TPM News

There's a moment in a lot of political scandals when the contradictions and inconsistencies in the story being put out by the figure accused become so glaringly obvious that they themselves turn into an important part of the story. We may now have reached that point in Trooper-Gate -- especially as regards Sarah Palin's stated reasons for firing Walt Monegan.

A court filing made yesterday by Palin's lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, asserts that Palin fired Monegan as the state's public safety commissioner because of a series of instances of Monegan's insubordination on budget issues, including Monegan working with an Alaska legislator to seek funding for a project Governor Palin had already vetoed. This alleged pattern of "outright insubordination" is said to have culminated in Monegan planning a trip to Washington to go after federal funds for an initiative to fight sexual assault crimes, which had not yet been approved by the governor. (Van Flein's account was in sync with the line taken last night by a McCain campaign spokesman at a press conference in Alaska.)

The issue of Monegan's work on the sexual assault initiative doesn't come completely out of the blue. In a lengthy exploration of Palin's record on combating sexual assault crimes, ABC News reported yesterday that Monegan was the "chief proponent" for an "ambitious, multi-million dollar initiative to seriously tackle sex crimes in the state," and that Palin's office "put the plan on hold in July," just days before Monegan's firing.

But whatever the role of the sexual assault initiative in Monegan's departure from state government, this is by now the third substantive explanation given by Palin for that departure. And, to one degree or another, all those explanations contradict each other.

In this interview from July, Palin said she fired Monegan because she was dissatisfied with his performance on filling vacant trooper positions and on bootlegging and alcohol abuse issues.

Around the same time, she told The New Yorker, for a story published this week, that she hadn't actually fired Monegan, but rather had wanted to reassign him to combat alcohol abuse, and that he quit instead.

She said that one of her goals had been to combat alcohol abuse in rural Alaska, and she blamed Commissioner Monegan for failing to address the problem. That, she said, was a big reason that she'd let him go--only, by her account, she didn't fire him, exactly. Rather, she asked him to drop everything else and single-mindedly take on the state's drinking problem, as the director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. "It was a job that was open, commensurate in salary pretty much--ten thousand dollars less"--but, she added, Monegan hadn't wanted the job, so he left state service; he quit.

But the new line from the Palin camp is that Monegan was fired for his insubordination on budget issues, culminating in his effort to win federal money for the initiative to combat sexual assaults -- an explanation that neither Palin nor anyone around her had raised until now, two months after the firing.

That's by no means the only contradiction in Palin's story.

As we've explained before, Palin at first said no one in her office had exerted pressure to fire Mike Wooten -- the trooper who was embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Palin family. But after a tape surfaced of Palin-aide Frank Bailey raising the issue with a trooper official in a phone call, Palin backtracked and admitted that "pressure could have been perceived to exist," though she maintained that Bailey had been freelancing.

Similarly, she at first said that she had never contacted Monegan about Wooten except in the context of expressing concerns about the safety of her family. But recently, The Washington Post published emails sent by Palin to Monegan in which she expressed frustration that Wooten was still on the job.

And of course, Palin at first pledged total cooperation with the investigation. Now, through her lawyer, she refuses to testify, saying that the probe has been inappropriately politicized.

Update: According to TPMmuckraker's reporting, the initiative to combat sexual assault that Palin now claims she fired Monegan for trying to get federal money for, was designed to go after child sex abusers.

Since yesterday, the right-wing blogosphere has been all aflutter over a report in the New York Post, written by the Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri, that Barack Obama has privately tried to delay an agreement between the Iraqi government and the Bush administration on a draw-down of American forces from Iraq.

Here's the key passage:

According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.

"He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington," Zebari said in an interview.

Obama insisted that Congress should be involved in negotiations on the status of US troops - and that it was in the interests of both sides not to have an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in its "state of weakness and political confusion."

Yesterday evening, the McCain camp sought to get some mileage out of Taheri's report, releasing a statement from Randy Scheunemann, McCain's top foreign policy aide, asserting that: "If news reports are accurate, this is an egregious act of political interference by a presidential candidate seeking political advantage overseas."

But there are a couple reasons why the bloviation looks to be uncalled for. The Obama camp yesterday put out a statement of its own asserting that the story "bears as much resemblance to the truth as a McCain campaign commercial," and charging that Taheri has confused a long-term Status of Forces agreement with negotations over a shorter-term drawdown.

It's worth looking at that distinction more closely to get a sense of what the Obama camp means here and where Taheri may have erred. In terms of a Status of Forces agreement, Obama has consistently made clear that he believes any such agreement should be delayed until after the election -- so that a President Obama or McCain would not be bound by an agreement negotiated by a weakened Bush administration. The McCain camp did not object when, in June, Obama told reporters at a press conference that he had made exactly this argument to Zebari in a phone call.

