THE BLOG

The Problem for Gov. Palin Is that Now She Should Be Impeached

10/13/2008 02:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Maybe, as the McCain-Palin campaign hopes, Saturday's press conference was the end of "Troopergate" -- because a national press corps too incurious to care whether Palin has any idea who Bill Ayers is will also likely give her a pass on Troopergate. And maybe the Alaska Senate dominated by Republicans (most of whom have no more use for Palin than most of the Democrats now do but who are loyal members of their national party) will give her the same pass.

That's up to them. But while they're thinking about it they may want to connect the following dots in the Troopergate story that Special Prosecutor Steve Branchflower did not connect in his report.

First, Michael Wooten, Sarah's ex-brother-in-law, whom she tried to have fired, is a "classified" Alaska state employee, which means that he is protected by the Alaska State Personnel Act, (Statute 39.25.010 et seq.), the same way federal employees are protected by the federal Civil Service Act. And Alaska Statute 39.25.900(a) provides: "A person who willfully violates a provision of this chapter or of the personnel rules adopted under this chapter is guilty of a misdemeanor."

Second, unlike Article II, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, which empowers Congress to remove "The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States" from office by impeachment on the grounds of "Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors," Article II, Section 20, of the Alaska Constitution does not identify the grounds for impeachment. Instead, the delegates to the Alaska Constitutional Convention intended the Alaska Legislature to decide the grounds.

To that end, the Alaska Legislature has enacted statutes that establish the grounds for the impeachment of Alaska Supreme Court Justices and Superior Court Judges as "malfeasance or misfeasance in the performance of official duties."

Third, although the Legislature has not enacted a statute that establishes the grounds for the impeachment of the Governor, in 1985 the Alaska Senate held hearings on a motion to recommend to the Alaska House of Representatives that it hold a trial to impeach Alaska Governor Bill Sheffield because he allegedly had violated a State procurement statute in order to steer a State office lease to a political supporter. At the conclusion of the hearings, the Senate determined that there was "no clear and convincing evidence" that Governor Sheffield had violated the statute. However, if the facts had been that Governor Sheffield had violated the statute, he would have committed "malfeasance in the performance of official duties" and he would have been impeached.

All of which is a lawyer's way of saying that if Governor Palin or any other Alaska Governor commits "malfeasance in the performance of her or his official duties" by intentionally violating a statute, or intentionally encouraging others to do so, like the justices of the Alaska Supreme Court, she or he should be impeached.

Whether "the circumstances and events surrounding the termination of former Public Safety Commissioner Monegan" indicate that Governor Palin committed "malfeasance in the performance of her official duties" and therefore should be impeached was the true subject of the Troopergate investigation. But that extremely important point was obfuscated in the Legislative Council's description of the investigation. As a consequence, Steve Branchflower makes no mention in his report that the delegates to the Alaska Constitutional Convention intended the penalty for a Governor who knowingly refuses to "faithfully execute the laws" to be impeachment.

And so, in this light, Palin should be concerned, at least where the evidence is concerned. As anyone who has read the report now knows, excerpts are painfully explicit and damning, no matter how Palin tries to spin it:

On February 13, 2007 Walt Monegan and Sarah Palin walked through the Capitol Building in Juneau on their way to a meeting:

MONEGAN: So as we were walking down the stairs, the governor mentioned to me, she says, "I'd like to talk to you about Wooten." And I said, "Ma'am, I need you to keep an arm's length on this issue. And if you have further complaints on him, I can deal with Todd on it." And she goes, "That's a better idea."

Several weeks after that when Walt Monegan again was in Juneau, Mike Tibbles, Governor Palin's chief of staff, called Monegan into his office:

MONEGAN: I walked into his office. It was just him and I. We were alone. He closed the doors, and he says, "I understand you have a Trooper Mike Wooten on the force." And I started to explain to him that the investigation on Wooten was completed. It had been done by the last administration. It is all done; there is no issues. We had the case reviewed at the request of Todd, and that this is an issue that is closed. And then I went to say that it is my understanding that should there be any litigation brought on by Trooper Wooten, this conversation is discoverable, and the way I understand state law, having been sued a couple of times, is that we are certainly liable, certainly as state employees, but also could be as individuals if we intentionally break this law [i.e., the State Personnel Act]. So we shouldn't be talking about this. You don't want Wooten to own your house, do you? He goes, "No, I don't." "Then we shouldn't talk about this." So that's how it ended.

Volume 1 of the Troopergate report continues for another 334 pages. But the point has been made. And the point is that from the beginning of her administration Sarah Palin and, with her knowledge and approval, the people around her repeatedly attempted to persuade Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan to commit a criminal misdemeanor by firing Michael Wooten from his job as an Alaska State Trooper in violation of the State Personnel Act. Doing so is "malfeasance in the performance of official duties" that, adjusted for time and circumstance, is near identical to the alleged "malfeasance in the performance of official duties" that in 1985 almost got Alaska Governor Bill Sheffield impeached.

Whether as a consequence of the Troopergate investigation Alaska Governor Sarah Palin soon will face her own impeachment depends on the extent to which the Republican members of the Alaska Senate believe that their constitutional duty to ensure that every Alaska governor "faithfully executes the laws" trumps party loyalty. As of today, I would rate that a toss-up.

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Read Donald Craig Mitchell's full post at AlaskaDispatch.