Trooper-Gate’s Attorney-General Problem

September 17, 2008 6:37 p.m.

Earlier today, we learned that Talis Colberg, Alaska’s Attorney General, is the latest figure to lend support to the GOP effort to stymie the Trooper-Gate investigation. Colberg sent a letter to Sen. Hollis French, who’s overseeing the investigation, asserting that the state employees who have been subpoenaed to testify in the probe won’t honor those subpoenas.

So it’s worth stressing a point that might be getting lost in the flurry of moves and counter-moves: Colberg is no independent player in this case. In fact, he’s a Palin appointee, who was personally involved in the effort to pressure Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan to terminate Trooper Mike Wooten, and who has already led an investigation into the matter at Palin’s behest.

When the legislature announced that it would hire an independent investigator, Stephen Branchflower, to look into charges that the governor had wrongfully terminated Monegan, Palin revealed that she had already requested that Colberg conduct his own parallel investigation. Colberg had begun gathering documents and evidence in late July, weeks before Branchflower had even begun his probe.

At the time, legislators raised questions about Colberg’s involvement and the possibility of witness tampering.

“I think it is harmful to the credibility of the administration, harmful to the process and harmful to all the parties involved,” Rep. Jay Ramras, the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee told the Anchorage Daily News. “It’s just the worst possible thing to be doing.”

As a result of new information uncovered by Colberg’s investigation, Palin held a press-conference in mid-August and admitted that one of her staffers, Frank Bailey, had been tape recorded making a call to a state trooper’s office, requesting the removal of Wooten.

And crucially, she also admitted that Colberg himself — as well as Todd Palin — had called Monegan and talked to him about Wooten. Thanks to these calls, Palin acknowledged, Monegan might have felt pressure to fire Wooten. Palin had previously denied that either she or her staffers had ever pressured officials to fire Wooten.

For a time, it appeared that Colberg had distanced himself from the investigation as a result of this conflict of interest. When Palin hired Thomas Van Flein to represent her in the case, Van Flein cited Colberg’s call to Monegan as a reason why Colberg himself could not represent Palin. “The Department of Law had a potential conflict of interest, because Mr. Colberg, Attorney General Colberg, made contact with Mr. Monegan about Trooper Wooten,” Van Flein said at the time. “That would make him a potential witness, and thus there’s a potential conflict.”

Last week, Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Barnhill — not Colberg — authored a letter threatening to quash subpoenas if they were issued by the state legislature. Bloomberg even reported that Colberg had recused himself from the investigation.

But in the light of Colberg’s letter to French announced this morning, that no longer appears operative.

So in other words, Palin and her lawyer have admitted that Colberg, a Palin appointee, called Monegan and pressured him to fire Wooten, and that he has a clear conflict of interest in the case. And yet Colberg is still working to quash subpoenas issued in a bipartisan vote by the state legislature.

The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a call from TPMmuckraker seeking to clear up the confusion.

Colberg’s background doesn’t suggest he’s a figure with much independent clout
Before he was appointed attorney general by Palin, he was a little known assemblyman from the Matanuska Valley, in which Palin’s hometown of Wasilla sits.

In an article Sunday in the New York Times, a family friend of Colberg described a conversation with him on his move from a one-room law office in rural Alaska to one of the highest offices in the state, supervising over 500 people: “I called him and asked, ‘Do you know how to supervise people?’,” Kathy Wells told the Times. “He said, ‘No, but I think I’ll get some help.'”

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