As the flurry of news breaks over the Trooper-Gate investigation slows, at least for the time being, it’s worth making a point that may have gotten lost in the shuffle:
The McCain-Palin camp appears to have been successful in its all-out effort to stifle the probe at any cost.
By preventing Steve Branchflower, the independent investigator in the case, from speaking with many of the key witnesses — including Sarah and Todd Palin, and several of the governor’s top aides — the McCain campaign has severely limited the amount of information the investigation will have access to.
In the view of the Associated Press: “Although the Legislature’s investigator still plans to issue a report in October, the probe is effectively killed until January, when Sarah Palin will either be vice president or return to the governor’s mansion in Juneau.”
That assessment may turn out to go too far. Branchflower has succeeded in questioning several of the witnesses, including Walt Monegan, the former public safety commissioner whose firing is at the center of the case, and John Bitney, formerly a top Palin aide. Branchflower also has access to the cell phone records of Frank Bailey, the Palin aide who earlier this year was recorded pressuring a trooper official about Mike Wooten. So it’s possible that his report, even lacking input from crucial players, may yet prove damaging.
Palin may also pay a political price for her abrupt shift from pledging co-operation to out-and-out stonewalling. Over the weekend, the LA Times reported that Palin’s “political capital at home is eroding,” as a result of the hardball tactics used to stop the probe — a subject we got into on Friday. If nothing else, her stonewalling — along with the slew of reports about Palin’s checkered record on seeking federal earmarks — has significantly complicated the McCain-Palin campaign’s effort to present her as a reformer who will help bring a more accountable form of government to Washington.
Still, it’s hard not to conclude, at least for now, that the McCain camp has used its muscle to significantly limit the damage that Trooper-Gate could do to Palin. Which doesn’t exactly bode well when it comes to the approach a McCain White House might take on issues of openness and transparency.