TPM News

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.

An Alaskan road that would have connected the small Gravina Island to the infamous and non-existent Bridge to Nowhere has been opened. The road, built with $25 million in federal tax dollars, was pushed by Gov. Sarah Palin's (R-AK) administration despite sizable opposition. Palin has highlighted her supposed opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere on the campaign trail for the vice presidency. (AP, Pro Publica)

Vice President Dick Cheney was ordered by a federal judge Saturday to preserve records of his time in office. Lawyers for the Bush administration had attempted to curtail Cheney's responsibilities under the Presidential Records Act, arguing in part that Cheney is not covered by the law as he is not in the executive branch. The decision follows a suit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. (AP)

Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK) federal corruption trial begins this week with jury selection starting today. On Friday, Stevens said that he plans on testifying at his trial if his lawyers approve. Stevens also has a busy week ahead of him in Congress where he will have to defend his roughly $215 million in earmarks in the new defense bill. (Anchorage Daily News)

Read More →

Despite Republican stonewalling, the Alaska legislature will release its report on Trooper-Gate on time, Sen. Hollis French, the Democrat overseeing the investigation, said today. The report is scheduled to be completed October 10th.

None of the subpoenaed witnesses showed up to testify at a legislative hearing today. The McCain-Palin campaign, which has challenged the legitimacy of the investigation, had been actively working to ensure that the witnesses did not testify.

Steven Branchflower, the independent investigator conducting the probe, has already spoken with several witnesses. But it remains to be seen whether his report will be able to reach any definite conclusions without access to testimony by key players like the Palins and several top gubernatorial aides.

Over the last eight years, the Bush administration's approach to governing has been characterized by a reflexive penchant for secrecy, a willingness to stonewall legitimate investigations, and an aggressive media relations strategy, which sees the press as just another interest group, rather than as playing an important public function.

In recent days, the McCain-Palin campaign has doubled down on that same governing style in shutting down the Trooper-Gate investigation.

When Trooper-Gate first broke, Palin pledged full cooperation. But in the last week, the McCain-Palin campaign has brought in a high-powered ex-federal prosecutor and a team of communications experts to all but shut down the probe.

Essentially co-opting the office of state Attorney General, and working closely with Palin's own lawyer, the GOP operatives -- led by Ed O'Callaghan, a former terrorism prosecutor with the US Attorney's office in New York, and Megan Stapleton, a GOP operative who had worked on Palin's 2006 campaign for governor -- have ensured that many of the key witnesses subpoened in the case, including the Palins themselves, have refused to testify. (No witnesses showed up to a committee hearing today.) At daily press conferences, they've disparaged a respected former public employee, Walt Monegan, offering an entirely new line on why Palin fired him. They've made flatly false statements designed to paint the Democratic legislator overseeing the probe, Hollis French, as having overstepped his authority and as running a partisan witch-hunt. And they've aggressively challenged reporting that they've perceived as unfavorable -- in one case, as we reported yesterday, by phoning a reporter at home to complain about an accurate story.

There's little question that despite -- or perhaps because of -- these efforts, the tone of the Trooper-Gate coverage has grown noticeably more negative in the last few days. And Alaska-based commentators and bloggers have reacted with fury in recent days to the McCain-Palin camp's tactics.

In an unusually pointed editorial published yesterday, the state's most prominent newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News concluded: "Palin and McCain are trying to ignite a partisan firestorm that wipes out the Troopergate investigation until after the election."

And in an opinion piece published Tuesday in the same paper, conservative radio host Dan Fagan -- a frequent Palin critic -- referred to Palin's "transparent delay tactics," and argued that "Americans deserve to know what Palin is trying to hide before we vote her a heartbeat away from the leader of the free world."

Bloggers have been even more critical. One at Alaska Report, a liberal site that has tracked corruption in Alaska state government, wrote yesterday: "National political assassins have invaded Alaska. They were visible and in full force at the McCain-Palin press conference yesterday. Alaskans don't roll that way."

And another at Mudflats -- tagline: "Tiptoeing through the muck of Alaskan politics" -- added: "The damage that this stonewalling has had on Sarah Palin's 'image,' that the out-of-state lawyers and the McCain campaign were trying so fervently to craft, has yet to be measured."

There may be signs that the angry reaction to the GOP tactics has spread beyond opinion writers. Matt Zensey, the ADN's editorial page editor, told TPMmuckraker that letters to the editor had been running at somewhere between 60 and 66 percent anti-Palin in recent days.

"We are not alone among those who are taken aback" by Palin's abrupt transformation from a being an advocate of openness and accountability to stone-walling the investigation at every turn, said Zensey. "People are noticing the disconnect."

Zensey said that the take-no-prisoners tactics of the McCain-Palin PR team are not in keeping with Alaska's tradition of civil political discourse. "The 11-minute tirade that Megan Stapleton launched against Walt Monegan is something that was unfamiliar to a lot of Alaskans."

Zensey added: "The politics of personal destruction have come to Alaska."

Still, what ultimately matters is whether the dissatisfaction with Palin's about-face on Trooper-Gate filters into the broader narrative of the presidential campaign. Already, though, Democrats may being taking comfort in the fact that, in recent days, her national approval ratings appear to have slipped noticeably.

In reaction to recent claims that the GOP is attempting to block voters in Michigan whose homes have been foreclosed on, one of the state's representatives is speaking out and demanding action from Republicans.

Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called on Sen. John McCain to "step forward now and halt the Republican Party's efforts to profit politically from the economic misery of others."

