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The key finding of the new Trooper-Gate report is that the earlier report, conducted by the state legislature, erred in finding that Sarah Palin broke state ethics laws by pressuring subordinates to fire Mike Wooten.

The new report finds that:

The Branchflower Report ... states that violation of the scope of code provision may be based on the governor's inaction as opposed to the governor's affirmative acts.


But ... the Ethics Act does not require a person subject to its provisions to police the behavior of third parties who are not subject to its provisions. To find that the Governor violated the Ethics Act by failing to control her husband's behavior would require one to add language to the Ethics Act that does not exist.

In other words, Sarah Palin can't be held legally responsible for Todd Palin's actions.

It bears repeating: this was a report that Palin herself initiated, so, despite some other breathless reporting in the press, it's no surprise that it exonerates her. The only independent report into the matter found that she broke state ethics laws.

The Alaska State Personnel Board's Trooper-Gate report has been released, and it clears Sarah Palin of any wrong-doing.

CNN reports:

"There is no probable cause to believe that the governor, or any other state official, violated the Alaska Executive Ethics Act in connection with these matters," Timothy Petumenos, the Anchorage lawyer hired to conduct the probe, wrote in his final report.

Of course, this was an investigation that Palin herself initiated, by filing an ethics complaint against herself. The three members of the Personnel Board are appointed by Palin, and she cooperated with the investigation.

By contrast, the only independent investigation into the matter -- which was conducted by the state legislature and with which Palin did not cooperate -- found that Palin had violated state ethics laws by pressuring subordinates to fire Mike Wooten, a trooper with whom she was embroiled in a family dispute.

The report's "Summary of Public Findings and Recommendations" follows after the jump...

Read More →

The Alaska State Personnel Board will release its report into Trooper-Gate tonight, reports the Associated Press.

From the AP:

Timothy Petumenos, an independent investigator hired by the Alaska Personnel Board, says he will release the report during a news conference 7:30 p.m. EST Monday.

A separate legislative panel earlier found that Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, abused her office by allowing her husband and other staffers to pressure the public safety commissioner to fire a state trooper who went through a nasty divorce from Palin's sister. She fired the commissioner, but denies it had anything to do with the trooper.

Specters of the 2000 election have risen in Florida, with Democrats and Republicans engaging in legal wrangling just days before Election Day.

Last week, the Florida Democratic Party joined a suit against Republicans, asking a judge to clearly define what constitutes a challenge to a voter, in anticipation of problems tomorrow.

The suit makes multiple allegations, including claims that the GOP tried to ''cage'' a Duval County voter, and that a Republican sheriff's candidate challenged approximately 300 voters. Democrats also accused Republicans of planning a ''lose your home, lose your vote'' challenge, similar to the threats allegedly made by a GOP county leader in Michigan. "Caging" refers to the practice of sending mail -- marked "Do Not Forward" -- to voters to see who has moved and prompt removal from the rolls.

But today, with just hours until polls open in the state, the two parties have reached an agreement -- putting the lawsuit on hold in exchange for a promise from state Republicans to not engage in "frivolous mass voter challenges."

From the Fort Mills Times:

That came after the GOP filed sworn statements Monday saying the state and national Republican parties "have not and will not" engage in frivolous mass voter challenges.

Circuit Judge Kevin Davey, though, will remain on standby Tuesday in case Democrats present evidence that Republicans have broken their promise.

It's still not clear what this means for Florida Democrats, since it seems to hinge on a court's definition of "frivolous."

Here's a possible last-minute effort by the McCain camp to throw a wrench into the vote counting in a key swing state.

The Associated Press reports:

John McCain's campaign sued Virginia's electoral board today, hours before the election, seeking to force the state to count late-arriving overseas military ballots.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to order the State Board of Elections to count any overseas absentee ballots sent by November 4 and received by local election officials as late as November 14.

McCain claims the rights of military voters are protected by the federal Uniform and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Rights Act of 1986.

The campaign's complaint says that Virginia military voters posted overseas who support the Republican nominee will be denied their right to vote unless the court grants the order.

The report adds that no hearing was scheduled by this afternoon.

Under normal procedures, military ballots would likely only be counted if their number exceeded the total margin of victory of one candidate, meaning they could affect the result. So the suit may be designed to ensure that Virginia can't be officially called for Obama early in the evening, which could depress Republican turnout in other parts of the country.

Late Update: Rick Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, tells TPMmuckraker that the suit is likely an effort to ensure that military ballots that arrived after election day -- which will likely favor McCain -- will be counted. That was an issue during the Florida recount of 2000, in which the courts ultimately ruled that such ballots could be counted. (Hasen cautioned that he hadn't yet had a chance to look closely at the suit.)

And on his blog, he asks a good question: "Why did this suit have to wait until the eve of the election?"

Is the Republican National Committee, too, turning to private investigators to help make it harder to vote in New Mexico?

David O'Niell, a P.I in the state, has told the New Mexico Independent that he was contacted by Todd Stefan of SETEC investigations, who told O'Niell he was recruiting P.I.s to advise poll challengers on election day, and was working on behalf of the Republican National Committee.

Stefan declined to confirm to the Independent that he was working for the RNC, but said: "I was told to see if there were some individuals, people with investigative experience, IT [information technology] experience... to advise attorneys and make sure that everything goes smoothly."