The Obama campaign's statement released yesterday in response to the report was consistent with this position: "Barack Obama has consistently called for any Strategic Framework Agreement to be submitted to the U.S. Congress so that the American people have the same opportunity for review as the Iraqi Parliament," though, perhaps unwilling to alienate antiwar voters, it artfully omitted the fact that Obama has argued that this should be delayed until the next administration is in charge.

As for a shorter-term drawdown -- which is what Taheri seems to mean by "a draw-down of the American military presence" -- Obama has never suggested that this should be delayed. And again, yesterday's statement backs that up: "Unlike John McCain, he supports a clear timetable to redeploy our troops that has the support of the Iraqi government. Barack Obama has never urged a delay in negotiations, nor has he urged a delay in immediately beginning a responsible drawdown of our combat brigades."

Still, if Taheri's report were accurate, and Obama had indeed talked to Zebari about delaying any shorter-term deal, it would at least represent a change of position for the candidate.

But Taheri doesn't exactly have a reputation for care and precision in his work. In May 2006, he published an explosive story in the Post (since removed from the paper's site), as well as Canada's National Post, about an Iranian law that forced Jews to wear a yellow stripe, stoking fears of a second Nazi Germany. Only problem: it turned out to be a complete fabrication.

That turned out to be typical of Taheri's work. A 1989 review of Taheri's book, Nest of Spies: America's Journey to Disaster in Iran, written for The New Republic by noted Iranian scholar Shaul Bakhash and unearthed by TPMmuckraker in 2006, noted that Taheri "repeatedly refers us to books where the information cited does not exist," and is "capable of generalizations of breathtaking sweep and inaccuracy." According to Bakhash, "[Taheri's] interpretations of the documents are often egregiously inaccurate," and he "has trouble transcribing even the simplest information."

One Iraq scholar told TPMmuckraker after the false yellow-star report, referring to Taheri: "This is a person who doesn't have any credibility."

Doesn't exactly sound like a reliable source.

House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY), who is facing increasing criticism over his finances, met Monday night with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Rangel refused to comment on the meeting last night, but Pelosi insisted that it was focused on Monday's stock market plummet. Pelosi also claimed she did not ask Rangel to step down as House Ways and Means Chairman. (Politico)

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's former chief of staff turned down a plea deal Monday. The aide, Christine Beatty, is at the center of the Kilpatrick scandal due to their affair and the ensuing text messages. Beatty is charged with lying under oath about her relationship with Kilpatrick. Kwame Kilpatrick resigned as part of a plea deal earlier this month and will leave office Thursday. (New York Times)

Anchorage mayor and Sen. Ted Stevens challenger Mark Begich (D-AK) has run into trouble for omitting items on his state financial disclosure statement. The Alaska Public Offices Commission is considering a recommendation that Begich pay a $1,420 fine for the error. Alaska Republican Party spokesman McHugh Pierre filed a compliant to the commission earlier this summer. (Anchorage Daily News)

Read More →

Sarah Palin is unlikely to testify in the Trooper-Gate investigation, according to a spokesman for the McCain campaign.

Speaking at a press conference in Alaska last night, spokesman Ed O'Callaghan argued that the probe had become "tainted." Palin's lawyer, and Alaska GOP legislators, have pointed to public statements made by Sen. Hollis French, the Democrat overseeing the investigation -- including that it could provide an "October surprise" -- as inappropriately politicizing the probe.

Palin had initially pledged her cooperation with the probe. After lawmakers voted unanimously to investigate her firing of former public safety commissioner Walt Monegan, she said: "We have absolutely nothing to hide, and so certainly we would never prohibit or be less than enthusiastic about any kind of investigation. Let's deal with the facts and you do that via an investigation."

But in recent weeks, that cooperation has ground virtually to a halt. In early September, her lawyer asserted that Palin would not testify unless the investigation were transferred to the state personnel board, whose members are appointed by the governor.

French and Steve Branchflower, the indepedendent investigator, have ruled out subpoenaing Palin, but had still expressed the hope that she would testify voluntarily.

Todd Palin was subponaed Friday. O'Callaghan said he did not know whether Todd would challenge that subpoena, though in a letter sent last Thursday, the state attorney general's office appeared to lay the groundwork for such a challenge.

The McCain campaign -- now clearly running the show on Trooper-Gate damage control -- also trotted out a new line to explain Monegan's firing. It released emails suggesting that Monegan alienated the governor's office by seeking federal money to go after sexual assault cases, even though the governor hadn't agreed that the money should be sought.

