Palin's 'Troopergate' Battle Rages
Alaska Senator Recommends Palin's Husband Be Held in Contempt
By Jason Leopold,
Cross posted from The Public Record
Alaska Sen. Hollis French recommended Friday that Gov. Sarah Palin's husband, Todd Palin, and two state officials, be held in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena involving a state sanctioned investigation into allegations the governor improperly fired her top law enforcement official in July.
The way in which the McCain-Palin campaign has managed the two-month-old investigation is reminiscent of the stonewalling tactics the Bush administration has employed for nearly two years with regard to a congressional investigation into the White House’s role in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, which appears to have been carried out because the federal prosecutors were disloyal to the president.
French, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter earlier in the day to Senate President Lyda Green, stating Todd Palin's refusal to respond to the subpoena requires the Alaska Legislature to decide whether to impose fines against the First Spouse or pursue contempt charges, which could lead to Todd Palin's arrest.
French's letter to Green says Palin, and the two state officials, "all having been served with subpoenas through their legal counsel, have neither given statements nor appeared today in compliance with their subpoenas."
"Alaska statute 24.25.030 sets out our procedure in this particular situation," the letter says. The statute says, French wrote, that "if a witness neglects or refuses to obey a subpoena...the senate or the house of representatives may by resolution entered on its journal commit the witness for contempt. If contempt is committed before a committee, the committee shall report the contempt to the senate or house of representatives, as the case may be, for such action as may be considered necessary. Please consider this letter as satisfying the dicates of the statute."
An aide to French reached Friday after French sent Green the letter said that is what the senator has recommended.
“The full senate will decide what action to take,” the aides said. “Provisions in the statute range from fines to arrest. But that will be at the discretion of the legislative committee.”
However, the senate does not convene until January so any action taken would be well after November's presidential election.
A Judiciary Committee hearing was scheduled Friday morning for witnesses who were subpoenaed last week. But none of the six witnesses who received a summons showed up. French, who has been overseeing the Palin investigation, has been accused by the McCain-Palin campaign of acting in a partisan manner,
The probe centers on whether the Palins and several of the governor's senior aides pressured Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan to fire Mike Wooten, a state trooper who was engaged in an ugly divorce and child custody dispute with Gov. Palin's sister.
Rogue Investigation by Palins
People involved directly with the investigation said Friday that the independent counsel appointed to conduct the probe has already gathered enough evidence to release a report by Oct. 10. Currently, these people said, the independent counsel has obtained documentary evidence and received information from witnesses that shows individuals in Palin’s camp--including Todd Palin--may have illegally tried to get a claims worker to deny Wooten worker’s compensation benefits. There is no indication in the report thus far, however, as to the role Gov. Palin played--if any--in this incident or other matters for which she is being investigated, these people said.
One of the witnesses subpoenaed, Murlene Wilkes, who has a state contract to handle worker's compensation claims, was expected to give a statement Friday afternoon to the independent counsel, French said.
An individual in Wilkes's office reportedly said the governor's office pressured the office to deny Wooten's worker's comp claim.
"Ms. Wilkes, through her attorney, has agreed to give a statement this afternoon thus satisfying her obligations under subpoena," French said in his letter to Green.
A previous investigation by The Public Record, however, found that Palin – collaborating with her husband Todd and several senior aides – conducted what amounted to a rogue investigation into suspicions that Wooten was faking a job-related injury as a state trooper, according to state documents, law enforcement officials and former aides to Palin.
The investigation was conducted using the resources of Gov. Palin’s office and had the goal of destroying Mike Wooten’s career with the Alaska state troopers, the documents and the interviews reveal.
A little-noticed passage in a transcript of a conversation between Frank Bailey, Palin’s director of boards and commissions, and Alaska State Trooper Lt. Rodney Dial shows that Palin’s office had developed information against Wooten that was turned over to the state’s worker’s compensation board, purportedly to prove that Wooten was not too sick or injured to work.
