Trustee: Palin not involved with defense fund

Palin Ethics Complaint
Trustee for Gov. Sarah Palin's legal defense fund, Kristan Cole, left, speaks to reporters in Wasilla, Alaska on Wednesday, July 22. Cole lashed out at reporters and the Eagle River resident who filed an ethics complaint against Palin. Matthew Daly / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The trustee for a legal defense fund set up to help Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said the former vice presidential candidate has never been involved with the trust or accepted money from it to pay her legal bills.

"The governor is not, was not and has not been involved in this trust," Kristan Cole of Wasilla said Wednesday.

Cole, a local real estate agent and Palin friend, said she had never talked about the trust fund with Palin until Tuesday, when a report by an independent investigator was obtained by The Associated Press.

The account, called the Alaska Fund Trust, was created and vetted by a team of lawyers from around the country who are experts in state and federal law, Cole said. The only lawyer who has ever questioned the fund's legality is Thomas Daniel, the investigator hired by the state personnel board, she said.

Daniel, an Anchorage lawyer, said in the July 14 report that he found probable cause Palin had violated ethics laws by trading on her position as she sought money for legal fees.

'Blatant abuse of a process'
Cole lashed out at the news media for disclosing the contents of the confidential report, which she said was leaked illegally.

"We have witnessed time and again the blatant abuse of a process when it comes to people filing these complaints and illegally discussing them and leaking them to the press," Cole said at a news conference at her real estate office in Palin's hometown.

The latest leak "crosses the line," Cole said, adding that the trust is reviewing its legal options for "reputational harm" caused by Kim Chatman, the Eagle River resident who filed the ethics complaint that led to Daniel's finding.

Jon Givens, an Anchorage attorney who represents the trust, said it is based on similar accounts created for prominent politicians such as Hillary Clinton, Ted Stevens and John Kerry. "If those trusts don't violate the ethics rules of society, why should this one" be considered improper? he said.

Those funds are all based on federal law. Palin is accused of violating state ethics law.

Palin's friends and supporters created the trust fund, limiting donations to $150 per person. Cole declined to say how much the fund has raised, but said about 90 percent of the contributions so far are from out of state.

"How can there be intent to influence a governor in Alaska with a $5 voluntary donation from Kansas?" she asked.

Most ethics complaints dismissed
At least 19 ethics complaints have been filed against Palin, most of them after she was named the running mate for GOP presidential candidate John McCain. Most of those have been dismissed, although one was resolved when Palin agreed to reimburse the state more than $8,000 for the costs associated with nine trips taken with her children.

Palin supporters say the legal fund is needed because of a quirk in Alaska law that prevents state officials from defending the governor against ethics allegations.

"Legitimate public expenses should be borne by the public, not by the governor personally," Givens said.

Palin says she owes more than $500,000 in legal fees, and she cited the toll of the ethics probes as one of the reasons she is leaving office on Sunday.

Chatman said she was not sympathetic to the governor's plight.

"I honestly believe her legal bills are the result of her actions," she said.