Looks like the level of earmark bamboozlement coming from John McCain is even deeper than we'd known.

Speaking to reporters today, McCain defended his running mate, Sarah Palin, for lying about her opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere with the following claim, as reported by the Associated Press:

"The important thing is she's vetoed a half a billion dollars in earmark projects -- far, far in excess of her predecessor and she's given money back to the taxpayers and she's cut their taxes, so I'm happy with her record."

McCain had said a similar thing on ABC's The View Friday morning: "Earmark spending; which she vetoed half a billion dollars worth in the state of Alaska."

The notion that Palin "vetoed earmarks" has become a fully-fledged GOP talking point in recent weeks. Here, for instance, is Republican congressman Jeb Hensarling repeating the claim at a news conference 12 days ago.

But governors don't "veto" federal earmarks. As Palin's own gubernatorial spokesman, Bill McAllister, told TPMmuckraker: "She can choose not to submit the request, but once Congress makes them, they're there."

The provenance of McCain's half a billion figure appears to be related to this claim, which Palin made this morning during a speech in Colorado:
"Nearly half a billion of excessive spending in our state budget, that's what vetoes are for."

It's true, as the Boston Globe reported over the weekend, that as governor, Palin vetoed over $500 million in state legislative spending requests over two fiscal years.

But generic spending requests, which Palin rejected through the use of her line-item veto power as governor, aren't remotely the same thing as earmarks. As McAllister told us: "It's called line-items, generally. [Earmarks],that's not common parlance." And the money that Palin cut didn't come from the federal government, which is the starting point for the whole earmarks debate. So that $500 million figure has nothing to do with earmarks.

In other words, McCain has taken a statistic from one issue, and applied it to defend Palin's record on a different one -- under the assumption that the press won't look closely enough at the details to call him on it.

Ironically, an ad released almost two weeks ago by the RNC makes the necessary distinction between cutting spending through line-item vetoes, and cutting earmarks. It asserts that Palin "vetoed nearly half a billion dollars in wasteful spending and cut earmark requests by hundreds of millions of dollars." That latter claim refers to requests for pork made by the state to its congressional delegation, which did go down under Palin as compared to her predecessor as governor, Republican Frank Murkowski. But note that the half a billion dollar figure clearly refers not to the reduction in earmark requests, but rather to the cuts in spending.

And yesterday, Palin seemed to suggest that she was aware of that same distinction, remaining technically truthful, if misleading, by telling a crowd in Nevada: "We reformed the abuses of earmarks in our state. I vetoed nearly half a billion dollars of wasteful spending in looking at it as an executive responsibility."

But McCain hasn't been as scrupulous, either on The View or in talking to reporters today.

CBS News has already noted McCain's dissembling, after his appearance on The View. Will anyone else?

The McCain campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On the campaign trail, Sarah Palin likes to brag about how she put the Alaska state jet on eBay and fired the governor's personal chef. One item that doesn't appear in her stump speech, however, is the personal tanning bed Palin had installed in the governor's mansion.

This morning NarcoNews reported that that a tanning bed had been installed in the governor's official residence in 2007, sourcing a Department of Transportation employee familiar with renovations at the mansion. This evening, Politico's Ben Smith reported that Palin had paid for the tanning bed with her own money.

Now, Palin's own gubernatorial spokesman Bill McCallister has confirmed to TPMmuckraker that a tanning bed had been installed in the governor's official residence in 2007, and that it wasn't paid for with state funds.

"She paid for it herself," McCallister told TPMmuckraker. "It was surplus from a local athletic club."

The news of Palin's luxurious purchase -- beds can cost as much as $35,000 -- presents a sharp contrast to the blue-collar persona she projects on the campaign trail.

Former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, whose firing is at the center of Trooper-Gate, says the Sarah Palin lied in her interview with ABC when she told Charlie Gibson that she dismissed Monegan based on poor job performance and said she "never pressured him to hire or fire anybody."

"She's not telling the truth when she told ABC neither she nor her husband pressured me to fire Trooper Wooten," Monegan told, "And she's not telling the truth to the media about her reasons for firing me."

According to Monegan, he met with Todd Palin in December of 2006, just two months after Palin had been elected to office.


"I was called to her Anchorage formal Governor's office to talk with Todd Palin about an issue that was a private family matter," recounted Monegan. Todd became "upset," Monegan recalled, when told the allegations had already been investigated and the case would not be re-opened.