In the Feb. 28, 2008, conversation with Dial, Bailey disclosed that Gov. Palin and her husband had uncovered information about the trooper that was not publicly available and had collected statements about Wooten going “snowmachining” when he was out on workers comp for a back injury.
“The situation where [Wooten] declared workers comp, but then was caught on an eight-mile snowmachining [sic] trip days — days after, you know, that — that started coming up there,” Bailey said. “So we collected statements that we forwarded on to worker’s comp.”
On Aug. 28, Thomas Van Flein, an attorney hired by Palin, deposed Michael Mongale, a state manager with the workers' compensation division. Monagle said there was no truth to rumors that the governor or her office had requested Wooten's workers' comp file.
"Absolutely not," said Monagle, who said that the file is "in my office in a locked file cabinet" for safekeeping.
However, John Cyr, executive director of the Public Safety Employees Association, the union that represents Wooten and other state troopers, disclosed a document that appears to contradict Monagle’s sworn deposition.
A routing slip dated Aug. 21 from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development shows Wooten’s workers comp file was pulled and sent to the attention of Mongale.
“Wooten, as requested,” the routing slip says, which was made out to the attention of “Mike Mongale.”
“A request came in to return all of Wooten’s [worker’s comp] files to Juneau [the state capital],” according to a note and routing slip faxed to Cyr from the worker’s compensation division. “The person who asked to route the files was told the files were being copied for the governor.”
Cyr said Wooten was legitimately collecting worker’s compensation, despite allegations to the contrary made by the governor’s office.
In the fall of 2006, Wooten injured himself in the line of duty when he pulled a body from a wrecked automobile, slipped on icy pavement and injured his back. He underwent surgery and was on “light” duty and had filed for worker’s comp when he could not work.
But the Palin
family apparently saw the worker’s comp case as another
way to get Wooten fired, especially after Sarah Palin became
“Todd Palin was following Mike around snapping pictures of him,” Cyr said in an interview. “Frank Bailey was getting people to say that Mike was lying on his worker’s comp form. The governor’s family was following Mike around everywhere. They forwarded that information to the worker’s comp division.
“They were using the machinery of the state to claim that Mike was cheating the system and not eligible for worker’s comp. That was being conducted out of the governor’s office.”
People involved in the probe said, based on interviews with law enforcement officials, they expect the trooper to file a civil suit against Palin and members of her administration once the report is released in three weeks.
Palin Promised to Cooperate
Other witnesses who refused to comply with subpoenas issued last week by Alaska’s Senate Judiciary Committee include Ivy Frye, an assistant to Gov. Palin, and Randy Ruaro, Palin’s deputy chief of staff, according to French's letter.
Seven of the 13 subpoenas were not served, French said, because Alaska's Assistant Attorney General Mike Barnhill told French in a letter Sept. 9 the witnesses would testify voluntarily. However, the state's attorney general reneged on the promise Tuesday. French said those witnesses will be subpoenaed and, if they comply, deposed on Friday Sept. 26.
The 14-member legislative council is made up of 10 Republicans. The council voted unanimously in July to launch an investigation, which Palin said she “would never prohibit, or be less than enthusiastic about.”
“Let's deal with the facts and you do that via an investigation,” Palin said in July.
Palin's Husband Refuses to Testify
But late Thursday, Van Flein, Palin's attorney, sent a letter to Steven Branchflower, the former federal prosecutor who was appointed by a majority of Republicans in the Alaskan Legislature independent counsel charged with probing allegations Gov. Palin abused her office by abruptly ousting Monegan.
“We maintain our general objections that the Legislative Council investigation, besides being pursued for partisan purposes, is being conducted in violation of all accepted norms of due process,” says Van Flein’s letter to Branchflower. “Mr. Palin objects to the Subpoena on the ground that the Judiciary Committee lacks authority to issue subpoenas or otherwise investigate matters relating to the Office of the Governor, the Department of Administration, or the Department of Public Safety.”
