TPM News

Since the announcement in late July that a bipartisan committee of the Alaska Legislature has hired an independent investigator to look into Trooper-Gate, Sarah Palin's office has consistently pledged to cooperate fully with the probe.

At first, that cooperation appeared to be forthcoming. Legislators announced in mid-August that they didn't expect to have to issue subpoenas, because the governor's office was being so amenable.

But it looks like all the happy talk is no longer operative. Judging from a report in The Anchorage Daily News today, Palin now appears to be pursuing a strategy of slow-rolling the probe.

Her lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, argued in a letter to the independent investigator Steve Branchflower that the case should not be even be handled by the legislature, but rather by the state personnel board -- whose members are appointed by the governor -- since it is "statutorily mandated" to handle ethics complaints. He also asked for all witness statements, documents and other materials collected in the course of the investigation. Perhaps most ominously, Van Flein wrote that the investigation is "bad timing", thanks to Palin's selection as John McCain's running mate, and that he couldn't guarantee that she'd be free to sit down for her deposition this month.

In a written response to Van Flein, Sen. Hollis French, the Democrat who heads the committee overseeing the probe, asserted that the legislature has its own power of investigation, and said that he has instructed Branchflower not to provide the requested documents. And French warned that if witnesses were not made available, he would issue subpoenas. Van Flein and French escalated their war of words in the ADN.

"Our concern is that Hollis French turns into Ken Starr and uses public money to pursue a political vendetta rather than truly pursue an honest inquiry into an alleged ethics issue," Van Flein told the paper.

In response, French asked: "How does he explain the unanimous vote (to pursue the investigation) by the Republican-dominated Legislative Council?"

Later, French added, "It's too bad the governor has stooped to hiring a name-calling lawyer. That doesn't seem very open and transparent does it?"

The investigation is focused on Palin's alleged involvement in an effort to fire a state trooper who had had been embroiled in a bitter dispute with Palin's family. The state's former public safety commissioner has asserted that he was fired for failing to fire the trooper.

The McCain camp today disputed rumors that presumptive vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin was ever registered with the secessionist Alaska Independence Party by releasing years of voter registration history . . . but it looks like that doesn't apply to her husband.

This afternoon, the director of Division of Elections in Alaska, Gail Fenumiai, told TPMmuckraker that Todd Palin registered in October 1995 to the Alaska Independence Party, a radical group that advocates for Alaskan secession from the United States.

Besides a short period of a few months in 2000 when he changed his registration to undeclared, Todd Palin remained a registered member of AIP until July 2002 when he registered again as an undeclared voter.

It looks like Sarah Palin's claim to represent a cleaner brand of politics could be about to take a bruising.

The Washington Post reports today that, while Mayor of Wasilla, Palin oversaw the hiring of a lobbyist, Steven Silver -- a former chief of staff to now-indicted GOP senator Ted Stevens -- to help win federal earmarks for the city.

But Silver appears to have additional ties that could further undercut Palin's image as a squeaky-clean reformer. According to Senate lobbying disclosure reports examined by TPMmuckraker, from 2002 to 2004 Silver listed as a client Jack Abramoff's lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig. On Greenberg's behalf, Silver lobbied the federal government on "issues relating to Indian/Native American policy," "exploration for oil and gas" and "legislation relating to gaming issues" -- the very issues that Abramoff headed up for Greenberg at the time. In other words, Silver appears to have been a part of "Team Abramoff."

Indeed, one specific bill that Silver lobbied on for Greenberg, according to the forms, was S.627, also known as the Internet Gambling Funding Prohibition Act. A former Greenberg lobbyist confirmed to TPMmuckraker that Silver would have been working to oppose the bill. And it was an earlier version of this very bill that Abramoff famously worked to spike, with the support of Christian conservative leaders Lou Sheldon and Ralph Reed.

There's additional evidence of ties between Silver and Abramoff. Emails released by a House committee in 2006 as part of a probe of Abramoff show the now-disgraced lobbyist scheduling a meeting with Silver in 2001.

Silver is a member of the Anchorage-based law firm of Robertson, Monacle, and Eastaugh, which the Post describes as having "close ties" to Stevens, and Alaska Congressman Don Young, who's under federal investigation for allegedly taking bribes. Since 2005, Silver has contributed $3500 each to Stevens and Young, according to campaign contributions records posted at

This is far from the first time that Abramoff's trail of corruption has led to Alaska. Last year, Mark Zachares, a former aide to Young, pleaded guilty to accepting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from Abramoff in return for using his position to advance Abramoff's goals.

Silver did not immediately return a call requesting comment.

From the AP:

The report says Gonzales failed to store the documents in proper secure facilities and at one point took them home. The report released Tuesday also says he stored them in his briefcase because he did not know the combination to the safe at his house.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine referred the security breach to the department's National Security Division. But the reports says prosecutors there declined to bring charges against Gonzales.

. . . Additionally, Gonzales kept some of the documents in a safe in his office that was accessed by several employees who "lacked the necessary security clearances for this information," the report concludes.

The secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court [FISC] which determines whether government wiretapping of terrorism suspects is constitutional, refuses to grant the public access to their decisions and deliberations. The court recently denied a request by the ACLU to access unclassified portions of FISC rulings, citing concerns that classified information could be compromised. The ACLU criticized the decision, arguing that "[t]he intelligence court should not be deciding important constitutional issues in secret judicial opinions issued after secret hearings at which only the government is permitted to appear." (ACLU)

Another senior official has left the Office of Special Counsel, whose leader, Scott Bloch, has been under investigation for destroying documents and retaliating against employees. Special Counsel chief of staff Jim Mitchell was reportedly fired without warning or explanation. The firing comes one month after the resignation of deputy special council Jim Byrne, who accused Bloch of putting "political agendas and personal vendettas" ahead of the office's mission. (NPR)

The Service Employees International Union is now being investigated by the U.S. Labor Department, for alleged misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in union funds. Three union leaders, including president Tyrone Freeman, have already stepped aside pending the investigation. A SEIU spokewoman said that the union was fully cooperating. (Los Angeles Times)

Read More →

MSNBC just reported that presumptive vice-presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has hired a lawyer in relation to the Trooper-Gate scandal.

Alaska State Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Hollis French told TPMmuckraker that Palin has hired Thomas Van Flein, an Anchorage attorney at the law firm of Clapp, Peterson, Van Flein, Tiemessen & Thorsness. French said that Van Flein has already been in contact with him, regarding the ongoing investigation of Palin.

Van Flein has represented the Alaska Dental Society and according to a cached version of his firm website, specializes in professional liability -- including licensing issues, commercial litigation, appellate practice, and employment law.

From the AP:

Anchorage attorney Thomas V. Van Flein has requested a copy of all witness statements and documentary evidence from the Legislature's investigator, Stephen Branchflower. Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat, says he instructed Branchflower not to comply with the request.

The presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has made her albeit-short public service career on ending corruption and turning the Alaskan political establishment on its ear.

Palin has been vocal about not being more of the same in Alaskan poltics. "[Experience is] not what Alaska needed," Palin has said. "The state needed new blood in there. A candidate with new energy and new ideas."

But it looks like Palin got her experience working as a director at the 527 group from the oldest of Alaskan politicians, embattled Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

From the Washington Post:

Palin's name is listed on 2003 incorporation papers of the "Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service, Inc.," a 527 group that could raise unlimited funds from corporate donors. The group was designed to serve as a political boot camp for Republican women in the state. She served as one of three directors until June 2005, when her name was replaced on state filings.

It looks like the special investigator in the Trooper-Gate case -- in which John McCain's surprise VP pick Sarah Palin stands accused of trying to fire a state trooper who had been embroiled in a bitter divorce proceeding with Palin's sister -- could soon uncover exactly what happened.

State Senator Hollis French, a Democrat and the chair of the bipartisan Senate committee overseeing the investigation, told TPMmuckraker that the independent investigator assigned to the case, Steve Branchflower, has contacted the Governor's office about having her deposed, and has received a response. French said that Palin's deposition would likely take place in the next few weeks and will almost certainly be under oath. "I think that's best," he said. French added that Branchflower does not expect to have to subpoena Palin, as her office has been cooperative thus far.

But that co-operation appears to have extended only so far. Her office has claimed executive privilege on emails requested by the state trooper's union in a separate civil suit*. But several Alaska lawmakers told TPMmuckraker Friday that those claims likely won't stand up, and that Branchflower should get access to the emails should he force the issue.

Palin had at first denied that her office was involved in the effort to have the trooper fired, but was forced to retract those denials when taped evidence emerged that a staffer in her office was involved.

French said he expected that Branchflower would play things pretty close to the vest with his probe, so we may not learn what he's found until he wraps things at the end of October -- just days before the election.

* This sentence has been clarified from an earlier version .

NATO's top commander in Afghanistan called for a joint investigation into a recent U.S. airstrike. The United States has maintained that only five civilians were killed in the attack, contradicting reports by Afghan officials, human rights groups, and the United Nations, which found "convincing evidence" that up to 90 civilians were killed. In Kabul, hundreds of protesters took to the streets to protest the killing of civilians. (Washington Post, Reuters)

Lawyers for Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick offered a plea deal, in which the indicted mayor would plead guilty to two felonies, make restitution, serve five years of probation, give up his law license, do 300 hours of community service and agree not to run for office for two years. In return, Kilpatrick would avoid serving time in prison. (AP)

The Republican judges handling Tom DeLay's corruption trial inappropriately delayed the resolution of the trial and interfered with the administration of justice, according to a justice on the 3rd Court of Appeals. Despite designating the trial as an accelerated case, the lower court took years to resolve pretrial proceedings. (Austin American-Statesman)

Read More →

It looks like there's even more muck than meets the eye in Trooper-Gate.

After the allegedly improper firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) appointed former Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp to the post.

Kopp served just two weeks this summer as the head of law enforcement in Alaska, resigning on July 25, after a past complaint of sexual harassment and a subsequent letter of reprimand surfaced in news reports.

But Palin made sure he had a soft fall from grace, giving him a $10,000 severance package for just two weeks served.

While Palin has conceded she was aware of the past complaint against Kopp, she claims that she thought the complaint had been unsubstantiated and was unaware of the letter of reprimand.