French to retain oversight of Palin probe

Democrat accused of using investigation for political effect

Posted: Tuesday, September 09, 2008

ANCHORAGE - A Republican effort failed Monday to unseat the Alaska senator overseeing the ethics investigation into whether Gov. Sarah Palin abused her power when she dismissed the state's public safety commissioner.

Democratic Sen. Hollis French was accused of manipulating the probe for political effect on national and state elections. Republican Rep. John Coghill last week asked the Alaska Legislature's Legislative Council, the body that appointed French to oversee the investigation, to discuss replacing French.

Coghill said he believed the investigation was lacking in fairness, neutrality and due process after French was quoted in media reports that the probe's results were going to be an "October surprise" that is "likely to be damaging to the administration."

On Monday, Sen. Kim Elton, the head of the Legislative Council, turned down his request. French's decisions to date have been appropriate, bipartisan and unchallenged, Elton wrote to Coghill. And the comments French made were "corrected in a very public way in the media," Elton wrote.

The investigation is examining whether Palin abused her power by firing Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. Monegan has said he felt pressure from the Palin family and staff to dismiss a trooper, Mike Wooten, who went through a messy divorce from Palin's sister.

Anchorage prosecutor Stephen Branchflower, who was hired to conduct the investigation and compile its findings, "will not discuss the status of his review with the media," Elton said.

"I'm sure that all of us can work in a nonpartisan way to accomplish the charge given to the investigator by the Legislative Council," Elton said.

Coghill told The Associated Press on Monday that he was disappointed that Elton seemed to miss the political nature of French's statements and that he would appeal to the council chairman again.

"We all support somebody in this political race, but he took it right smack into this (investigation)," Coghill said of French. "I don't want to stop the investigation, but I think Sen. French has made it very difficult to get an independent view."

Elton declined an interview request Monday but said through his spokeswoman that he will not call a Legislative Council meeting until the investigation is complete.

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