Monegan believes he was ousted because he would not bow to pressure to dismiss Trooper Wooten. The Alaska Legislature is investigating the firing and whether the governor abused the powers of her office to pursue a personal vendetta.

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Ms. Palin has denied that anyone told Mr. Monegan to dismiss Trooper Wooten, or that the commissioner’s ouster had anything to do with him. But an examination of the case, based on interviews with Mr. Monegan and several top aides, indicates that, to a far greater degree than was previously known, the governor, her husband and her administration pressed the commissioner and his staff to get Trooper Wooten off the force, though without directly ordering it.

In all, the commissioner and his aides were contacted about Trooper Wooten three dozen times over 19 months by the governor, her husband and seven administration officials, interviews and documents show.

“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,” said Kim Peterson, Mr. Monegan’s special assistant, who like several other aides spoke publicly about the matter for the first time.

Ms. Peterson, a 31-year veteran of state government who retired 10 days before Mr. Monegan’s firing, said she received about a dozen calls herself. “It was very clear that someone from the governor’s office wanted him watched,” she said.

Nor did that interest end with Mr. Monegan, the examination shows. His successor, Chuck Kopp, recalled that in an exploratory phone call and then a job interview, Ms. Palin’s aides mentioned the governor’s concerns about Trooper Wooten. None of the 280 other troopers were discussed, Mr. Kopp said.

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The Palin family’s dispute with Trooper Wooten surfaced long before Ms. Palin became governor.

On April 11, 2005, the day Ms. Palin’s sister, Molly McCann, filed for divorce, her father, Chuck Heath, informed the state police that a domestic-violence restraining order had been served on his son-in-law. Mr. Heath later told the state police that, although Trooper Wooten had not physically harmed Ms. McCann, he had intimidated her. Ms. McCann told the authorities that Trooper Wooten said to her that he would shoot Mr. Heath if he hired her a divorce lawyer and would “take down” Ms. Palin if she got involved.

The family also reported that Trooper Wooten, who was assigned to the wildlife investigations unit, shot a cow, or female, moose without a permit, used a Taser on his 10-year-old stepson and drank a beer at a friend’s barbecue before taking a second one for the drive home in his patrol car.

In March 2006, after an internal inquiry, Trooper Wooten received a 10-day suspension, which was eventually halved. The suspension letter mentions nothing about threats. At the time, Trooper Wooten and Ms. McCann had been divorced for about two months. But their relationship remained tumultuous, primarily over child custody disputes, said Ms. McCann’s divorce lawyer, Roberta Erwin.

Ms. McCann “wanted to know what relief was available to her” without spending the money to return to court, the lawyer said, adding, “As a close family, the Palins did their best to help her by reaching out further to the trooper hierarchy, with Todd taking the lead.”

On Jan. 4, 2007, a month into the Palin administration and his tenure as public safety commissioner, Mr. Monegan went to the governor’s Anchorage office to talk with Todd Palin, who had requested the meeting. Mr. Palin was seated at a conference table with three stacks of personnel files. That, Mr. Monegan recalled, was the first time he heard the name Mike Wooten.

“He conveyed to me,” Mr. Monegan said, “that he and Sarah did not think the investigation into Wooten had been done well enough and that they were not happy with the punishment. Todd was clearly frustrated.”

Mr. Palin noted Trooper Wooten’s divorce case but dwelt on the moose kill, even showing photographs of the dead animal, Mr. Monegan recalled. The commissioner said he would have his staff evaluate the evidence.

A few days later, Mr. Monegan informed Mr. Palin that the issues raised at the meeting had been addressed in the suspension. The case was closed.

Mr. Palin sounded vexed and said repeatedly Trooper Wooten was getting away with a crime, Mr. Monegan said. “I hung up wondering how long I could keep my job if I tick off my boss’s husband.”

Several evenings later, Mr. Monegan’s cellphone rang. “Walt, it’s Sarah,” the governor said before echoing much of what her husband had said. Trooper Wooten, he recalls being told, was “not the kind of person we should want as a trooper.” He told the governor, too, that there was no new evidence to pursue.

Soon after that, Mr. Palin and several aides began pressing the public safety agency to investigate another matter: whether Trooper Wooten was fraudulently collecting workers’ compensation for a back injury he said he had suffered while helping carry a body bag.

Mr. Palin’s evidence: He told Ms. Peterson, the commissioner’s assistant, that he had seen the trooper riding a snowmobile while on medical leave and that he had photographs to prove it.

When Mr. Palin called back two weeks later, Ms. Peterson said she had met with the trooper but was not authorized to discuss the conversation because it was an official state personnel matter. The issue was eventually resolved in Trooper Wooten’s favor, after his chiropractor sent a letter saying he had approved of the trooper’s riding a snowmobile, as long as he was careful.

Mr. Palin declined to be interviewed. But in a sworn affidavit this week for the legislative investigation, he wrote that he had hundreds of communications about the trooper “with my family, with friends, with colleagues and with just about everyone I could, including government officials.” He added, “In fact, I talked about Wooten so much over the years that my wife told me to stop talking about it with her.”

As for what he had told his wife, Mr. Palin said he often raised his concerns about “the unfairness of his remaining on the state troopers when he was obviously so unfit for the job.”