"When Sarah later called to tell me the same thing, I thought to myself, 'I may not be long for this job.'" But, Monegan said, he stood by his position. "I held the public trust. As Chief, I was responsible."

In a lengthy investigation into Sarah Palin's hiring practices as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska published yesterday, the New York Times reported in its lede:

[W]hen there was a vacancy at the top of the State Division of Agriculture, [Palin] appointed a high school classmate, Franci Havemeister, to the $95,000-a-year directorship. A former real estate agent, Ms. Havemeister cited her childhood love of cows as a qualification for running the roughly $2 million agency.
It's not just the Times that doesn't appear to think much of Havemeister's fitness for the job. Nick Carney, who ran the Division of Agriculture under Republican governor Jay Hammond -- and who later went on to help launch Palin's political career -- told TPMmuckraker that Palin's appointment of Havemeister was a "payoff" to a political supporter, that was "characteristic of how Sarah operates."

Carney described Havemeister, who he knows personally (Carney's daughter was a high-school classmate of Palin's and Havemeister's) as "a very nice gal," but added: "I don't believe that she really does have those kinds of skills," needed to run the agency.

It was Carney who first convinced Palin to run for city council in 1992 -- a fact confirmed by another source who was active in Wasilla politics during the period. A council member himself at the time, Carney told TPMmuckraker that he believed the council needed someone who represented non-business interests, which then dominated the council. But once Palin became mayor in 1996, the two fell out over a number of issues, including Carney's successful opposition to an effort by Palin to appoint to the city council two conservative supporters -- both of whom opposed recent council decisions to institute a sales tax and to start a police force.

Carney also shed some light on Palin's hiring of a city manager, John Cramer, to help her run Wasilla, a few months into her mayoralty. Though the hiring -- which Carney described as a first for the city -- added $50,000 to Wasilla's budget, Palin has defended the move in the past as necessary for the fast-growing exurb of Anchorage. Carney backed up that claim, but added that Palin's own shortcomings as an executive were also a factor in the council's support for the decision: Palin, he told TPMmuckraker, "had absolutely no management skills and couldn't manage the city on her own."

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) just keeps finding himself in more and more and more of a mess as his accounting is unraveled -- this time with the help of a forensic accounting expert that he's hired to look into his finances.

From the AP:

The accountant's report will not be reviewed by Rangel or his advisers before it is given to the committee "as quickly as possible," Davis said. The lawmaker also promised that once the report is complete, he will publicly release his tax returns for the past 20 years.

. . . As more questions have been raised about Rangel's records, his lawyers and accountants have uncovered new discrepancies in the personal financial disclosure documents that he files every year to Congress. Every lawmaker is required to file such paperwork disclosing major assets.

Among the new discrepancies:

  • Rangel's papers over the past 10 years show no reference to the sale of a home he once owned on Colorado Avenue in Washington.

  • The details of a property bought in Sunny Isles, Fla., are bewildering at best. The stated value changes significantly from year to year, and even page to page, from $50,000 to $100,000 all the way up to $500,000.

  • Some of the entries for investment funds fluctuate strangely, suggesting that the person either didn't have accurate information or didn't fill out the paperwork correctly.

Rangel spent the past week trying to answer questions about his ethics and his finances.

He acknowledged that he owes the Internal Revenue Service about $5,000 in back taxes for unreported income from the rental of his vacation villa, and probably a smaller amount to state and city tax collectors.

Late update: Roll Call fleshes out the story behind Rangel's condominium in Sunny Isles, FL. According to Florida land records and real estate listings, Rangel originally bought the home for $335,000 and sold it two years later for $405,000 -- a profit of $70,000. Neither purchase price, sale price, or the profit made were correctly listed in Rangel's financial disclosure forms.

The Justice Department proposed new FBI guidelines on Friday that would apply to national security and foreign intelligence threats. The guidelines, which would expand physical surveillance, have come under heavy criticism by the ACLU and some Democrats for possibly allowing for racial, ethnic, and religious targeting. FBI Director Robert Muller is set to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the guidelines on Wednesday. (AP)

Hunter Biden, son of Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), has quit federal lobbying. Hunter, who was at the lobbying firm Oldaker, Biden & Belair, announced that he was stepping down from the industry in a letter dated from August that was made public last Friday. Biden's firm primarily tried to get money for colleges and hospitals from appropriation bills. (AP)

The Air Force was criticized Friday by a Pentagon advisory group for poor management of the nuclear weapons arsenal. The panel, which recommended that the Air Force consolidate nuclear command, said that the poor handling has resulted in a deterioration of international confidence in the United States' protection ability. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Air Force is considering the panel's recommendation. (AP)

Read More →