Additionally, Van Flein said the subpoena issued for Todd Palin is “unduly burdensome” due to “preexisting travel plans” because his wife is the Republican party vice presidential nominee.
McCain-Palin campaign aide Meg Stapleton offered up a new legal theory during a news conference Thursday aimed at stalling the probe.
"Under Alaska law no ethics violations proceeding may be conducted against the governor while running for elected office that law was passed to insulate investigations from exactly the kind of political maneuvering we are seeing in this inquiry," Stapleton said.
But the law Stapleton cited is intended to be used for individuals running for statewide office.
In July, Gov. Palin vowed to cooperate with the probe. However, since her surprise selection as the Republican vice presidential nominee, she – as well as her husband and senior staff aides – have balked at giving depositions.
Van Flein has been leading an aggressive effort to derail the investigation. He has attacked Branchflower's integrity and has challenged the legislature's constitutional authority to conduct the probe.
Last week, in one of his boldest moves since he signed on as counsel to the Palins, Van Flein contacted the Alaska Attorney General’s office last week and requested documents that he believes could show that the hiring of Branchflower was a partisan move by French.
Van Flein sent a letter to Branchflower Wednesday accusing him of conducting a biased probe and demanded he stop interviewing witnesses. Van Flein also complained about the way the probe has been conducted in a separate letter he sent to Democratic Sen. Kim Elton, the head of the state’s Legislative Council. Van Flein maintains that Alaska’s Personnel Board, whose members are appointed by Palin, should conduct the probe.
Eton, who chairs the Alaska Legislative Council, which authorized and funded the investigation, wrote to Attorney General Talis Colberg, a longtime Palin associate, criticizing Colberg’s delay and derail tactics. Eton accused the attorney general and Gov. Palin of breaking a promise to cooperate with the probe.
"Bluntly, I feel like Charlie Brown after Lucy
moved the football," Elton wrote to Colberg.
Pressured to Fire Trooper
The emerging public record shows that Gov. Palin and her husband Todd – who calls himself Alaska’s “First Dude” – have been waging a vendetta to get Trooper Mike Wooten fired since shortly after Palin took office in December 2006.
Wooten was married to Palin’s younger sister, Molly McCann. The couple, who divorced in January 2006, have been engaged in a bitter child custody dispute. Through complaints to his superiors, Palin had helped engineer Wooten’s five-day suspension from the state police for various examples of personal misconduct.
In January 2007, a month into Palin’s term, Todd Palin invited Monegan to the governor’s office, where Todd Palin urged Monegan to reopen the Wooten case. After checking on it, Monegan said he informed Todd Palin that he couldn’t do anything because the case was closed.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Monegan said that a few days later, the governor also called him about the Wooten matter and he gave her the same answer. Monegan said Gov. Palin brought the issue up again in a February 2007 meeting at the state capitol, prompting a warning that she should back off.
However, rather than follow that advice, Gov. Palin and her husband appear to have enlisted senior state officials to keep the pressure on. Monegan said he began getting telephone calls from Palin’s aides about Wooten, including from then-chief of staff Mike Tibbles; Commissioner Annette Kreitzer of the Department of Administration; and Attorney General Colberg.
Colberg acknowledged making the call, after an inquiry from Todd Palin about “the process” for handling a threatening trooper, and then relaying back the response from Monegan that the issue had been handled and nothing more could be done.
Todd Palin, who serves as an unofficial adviser to the governor and has billed the state for expenses for trips he takes on his wife’s behalf, continued collecting evidence against Wooten and lobbying for his dismissal. The governor’s husband acknowledged giving Wooten’s boss, Col. Audie Holloway, photos of Wooten driving a snowmobile while he was out of work on worker’s comp.
On July 11, 2008, Palin abruptly fired public safety commissioner Monegan, saying only that she wanted to take the public safety department in a different direction.