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In July, Ms. Palin’s acting chief of staff called Mr. Monegan to another meeting in that same room in the governor’s Anchorage office. The aide, Michael A. Nizich, said the governor wanted him to head the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, part of the public safety department. Put another way, he was no longer commissioner.

Saying the firing had come “out of the blue,” Mr. Monegan asked how he had upset the governor. Ms. Palin, the aide said, wanted to take the agency in a new direction.

“Was it Wooten?” Mr. Monegan recalled asking.

“A new direction,” was the reply.

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Mr. Monegan’s successor, Mr. Kopp, said that when the trooper came up in his pre-employment conversations with Palin aides, “it was raised within the context of one of the things that I needed to be aware of, but there was no direction to take any job action.”
During his first week on the job, Mr. Kopp received a call from Mr. Nizich, an aide to Gov. Palin. Trooper Wooten, in uniform, had shown up at the governor’s picnic, which is open to the public. “Is there anything you can do?” Mr. Nizich asked, explaining that the Palins were concerned about his presence.

The trooper was told to leave the area.

About a week later, Mr. Kopp resigned amid [from his job].

Trooper Mike Wooten, who declined to be interviewed for this article, remains on the force as a patrol trooper.

It is reported by that Todd Palin testified that he never pressured the public safety commissioner, the governor wanted to move the department in another direction.

What follows are excerpts of the different stories that Todd Palin told about WHY Walt Monegan was fired:

Palin's husband, Todd, said in a sworn affidavit released Wednesday night that he never pressured the state's public safety commissioner to fire Palin's former brother-in-law, a state trooper who had divorced the governor's sister.

Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan was not fired this summer because he wouldn't dismiss the trooper, Todd Palin said in his written response to questions from the state Legislature's investigation into Monegan's firing.

"My concerns ... were not why Monegan was reassigned," Palin said in the 52-page document.

Some of Todd's stories include:
  • His wife - the governor - was unhappy with Monegan because of "budget issues and failure to fill trooper vacancies."

  • [Walt Monegan] was offered a reassignment, and he resigned rather than accept the reassignment.

  • Mike Wooten was a "rogue trooper" who had threatened the Palin family during his divorce.

  • "As Monegan has stated, I never told him to fire Wooten," Palin said in his written response to questions in the state Legislature's investigation into Monegan's dismissal. "My understanding was that he was in charge of receiving any kind of complaint about a trooper. That was his job. At no time did Monegan tell me he felt 'pressure' to do anything he did not think was right."

  • [Todd said that] his complaints with Monegan centered more on his wife's inability to sometimes use the Department of Public Safety's King Air Turbo Prop plane to reach far-flung constituents in the large state. "It seemed like whenever Sarah needed this plane, it was unavailable."

  • He also contacted Monegan in the "summer of 2007 when a friend's husband drowned in Lake Louise and she was upset with the way the body recovery was being handled.

  • Todd also claims that Trooper Wooten used a Taser stun-gun on his ten-year old stepson, had drunk beer both before and during the operation of his marked State Trooper patrol car, and had illegally shot a cow moose without a permit.

They may not have come right out and said it, but it is pretty obvious by the Palins' obsession with Mike Wooten that Monegan was punished by the governor for not firing her ex-brother-in-law.

Findings of the Legislative Council investigating the claims against Gov. Palin:

Finding Number One:
For the reasons explained below, 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 Commissionare Monegan was a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority to hire and fire executive branch department heads.

Finding Number Three:
Harbor Adjustment Service of Anchorage, and its owner Ms. Murleen Wilkes, handled Trooper Michael Wooten's workers' compensation claim properly and in the normal course of business like any other claim processed by Harbor Adjustment Service and Ms. Wilkes. Further, that he received all the workers' compensation benefits to which he was entitled.

Finding Number Four:
The Attorney General's office failed to substantially comply with my August 6, 2008 written request to Governor Sarah Palin for information about hte case in the form of emails.

These findings carry no criminal actions against the governor. Although, Mr. Monegan may decide to look at some civil action to recoup the salary that he lost because of this harassment by the governor and her husband.

Read the New York Times article about how the Palin's pressured Walt Monegan here.

Read the article and download the PDF about Todd Palin's response to the Judiciary Committee subpoena here.

Several media outlets are reporting on report from the Alaska Legislature claiming that Gov. Sarah Palin abused her powers, read them here & here & here.

Read and download the 263-page PDF of the Branchflower Report to the Legislative Council (the findings of the council concerning the Troopergate investigation).

plez sez: i delayed in posting about this story, because frankly, there were so many other juicy and salacious stories and rumors about the governor of alaska that this story got put on the back burner until it was resolved. well, now that an investigation by the Alaska Legislature has concluded that palin abused her powers in the firing of walt monegan, i feel it is time to spread the news!

this is just one more item in a long list of indescretions that should've caused john mccain to look elsewhere for his running mate. not only has the woman proven to be a drag on his campaign - remember, he was close to being tied with Obama in most polls when he picked her and now he is down by over 8 points in most national polls less than 2 months after picking her - but she was not adequately vetted, and her public misdeeds will undoubtedly play a role in mccain's defeat on election day.

we can now add "corrupt" to her long list of adjectives: uncurious, uneducated, bigoted, xenophobic, liar, charlatan, brown-noser, overly ambitious, etc.

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