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Troopergate's newest report clears Palin

Alaska Personnel Board conclusion contradicts earlier findings by Legislative Council probe

Posted: Tuesday, November 04, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Gov. Sarah Palin violated no ethics laws when she fired her public safety commissioner, the state personnel board concluded in a report released Monday.

Al Grillo / The Associated Press
Al Grillo / The Associated Press

"There is no probable cause to believe that the governor, or any other state official, violated the Alaska Executive Ethics Act in connection with these matters," the report says.

"Gov. Palin is pleased that the independent investigator for the Personnel Board has concluded that she acted properly in the reassignment of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan," her attorney, Thomas Van Flein, said in a statement.

An earlier, separate investigation by the Legislature found that Palin had abused her office.

Monegan said he felt pressure from Palin, her husband and her staff to fire a state trooper who had gone through a nasty divorce from Palin's sister. Palin denied the claim, and said Monegan was fired last July because she wanted the department to head in a new direction.

Monegan told The Associated Press he was "perplexed and disappointed" by the report. It was prepared by Timothy Petumenos, an independent investigator for the Alaska Personnel Board.

"It conflicts with the first investigation and then casts doubts on both of them. So, it doesn't really resolve anything," he said. "If it did, then I could walk away. It does seem to fly in the face of circumstantial evidence."

The separate investigation by the Legislative Council recently concluded that Palin - the Republican vice presidential nominee - abused her office by allowing her husband and staffers to pressure Monegan to fire the trooper, Mike Wooten. However, it upheld the firing because Monegan was an at-will employee.

Petumenos said his conclusions differ from the report by the legislative panel's investigator, former prosecutor Stephen Branchflower, because the earlier probe assumed facts without having all relevant data at hand. He said Branchflower used a wrong statute as the basis for his conclusions, misconstrued the available evidence and did not consider or obtain all the material evidence to reach a proper finding.

Petumenos said the personnel board's investigation included much more data, including additional e-mails from state personnel, including Palin. And while some of Palin's personal e-mails were obtained, he said, it was impossible to know if any had been deleted. The report recommends that the state address the issue of personal e-mail use to conduct state business.

"Also absent from the evidence reviewed is any assertion that the Governor directed anyone in the Department of Public Safety to terminate Trooper Wooten, or directed anyone on her staff to seek the termination of Trooper Wooten," the report said.

State Sen. Kim Elton, chairman of the Legislative Council that conducted the earlier investigation, said the Personnel Board report omitted a lot of context in the matter. The legislative investigation was valid, he said.

"I think we have two lawyers who reached different conclusions on the law," Elton said.

Alaska Personnel Board investigations are normally secret, but the three-member panel decided to release this report, citing public interest in the matter given Palin's status as a candidate for national office. Election Day is today.

Palin had earlier waived her privacy rights, but others in her administration did not and Petumenos sought to keep the matter from playing out in the media.

Documents released Monday did not include transcripts of separate depositions given by Palin and her husband, Todd.

That deposition was the only one given by Sarah Palin. She was not subpoenaed to answer questions in the Legislature's investigation, though her husband, Todd, gave an affidavit in that probe.

Petumenos said that during her deposition given under oath, Sarah Palin denied Monegan's claim that she had two conversations with him about the trooper.

Monegan stood by his contention, also given under oath in both investigations, that the conversations took place.

"I'm disappointed that she didn't acknowledge them," he said.

Palin also said in her deposition that she didn't know her husband had met with Monegan in her office to discuss his frustrations that Wooten remained on the job, and that he prevailed upon Monegan to get rid of him.

Palin initially said she would cooperate with the Legislature's probe. But after she became John McCain's running mate, she said the investigation had become too partisan and filed an ethics grievance against herself with the personnel board. Personnel board members are appointed by the governor, who can fire members for cause.



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