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COMMENTARY:

Alaska GOP's Last-Ditch Palin Defense

by Jason Leopold
October 5-6, 2008
Only days before the scheduled release of an investigative report on whether Sarah Palin abused her power as Alaska’s governor in the “Troopergate” case, six pro-Palin lawmakers have lodged an emergency appeal asking the state Supreme Court to shut down the inquiry.

The Alaska Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments in the appeal on Wednesday and rule by Thursday, the day before the report is set to be released. The appeal followed an Oct. 2 ruling by a Superior Court judge rejecting the Republican effort to block the report’s release.

The six GOP lawmakers claim that the legislative inquiry into Palin’s firing of state Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan in July – after he refused to fire her estranged ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper – has become tainted by partisan politics.

In their Oct. 3 appeal to the state’s Supreme Court, the pro-Palin lawmakers argued that Alaska citizens “will suffer irreparable harm if the investigation at issue continues and if the resulting investigative report issues as planned on Oct. 10, 2008."

The appeal seeks to reverse a ruling by Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski, who allowed the inquiry to continue.

In an 11-page opinion, Michalski said, "it is legitimately within the scope of the legislature's investigatory power to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the termination (of) a public officer the legislature had previously confirmed."

The probe centers on whether Palin, her husband Todd, and several of her senior aides pressured Public Safety Commissioner Monegan to fire Mike Wooten, a state trooper who was engaged in an ugly divorce and child custody dispute with Gov. Palin's sister.

In July, Monegan claimed that he was fired because he refused to fire Wooten. Palin cited other reasons, such as a budgetary dispute, and the governor initially welcomed the legislative inquiry, which was approved unanimously by the Republican-dominated Legislative Council.

However, after Palin was tapped as the Republican vice presidential nominee in late August, she and her allies reversed themselves and began resisting the inquiry, including a refusal by Todd Palin and several senior Palin aides to testify under legislative subpoena.

Emergency Appeal

In the emergency appeal to stop the Oct. 10 report, Republican legislators Wes Keller, Mike Kelly, Bob Lynn, Carl Gatto, Fred Dyson and Tom Wagoner called the inquiry “an unconstitutional and unlawful legislative investigation.”

The six lawmakers labeled the anticipated report by independent investigator Steven Branchflower an “October Surprise” intended to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

In opposing the appeal, Peter Maassen, the attorney representing Alaska’s Legislative Council, said the investigation is nearly complete and that the six GOP lawmakers would not “shut down the investigation” but rather would only “suppress” the findings. He wrote:

“The prospect that this Court would suppress a report, the contents of which at this point are wholly unknown, solely on the unsupported assertions of the plaintiff legislators that it might possibly say something hurtful about somebody — the most likely ‘somebody’ ... being the Governor, who presumably can fight her own legal battles — is utterly far-fetched.”

In an earlier court filing, Maassen said Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign tried to derail the inquiry because its findings could “cause serious damage to the Republican ticket.”

The “McCain campaign and its supporters, having apparently convinced themselves that the facts would cause serious damage to the Republican ticket if publicly known before the national election, are now moving on many fronts — including this one — to slow and stop Mr. Branchflower’s fact-finding inquiry and to prevent his issuance of the report authorized by the Legislative Council,” said Maassen’s court filing.

Judge Michalski also threw out a lawsuit filed by Palin’s Attorney General Talis Colberg seeking to invalidate more than a dozen subpoenas seeking testimony from senior Palin aides. Michalski rejected Colberg’s argument that Alaska’s Senate Judiciary Committee does not have subpoena authority.

On Sunday, Colberg said he won’t challenge the judge’s ruling. In a statement, he said seven state employees who were subpoenaed by Branchflower will make arrangements to testify before the independent counsel is scheduled to release his report to the legislature on  Friday.

"Despite my initial concerns about the subpoenas, we respect the court's decision to defer to the Legislature," Colberg said.


Jason Leopold has launched a new Web site, The Public Record, at www.pubrecord.org.

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on October 7, 2008.