Palin Dragging Feet on Probe

September 2, 2008 3:57 p.m.

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.

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