TPM News

It's fair to say that Trooper-Gate hasn't exactly burnished Sarah Palin's reputation for honesty. And in a conference call she gave Saturday to respond to the legislature's report on the affair released Friday night, that reputation took another hit.

Palin opened her remarks by declaring:

I'm very very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing ... any hint of any kind of unethical activity there.
But of course, it's simply untrue that the report cleared Palin of legal wrongdoing or unethical activity.

Steve Branchflower did conclude that Palin was within her rights to fire Walt Monegan -- since, as governor, she can fire any executive branch official for any reason.

But he also concluded, just as definitively, that Palin pressured and intimidated subordinates in trying to force the firing of Mike Wooten. In doing so, Branchflower wrote, she violated a state ethics law which says that "any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action" is a violation of the public trust.

When an Anchorage Daily News reporter followed up by reminding the governor of this finding, she did not respond directly.

(Below is the audio from the call, preceded by some video footage from over the weekend of Palin calling the Trooper-Gate inquiry "a partisan kind of process.")

In the call, Palin also asserted that the inquiry "did turn into a partisan circus" -- perhaps forgetting that it had been launched through a unanimous vote of the bipartisan legislative council, and that the council voted unanimously again on Friday to release the report to the public.

And asked how she felt about having called Walt Monegan, a widely respected public servant, a "rogue", she replied: "'Rogue' isn't a negative term."

Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) really had a bad day Friday. Not only was she found to have abused her gubernatorial powers in a legislative report on the Trooper-Gate scandal, but she was also ordered by an Alaskan Superior Court judge to preserve her private emails until a lawsuit demanding the emails be made public is resolved. (Anchorage Daily News)

A Louisiana state senator pled guilty Friday to one charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Derrick Shepherd (D) gave a weepy apology for helping Gwendolyn Joseph Moyo launder $141,000 in checks. Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) who is also accused of unrelated bribery and racketeering, made an appearance in Shepherd's indictment as an unidentified co-conspirator. (AP)

Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) is taking heat for a tax payer financed trip he took to Alaska in 2004. Sununu claims he took the trip in order to attend a field hearing for the Senate Appropriations Committee, which he was not even a member of. While in Alaska, after attending the hearing, Sununu took the time to go on a fishing trip hosted by none other than Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK). (Nashua Telegraph)

Read More →

Aside from what it says about Sarah and Todd Palin, the Trooper-Gate report also appears to paint Mike Tibbles -- the governor's former chief of staff, who's now running Ted Stevens' Senate re-election campaign -- as shockingly incompetent. And that's the best case scenario for Sarah Palin.

To explain: Steve Branchflower writes on page 113 of the report that Walt Monegan told him about a conversation between Monegan and Tibbles, shortly after Palin was inaugurated as governor in January 2007. According to Monegan, Tibbles asked Monegan to consider hiring Chuck Kopp, formerly the police chief of Kenai, for a job in the public safety department.

As a result, said Monegan, he met with Kopp. When Monegan asked Kopp whether there was anything in Kopp's background that Monegan should be aware of before hiring him, Kopp revealed that, as Kenai police chief, he had been reprimanded over a sexual harassment allegation, though he maintained that it was bogus.

Monegan told Branchflower that the next day, he talked to Tibbles. "I disclosed what Chuck had told me," said Monegan. Tibbles responded that, in that case, they had "better steer clear from [Kopp] for a while."

But in a separate part of the report (page 43) that we noted earlier, Branchflower writes that in July 2008, Kopp was hired as public safety commissioner -- replacing Monegan -- after being interviewed for the job by two Palin aides for just 30 minutes, and without speaking directly to the governor about it at all.

Just two weeks later, Branchflower writes, Kopp resigned the post, when the sexual harrassment reprimand surfaced. Adds Branchflower: "Apparently, that was a fact that the governor's office did not know about when Mr. Kopp was offered the commissioner's job."

Indeed, at the time, the governor's office said publicly that at the time Kopp was hired, the governor knew of the allegation but understood it to be baseless, and was unaware of the letter of reprimand.

But the report suggests that Tibbles -- who, just four days before Kopp's hiring, was announced as Stevens' campaign manager -- did know about the reprimand, because Monegan had told him about it back in January 2007.

In other words, if Branchflower is correct, Tibbles failed to pass on to his colleagues in the governor's office his knowledge of Kopp's reprimand, setting them up to hire for a high-profile position a man with a significant black mark on his record.

It's also possible, of course, that Branchflower has erred in writing that the governor's office didn't know about Kopp's reprimand when it hired him. Perhaps Tibbles did pass along the information, but Palin and her aides, in their haste to find a replacement for Monegan, decided to overlook it and hire Kopp anyway, trusting that the issue would not resurface.

Tibbles did not immediately respond to a detailed request for comment.

So either Palin's chief of staff was jaw-droppingly incompetent, or she knowingly hired as the state's top law enforcement official a man who had been reprimanded for sexual harassment, then lied to the press about it. Neither alternative is flattering.

As we noted last night, the Trooper-Gate report found that Sarah Palin's claims that she feared Mike Wooten were unfounded. But the subject of Palin's alleged concern for her own and her family's safety deserves more attention.

The McCain-Palin campaign has argued that the Palins were acting merely to "protect their family" in going after Wooten.

But in the report, Branchflower disposes of that argument:

Assuming that Trooper Wooten was ever inclined to attack Governor Palin or a family member, logic dictates that getting him fired would accomplish nothing to eliminate the potential for harm to her or her family. On the contrary, it might just precipitate some retaliatory conduct on his part. Causing Wooten to loose (sic) his job would not have de-escalated the situation, or provided her or her family with greater security.