"The Republican Party has had a long record of blocking eligible voters from voting," Conyers wrote. "In the past two Presidential elections, the country witnessed appalling efforts to limit voter participation in Ohio, Florida and throughout the country. It is beyond disgraceful that the Republican Party now seems to be targeting those who are suffering the most. . . It should surprise no one that the people who gave us the worst economy since the Great Depression would now want to prevent those victimized by this economy from voting in the coming elections."

Separately, Conyers and 22 of his Democratic colleagues in the House, also joined Senate Democrats, who earlier this week demanded an investigation from the DOJ into what has become known as the "lose your house, lose your vote," after the title of the article in the Michigan Messenger which sparked awareness of the GOPs plan to challenge voters registered at addresses on foreclosure lists.

In his recent New Yorker story, Philip Gourevitch noted that even as Sarah Palin was arguing to him that she had fired Walt Monegan for other reasons, "she seemed to be saying something else--that her vendetta against Wooten was wholly justified."

And watching Palin's recent interview with Sean Hannity, we got the same impression.

Palin told Hannity: "This trooper tasered my nephew...that's all on the record. It's all there. His threats against the first family, the threat against my dad. All that is in the record. And if the opposition researchers chooses to forget that side of the story, they're not doing their job."

Sounds like she still feels she had a legitimate beef.

Former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), isn't expected to be charged for sending lascivious emails and instant messages to underage Congressional pages, two federal officials told the AP. Foley resigned in 2006 shortly after exposed a series of messages to pages and has been under investigation by the FBI as well as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Since resigning, Foley has gone to a treatment for alcoholism and come out as being gay, also claiming he was molested as a child by a priest. An official announcement regarding Foley's investigation is expected today. (AP)

"Alaska's Congressman," 35-year incumbent Rep. Don Young, has narrowly eked out victory in his GOP primary race against Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell. The race came down to only a 304-vote margin of victory. Parnell declined a recount and conceded the race on Thursday. Young now faces a former Alaska state representative Ethan Berkowitz in the general election. With federal investigations dogging Young, Berkowitz is heavily favored to win, leading the polls by double digits. (The Hill)

Indicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) has been okayed to start a legal expense fund to help pay for his defense in his corruption trial set to begin next week. Stevens' lawyers have filed dozens of motions in the weeks since the veteran senator's indictment including requests for the medical records from the prosecution's star witness, Bill Allen. Yesterday, a judge ruled that Stevens' defense can probe the mental health of Allen and ordered the government to hand over records to Stevens'. (CQ Politics, AP)

Read More →

Todd Palin, who was subpoenaed just last week in the Trooper-Gate investigation, has said he will not testify.

From the AP:

Todd Palin, who participates in state business in person or by e-mail, was among 13 people subpoenaed by the Alaska Legislature. McCain-Palin presidential campaign spokesman Ed O'Callaghan announced today that Todd Palin would not appear, because he no longer believes the Legislature's investigation is legitimate.

Earlier this week, Talis Colberg, the Alaska attorney general wrote a letter to state legislators, informing them that the state employees who were subpoenaed in the investigation would not be testifying.

Initially, Gov. Sarah Palin promised full cooperation in the investigation, but has been increasingly opposed to the probe since she was named as the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

Late update: Todd Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Flein, sent a letter yesterday to Trooper-Gate investigator Stephen Branchflower, informing him that his client would not be cooperating with the subpoena. The letter can be seen here.

Here's a little more evidence that the McCain-Palin campaign is playing the hardest of hardball on Trooper-Gate -- especially in regard to press relations.

Jason Moore, a reporter with Anchorage-based KTUU-TV, just confirmed to TPMmuckraker that Megan Stapleton, a spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign in Alaska, called his home to complain about one of Moore's news reports, and accused Moore of calling Stapleton and another McCain staffer liars.

Moore's report looked at the McCain-Palin campaign's "Truth Squad," an aggressive Alaska-based public relations campaign that's being led by Stapleton and former federal prosecutor Ed O'Callaghan and is designed to help thwart the Trooper-Gate investigation.

Moore reported that the Truth Squad was not always entirely truthful itself. He noted that Stapleton had said in a Friday press conference that it was Hollis French, the Democrat overseeing the investigation, who had pulled one name, that of former Palin chief of staff Mike Tibbles, off the list of witnesses to receive subpoenas. Stapleton had pointed to this as an inappropriate political maneuver by French.

But in fact, Moore reported, it was GOP Rep. Jay Ramras, a McCain supporter, who took Tibbles' name off the list. Moore quoted Ramras saying so.

Stapleton and O'Callaghan have another "Truth Squad" press conference scheduled for 7pm EST tonight.

Moore told TPMmuckraker that he and Stapleton -- who was a press aide to Palin before eventually moving over to the McCain campaign -- used to work together as co-anchors on KTUU. "We're friends," he said.

When Stapleton called his home, said Moore, she reached Moore's wife, and immediately told her: "Your husband just called two Hoyas liars." Stapleton, O'Callaghan, and Moore's wife all attended Georgetown University, whose mascot is the Hoyas.

Moore added that Stapleton had also called the news director of KTUU to complain.

Asked whether he and Stapleton really remained friends, Moore allowed: "It hasn't been too friendly this week."

It looks like Congress has stepped into the fray of the Wall Street crisis.

In letters to Lehman Brothers and AIG sent today, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chair of the House Oversight Committee, requested the communications from the last 180 days of the CEOs and board of directors at the two companies. He also requested information about how the CEOS and board members would be compensated following the bankruptcy and government bailout of the two firms.

Additionally, a tipline has been set up to assist Congress with their "investigation into the collapse of Lehman Brothers and AIG."