Voting- and civil-rights groups last week filed suit against the New Mexico GOP and Pat Rogers, a lawyer associated with the party, after the Independent and TPMmuckraker reported that Rogers had hired a private investigator who questioned several Hispanics in Albuquerque about their right to vote.

No evidence has yet emerged tying the national GOP to that alleged scheme.

In Wisconsin, the Republican Attorney General has called for law enforcement agents to serve as poll-watchers.

Looks like the clock has run out for Wisconsin's Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who won't file an appeal to his lawsuit tossed out by a judge late last month.

Van Hollen, a Republican and co-chair of the McCain campaign in Wisconsin, filed the lawsuit in an attempt to force the state's non-partisan General Accountability Board to re-confirm thousands of voter registrations.

From the AP:

The lawsuit demanded state election officials verify the identity of tens of thousands of voters registered since Jan. 1, 2006, and do it by Election Day Tuesday.

. . . Justice Department officials said that day they planned to appeal, but spokesman Bill Cosh said Monday the agency realizes there's no chance of relief before the election.

A hearing is scheduled for this afternoon in the suit filed last week by MALDEF against New Mexico GOP lawyer Pat Rogers. The suit, triggered by reporting from TPMmuckraker and others, alleges that Rogers hired a private investigator, Al Romero, to intimidate Hispanics in Albuquerque about their right to vote. Romero is also named as a defendant.

MALDEF, which is bringing the suit on behalf of two of the voters in question, wants an injunction blocking Rogers from conducting further alleged intimidation of the plaintiffs, and from challenging the plaintiffs' right to vote.

The hearing will occur at 3pm EST today, before U.S. District Court Judge Martha Vázquez in Albuquerque. We'll keep you posted on what happens.

And it gets better. . . she lied so she could attend a horse race.

From Roll Call:

The juror who was dismissed from the criminal trial of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to attend the funeral of her father in California admitted Monday that her father had not died, and that she went to California to attend a horse race.

We'll have more on this as it develops.

Late update. . . 12:55 pm: Roll Call expands on the story coming out of the hearing today. The juror, who had been replaced by an alternate, appeared "disheveled and confused" and held a "thick stack of dog-eared papers" when she appeared before judge Emmet Sullivan this morning, telling him that she had purchased tickets to the horse race in the spring:

Hinnant then began to tell a convoluted story about criminal activity in the horse racing industry, alleging that her phone had been tapped and that someone she once worked with in the industry was involved in crime and drugs.

The judge attempted to dismiss her, but Hinnant continued to tell her tale, ultimately asking the judge, "Can I have a case of my own?"

Sullivan suggested that she take that up with the federal public defender, whom he had appointed to represent her at today's hearing.

Sullivan told her that he was simply concerned for her well-being, and that seeing that she was fine, he was satisfied that she would not have been able to complete deliberations with the rest of the jury. He did not suggest any sanction for her actions.

After Hinnant left the courtroom, Sullivan told the attorneys in Stevens' case that he had dismissed her because she was unable to continue to serve on the jury, and "what you heard today just reinforces the correctness of the court's decision."

Robert Cary, one of Stevens' lawyers, said "we don't necessarily agree with the court's findings," and the judge invited both sides to file briefs on the issue.

It looks like last week's leak of information about the immigration status of Barack Obama's aunt might be even more despicable than we'd thought.

The Associated Press reported Saturday morning that an application for asylum made by Obama's aunt, Zeituni Onyango, was rejected four years ago by an immigration judge. It sourced the information to a federal law enforcement official, and another source in a position to know.

We added later that day that the leak -- which is now being probed by government investigators -- appears to clearly violate government regulations, as laid out in a memo written by a US Customs and Immigration Services official.

But the memo also contains one important reason why there's such a strong prohibition against disclosing asylum applications. It reads:

These regulations safeguard information that, if disclosed publicly, could subject the claimant to retaliatory measures by government authorities or non-state actors in the event that the claimant is repatriated, or endanger the security of the claimant's family members who may still be residing in the country of origin. Moreover, public disclosure might, albeit in rare circumstances, give rise to a plausible protection claim where one would not otherwise exist by bringing an otherwise ineligible claimant to the attention of the government authority or non-state actor against which the claimant has made allegations of mistreatment.

In other words, the leak could well increase the chances that Onyango could be persecuted -- maybe even tortured -- for seeking asylum in the U.S. if she is ultimately deported to Kenya. Or that her family members could be similarly mistreated, whether or not she's deported. And thanks to that very danger, the leak could even bolster Onyango's asylum claim.

Immigration experts confirmed to TPMmuckraker that this reading was accurate.

Matthew Hoppock, an immigration lawyer in Kansas City who focuses on asylum cases, noted the regulations in an email to TPMmuckraker, and argued that the leak has "made it more likely that if Ms. Onyango is removed to her home country, she will face persecution for having sought asylum in the United States."

Dan Kowalski, an immigration law expert and the editor of the the online newsletter, Bender's Immigration Bulletin, agreed. In an email to TPMmuckraker, he added that the leak is sufficiently serious that, because of it, Onyango now "has a good shot at reopening her case."

We'll keep you posted on the progress of the investigation into the source of the leak.