In naming her as his vice presidential running mate Friday, Sen. John McCain hailed Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as “someone who has fought against corruption.” But Palin is under two ethics investigations springing from accusations that she abused her office to pursue a personal grudge.
Palin has said she welcomes the investigations: “Hold me accountable.”
The investigations are reviewing the same accusation: that she dismissed the state’s top law enforcement official because of his refusal to fire a state trooper in a dispute that predated her election in 2006.
When she dismissed Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan on July 11, Palin said she wanted to take the commission in a new direction.
A week later, Monegan told NBC affiliate KTUU of Anchorage that he thought it was likely that he had been dismissed because he resisted pressure from Palin’s staff and husband to fire the trooper, who was involved in a bitter custody battle with the governor’s sister after their divorce in 2005.
Last month, the state Legislature appointed an independent investigator to review whether the governor or her aides abused their power by pressuring Monegan to fire the trooper, a probe that the Democratic chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee said could lead to Palin’s impeachment. The outside investigator, a retired assistant district attorney in Anchorage, was directed to file his report by Oct. 31, four days before the presidential election.
Palin strongly denied the accusations and ordered her own investigation by the state Law Department.
In a July 31 interview with CNBC, Palin defended the dismissal of Monegan, saying, “It is a governor’s prerogative, a right, to fill that Cabinet with members whom she or he believes will do best for the people whom we are serving.”
Palin promised her full cooperation, saying she would answer any questions from lawmakers, media and the public.
Private dispute goes public
The dispute goes back to 2005, when Palin was a private citizen. Palin’s sister, Molly McCann, was involved in a contentious divorce and custody battle with Michael Wooten, whom Palin had recommended for the troopers division when she was mayor of the city of Wasilla five years previously.
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KTUU reported that Wooten’s personnel file, which was released at his request, showed that Palin and her husband, Todd, filed an unspecified number of complaints against him during the custody case. Court documents included an e-mail that Sarah Palin sent as a private citizen to the director of the troopers division in August 2005, accusing Wooten of drinking in his patrol car, “illegal hunting techniques,” firing a Taser at his young stepson and threatening to kill her father.
Both Palins were interviewed by state troopers as part of an internal investigation, which dismissed many of the complaints. Wooten was, however, suspended for 10 days for shooting a moose and using the Taser on his stepson, a suspension that Monegan later reduced to five days.
Wooten remains a state trooper, and the matter never came to wide public attention until last month, when Monegan accused Palin’s husband and gubernatorial staff of having leaned on him to fire the trooper.
Husband acknowledges one conversation
In interviews last month with KTUU, Monegan said Todd Palin pressured him numerous times to fire Wooten, but Todd Palin said they had had only one discussion.
“I met with Commissioner Monegan, showed him some information about Wooten and left it at that,” Todd Palin said.
Then, on Aug. 13, Sarah Palin called a news conference to acknowledge that the Law Department investigation had found that 14 members of her administration made more than 20 calls to Monegan and other public safety officials regarding Wooten since she became governor in 2006.
Video: How Alaska's governor ended up on a national ticket Among the evidence was an audiotape of a telephone call in February to a state troopers lieutenant by Frank Bailey, Palin’s director of boards and commissions. In the tape, Bailey says the Palins are puzzled why Wooten remained on the job.
“Todd and Sarah are scratching their heads, why on Earth hasn’t — why is this guy still representing the department?” Bailey said on the tape.
Palin called the tape a “smoking gun” and said she recognized that “I do now have to tell Alaskans that such pressure could have been perceived to exist.” But she said she never knew of the apparent pressure until this month as part of the Law Department inquiry.
“I have only now become aware of it,” Palin said.
Bailey was placed on administrative leave last week pending the full results of the investigation.
By Alex Johnson of msnbc.com with Jason Moore and Leyla Santiago of NBC affiliate KTUU of Anchorage, Alaska.
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