Here's some evidence from the Trooper-Gate report about just how eager Sarah Palin was to get rid of Walt Monegan as public safety commissioner.

Steve Branchflower found that Palin never interviewed Monegan's replacement, the appropriately named Chuck Kopp, for the job of top law enforcement officer in the state. Rather, she left the task to deputies, who conducted just one 30-minute interview.

Writes Branchflower: "Governor Palin did not speak to Mr. Kopp before he was appointed to his new job."

And as we already knew, Kopp served just two weeks in the job, before resigning after news reports surfaced showing that he had been reprimanded in connection with a past sexual harassment complaint.

Of course, the report found that Palin was within her rights to fire Monegan, since, as a legal matter, the governor can fire state officials for any reason, or none at all.

But that doesn't mean that, as a question of governance, it wasn't a rash, poorly thought-out move, done for reasons of personal pique rather than a concern for the public interest.

Here's a funny note from the report that brings home the depths of Sarah Palin's antipathy toward Mike Wooten:

Shortly before the annual celebration of Police Memorial Day on May 15, 2008, Commissioner Monegan had dropped off a color photograph at Governor Palin's Anchorage office with a request that she sign and present it at the ceremony. The photograph was of an Alaska State Trooper who was dressed in a formal uniform, saluting. He was standing in front of the police memorial located in front of the crime lab at AST headquarters in Anchorage, partially obscured by a flagpole. The picture to be signed by the Governor was to be used as a poster to be displayed in various Trooper Detachments around the state.

Shortly after he returned to his office from dropping off the photograph, he received a call from Kris Perry, Governor Palin's Director of her Anchorage office who asked [according to Walt Monegan's testimony] "Why did you send a poster over here that has a picture of Mike Wooten on it?" Until that moment, Commissioner Monegan never realized it was indeed a photograph of Trooper Wooten. Governor Palin cancelled her appearance and sent Lieutenant Governor Parnell in her place.

Monegan's eventual replacement as Public Safety Commissioner, Charles Kopp, testified that Palin aide Frank Bailey later called him and told him the administration was thinking about replacing Monegan as commissioner. When Kopp asked why, Bailey cited the incident with the Wooten photograph as one reason, among several, for the governor's displeasure with Monegan.

Walt Monegan told Steve Branchflower about what he was thinking directly after a meeting with Todd Palin, in which the "First Gentleman" had given him a stack of files about Mike Wooten's record, and had asked Monegan to look into whether Wooten had been appropriately disciplined:

Well, on the drive back as i was reflecting on the meeting -- drive back to the office, I was thinking that in essence they certainly didn't like the idea that Wooten was still employed. And they wanted severe discipline, probably termination, and that -- and if this was going to build, I had this kind of ominous feeling that I may not be long for this job if I -- if I didn't somehow respond accordingly.

The Trooper-Gate report provides an answer to something we were asking ourselves earlier this week.

It was announced, just days before Steve Branchflower was scheduled to wrap things up, that several top Palin aides would reverse course and honor subpoenas issued in the investigation, after resisting them for weeks. But would Branchflower, we wondered, have enough time to depose those key witnesses and include their testimony in his report?

The answer: no.

Branchflower writes:

On October 6, 2008 Attorney General Talis Coberg announced that some of the ... employees have decided they wish to honor their subpoenas and provide information about this case to the Legislative Council. Given that last minute decision, and in view of the publication date of October 10, 2008 for this report, it has not been possible to inculde any such information herein. It is anticipated that the additional information will be submitted to the Legislative Council in a separate report prepared by the employees and/or the Attorney General.
It's impossible to know what additional information these witnesses would have provided Branchflower. And he made clear that, even without them, he had enough information to draw firm conclusions.

Still, it's certainly plausible that with input from Palin's top lieutenants about the pressure they may have been under to pursue the Wooten matter, the report would have been even more damning.

In that limited regard, the Palin camp's stonewalling appears to have worked.

From the start, the McCain-Palin camp's major strategy in defending Sarah Palin on Trooper-Gate has been to argue that the investigation is a partisan witch-hunt run by supporters of Barack Obama, designed to inflict maximum political damage on the governor.

But most partisan witch-hunts don't end up spending only 75 percent of their allotted budget.

Sen. Hollis French, who was overseeing the probe, told the Anchorage Daily News last night that the investigation ended up costing only $75,000. When legislators voted to launch it in July, they had authorized spending up to $100,000.

The paper reports that Steve Branchflower, the investigator, will be paid $45,000, and the additional $30,000 went to "expenses such as copying, court reporting and transcribing, and managing computer files."

Of course, the fact that the report's release date was moved up by three weeks, to ensure it didn't appear on the eve of the election, may have been one reason why it came in under budget.

Still, Branchflower left $25,000 on the table. That's not exactly the move of 21st-century Ken Starr, a comparison made by Palin's lawyer.

Here's a key excerpt from the Trooper-Gate report about the nature of Sarah Palin's abuse of power, in regard to her failure to rein in her husband's efforts to pressure state employees to fire Mike Wooten:

[Sarah Palin] had the authority and power to require Mr. Palin to cease contacting subordinates, but she failed to act.

Such impermissible and repeated contacts create conflicts of interests for subordinate employees, who must choose to either please a superior or run the risk of facing that superior's displeasure and the possible consequences of such displeasure. This was one of the very reasons the Ethics Act was promulgated by the Legislature.