ANCHORAGE - Former Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan acknowledged that he felt pressure from administration officials and family members of Gov. Sarah Palin to fire a Palmer Alaska State Trooper involved in a bitter child custody battle with Palin's sister.
Monegan told the Anchorage Daily News that phone calls and questions from the Palin administration and the governor's husband, Todd Palin, about trooper Mike Wooten started shortly after Monegan was hired.
The governor also had a brief conversation with him about Wooten in February, Monegan said.
Monegan has been mostly silent about the reasons for his own sudden dismissal July 11. Monegan repeated that he still isn't sure why he was fired but thought that Wooten could be part of it.
"I don't know that it's all of it. ... I worked at the pleasure of the governor," he said.
Palin has strongly denied that Monegan's dismissal had anything to do with her former brother-in-law. She said she never pressured the commissioner to fire her sister's ex-husband and no one from her office had complained about Wooten.
Monegan said pressure came from those around Palin, including former Palin chief of staff Mike Tibbles, Department of Administration Commissioner Annette Kreitzer, and director of boards and commissions Frank Bailey.
Tibbles is now campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. He said Friday he could not comment on whether he spoke to Monegan about Wooten.
Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Bailey never had such a conversation with Monegan.
Kreitzer could not recall, Leighow said.
Monegan never opened a new investigation into the allegations against Wooten.
"They weren't getting the message." Monegan said. "The fact that they tried for better than a year while I was there is kind of indicative that somebody was trying to pressure something. Because they were trying different venues and different people."
Todd Palin called a meeting with Monegan to talk about Wooten shortly after his wife took office in December 2006, Todd Palin said Friday.
Monegan said Todd Palin talked to him several times after that about Wooten. Todd Palin said he could not recall conversations with the commissioner about his ex-brother-in-law outside of the initial meeting.
"But I know I've never told him to fire trooper Wooten," Todd Palin said.
The meeting occurred in the governor's office with the governor absent, Monegan said.
Todd Palin showed Monegan the work of a private investigator the Palins hired. The Palins accused Wooten of drunken driving, illegal hunting and child abuse, among other charges.
The governor's husband said the family was concerned about the governor's safety. The Palins say Wooten threatened to kill Sarah Palin's father and made vague threats to her that he would "bring me down."
Monegan said he told Todd Palin that he would look into Wooten. Monegan, however, learned that allegations against Wooten already had been reviewed with an internal trooper investigation in 2005. Wooten was disciplined for illegally killing a moose and using a Taser stun gun on an 11-year-old family member.
In February, Monegan said, the governor brought up Wooten's name. They were walking together to wish Sen. Lyman Hoffman a happy birthday.
"I told her I needed to keep her at arm's distance and she shouldn't be involved," he said. "She said, 'OK, that's a good idea."'
Bailey was the latest to contact him about Wooten, Monegan said. He called a trooper commander, and several others, before the calls ended up in Monegan's lap. Monegan called him back.
"'We can't do this. This is not what we are supposed to do,"' Monegan said he told Bailey.
Col. Audie Holloway, head of the troopers, on Friday said the governor never spoke to him about Wooten. Asked if anyone in the administration had, he said, "I can't answer that."
Todd Palin on Friday said he spoke to Holloway about Wooten after he saw Wooten on a snowmobile in April 2007. He gave Holloway a photo of Wooten on the machine, demonstrating what he thought was a violation of his Wooten's workers compensation claim.
Troopers looked into it, Monegan said, and found that it probably occurred but was not something that warranted a dismissal.
Wooten remains employed as a trooper in Palmer. He and his ex-wife, Sarah Palin's sister Molly McCann, continue to have a troubled relationship since their divorce in 2005. A week ago, she called 911 because he would not hand over their young children to her, she said. She was scared, she said.
Monegan said he decided to speak after his week of silence because, "I'm watching the stresses put on everyone I used to work with. And these guys are good people," he said. "This may be one of the few things, one of my last things, to support them.
"You know, they can't fire me twice."
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