Troopergate probe running into new resistance
Published - Sep 16 2008 07:27PM EDT | AP
By STEVE QUINN - Associated Press Writer
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 from state Republican lawmakers who want to end it or delay it past the election.
Alaska's House speaker, a Republican who supported the "Troopergate" investigation two months ago, openly questioned its impartiality and raised the possibility of delaying the findings.
The surprise maneuver by Rep. John Harris reflected deepening resolve by Republicans to spare Palin embarrassment or worse in the final weeks of the presidential campaign.
And it marked a further fraying of a bipartisan consensus, formed by a unanimous panel before Palin became McCain's running mate, that her firing of the state's public safety commissioner justified the ethical investigation.
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 told The Associated Press, 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 4 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.
Also Tuesday, five Republican state lawmakers filed a lawsuit against an investigation they called "unlawful, biased, partial and partisan." None serves on the bipartisan Legislative Council that unanimously approved the inquiry. They it pushed past the election or top Democrats removed from the probe.
Making clear the dispute has ramifications beyond Alaska, Liberty Legal Institute, a Texas-based legal advocacy group, was working on the lawsuit. The institute has taken on a variety of cases in defense of conservative Christian positions.
Anchorage attorney Kevin G. Clarkson said he and the Texas group were donating their work on the lawsuit. "We just want to take the politics out of it and bring fairness back into it."
Elton called the lawsuit "a distraction."
"I'm comfortable with the notion that the court will review the substance of the suit and find the Council acted properly and that the decisions made during the course of the investigation so far are appropriate and well within the mandate of the Council," Elton said. "The silver lining in this action initiated by the five lawmakers is that some of that debate now has been kicked to the judicial branch which, unlike the Legislature and the governor's office, is more insulated from the red-hot passion of presidential politics," he said.
Palin fired public safety commissioner Walt Monegan in July.
Weeks later, it emerged that Palin, her husband, Todd, and several high-level staffers had contacted Monegan about state trooper Mike Wooten, who had gone through a nasty divorce from Palin's sister before Palin became governor. While Monegan says no one from the administration ever told him directly to fire Wooten, he says their repeated contacts made it clear they wanted Wooten gone.
Palin maintains that she fired Monegan over budget disagreements, not because he wouldn't dismiss her ex-brother-in-law. She has sought through her lawyer to have the matter investigated in a more favorable forum, the state personnel board.
Last week, the state Senate Judiciary Committee voted to issue subpoenas for Todd Palin as well as nearly a dozen others and to gain phone records of a top aide to the governor. The subpoenas seek to force their cooperation in the investigation.