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.