Monegan then went public with his account of the mounting campaign against Wooten from the governor’s family and staff. Monegan told the Anchorage Daily News that Todd Palin showed him the work of a private investigator, who had been hired by the family to dig into Wooten’s life and who was accusing the trooper of various misdeeds, such as drunk driving and child abuse.
Though Palin vehemently denied that she was involved in the pressure campaign, a review by the Attorney General’s office found that half a dozen state officials had made about two dozen phone calls regarding Wooten.
Commissioner Fired for 'Insubordination'
Van Flein said Monegan was fired for “insubordination.” This week, the McCain-Palin campaign released email correspondence between Palin, her staffers, and Monegan that attempts to establish the state’s top cop bypassed the governor on budgetary issues and law enforcement initiatives.
Stapleton, the McCain campaign aide, said Palin “replaced Commissioner Monegan because of his insubordination with respect to the budget process during the time that Monegan served as public safety Commissioner under the governor."
But included in the batch of emails is one Palin sent to Monegan July 17, 2007 and cc’d Attorney General Colberg in response to handgun legislation. In discussing the policy, Palin mentioned the family issues involving her ex-brother-in-law, and appeared to allow her disdain for her sister’s ex-husband influence the way in which she intended to address policy matters, which is a troubling way of making important policy decisions for a person who, if elected, would be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
“The first thought that hit me...about people not being able to buy guns when they’re threatening to kill someone went to my ex brother-in-law, the trooper, who threatened to kill my dad yet was not even reprimanded by his bosses and still to this day carries a gun, of course,” Palin wrote. “We can’t have double standards. Remember when that death threat was reported, and follow-on threats from Mike [Wooten] that he was going “to bring Sarah and her family down” - instead of any reprimand WE were told by trooper union personnel that we’d be sued if we talked about those threats. Amazing. And he’s still a trooper, and he still carries a gun, and he still tells anyone who will listen that he will never work for that b*tch (me) because he has such anger and distain [sic] toward my family.
“So consistency is needed here. No one’s above the law. If the law needs to be changed to not allow access to guns for people threatening to kill someone, it must be applied to everyone.”
What Palin was unaware of at the time she wrote Monegan was that Alaska state troopers had already conducted an internal investigation into more than three-dozen complaints she and her family filed against her ex-brother-in-law. Wooten was suspended for five days. The contents of the investigation were sealed in Wooten’s personnel file until February 2008, when Wooten agreed to release his personnel files to his ex-wife’s attorney as part of a custody hearing.
That appears to be the time when officials in Palin’s office increased their efforts to get Wooten fired.
In early August 2008, Gov. Palin also released an audio recording of her director of state boards and commissions, Frank Bailey, pressing police Lt. Rodney Dial in February 2008 about why no action had been taken against Wooten.
Trooper a 'Fine Role Model'
Palin’s opinion of Wooten appears to have darkened only after his marriage to her sister failed in 2005.
When Palin was mayor of the small town of Wasilla, she had been a character reference for Wooten when the Air Force veteran was pursuing a career in law enforcement.
In a Jan. 1, 2000, letter of reference, Palin wrote that if “America had more people with the grace and sincerity that mirrors the character of Mike Wooten...we would have a much kinder, gentler, trustworthy nation as a result. …
have witnessed Mike’s gift of calm and kindness toward
many young kids here in Wasilla,” said Palin’s Jan. 1,
2000 letter written on City of Wasilla letterhead. “I have
never seen him raise his voice, nor lose patience nor become
aggitated [sic] in the presence of any child. Instead, Mike
consistently remains a fine role model for my own children,
and other young people in Wasilla.
"I believe the United States Air Force has been fortunate to have the services of Mike these past 10 years. His work ethic, his American patriotism, his obvious dedication to traditional values, and his strong faith in God and truth is witnessed in Mike's everyday living...I do not hesitate in praising this man."
Jason Leopold launched a new online investigative news magazine, The Public Record.