Trooper-Gate: Where Do We Go From Here?

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The Trooper-Gate report found that Sarah Palin violated a state ethics law and abused her power by pressuring subordinates in trying to get Mike Wooten fired. So what happens next?

In terms of official actions, maybe nothing, at least in the three weeks between now and November 4th.

If Palin were to be prosecuted for violating state law, the state attorney general would likely take the lead. But Attorney General Talis Colberg — who until Palin plucked him from obscurity to make him the state’s top lawyer was a Matanuska Valley assemblyman and private-practice lawyer — has been criticized for appearing to represent the governor’s interests in Trooper-Gate, rather than the public interest. So a prosecution led by the AG’s office seems unlikely.

Of course, the state personnel board is continuing its own probe of the affair, with which Palin has been cooperating. The board has the authority to impose fines or even recommend impeachment for violations of the ethics act. But the board’s members are appointed by the governor, calling into question its ability to draw independent conclusions.

Still, it has hired Timothy Petumenos — an aggressive Anchorage lawyer, and a Democrat — to investigate. Newsweek reports that Palin is scheduled to sit down with Petumenos next week, and his findings could be released soon after. “We took a gamble when we went to the ethics board,” a McCain aide told the magazine.

Before the report was released, the idea had been floated that the legislature could institute impeachment proceedings. But since Friday night, that possibility appears to have receded. According to a TPM source who attended Friday’s session of the legislative council, State Senate President Lyda Green, an outspoken Palin critic, replied with a flat ‘no’ when asked, after the report’s release, whether impeachment was being considered.

And Green told the Christian Science Monitor over the weekend that even a censure motion is unlikely, since the legislature is not currently in session.

Walt Monegan, whose firing as public safety commissioner was at the center of the affair, declined to say whether he was considering filing suit against the administration, when asked this morning on NBC’s The Today Show. But the report concluded that Palin was within her rights in firing him, since, as governor, she can fire any executive branch official for any reason.

So it may be that whatever impact Trooper-Gate has on the presidential race will be based on the findings released Friday. If nothing else, the fact that Palin was found by a legislative investigation to have broken a state ethics law will only further complicate the McCain campaign’s flagging effort to present her as reform-minded advocate for a more open, honest approach to governing.