It was surely an odd bit of timing on Monday, November 3--just hours before one of the biggest presidential elections in American history--that the Alaska State Personnel Board issued a finding by its chief investigator, Timothy J. Petumenos, that Republican vice-presidential candidate and Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, did not breach state ethics laws when she fired Alaska public safety commissioner Walt Monegan in July of this year.
This last minute finding appeared to exonerate Palin of any legal culpability in the so-called "Troopergate" scandal that dogged her throughout her ill-fated, two-month run on the Republican ticket. Palin boldly claimed it a "vindication," while headlines throughout the world declared that she had been "cleared" of any wrongdoing.
That was hardly the case. Composed entirely of political appointees--and all Republican--the Personnel Board was hell-bent on clearing Palin from the get-go. Its findings were neither final nor impartial. And they leave many questions about her behavior, along with that of her husband and her staff, unanswered.
Perhaps the most significant questions that remain are whether or not Governor Palin and her husband, Todd, committed perjury in their sworn affidavits to the personnel board.
There is significant circumstantial evidence that they did.
Less than a month before the Personnel Board's findings, of course, a Republican investigator of the bipartisan Alaska Legislative Council declared that while Palin broke no laws in firing Monegan, she had, in fact, violated the state's Executive Ethics Act by actively pursuing the firing of her former brother-in-law, Alaska state trooper Mike Wooten.
Palin put the lean on Monegan to fire Wooten. He didn't. So he was fired instead.
As Governor, Palin had the executive right to fire Monegan. On that fact, both the Legislative Council and Personnel Board agree.
What they disagree about is whether Palin, her husband, and her staff had the right to hound Monegan about the firing of Wooten. The Personnel Board said that she did have the right; the Legislative Council's reading of the Alaska Ethics Act says she did not.
And hound they did. More than three dozen times in less than two years.
In the aftermath of Monegan's dismissal, Palin gave at least four different reasons for it--all of which seem spurious, at best, and concocted, at worst. And there is strong evidence contradicting every one of her four explanations.
But even more troubling is the absolutely obsessive pattern of strong-arming Monegan about Wooten that began immediately once Palin took office. Within two months of her December 2006 inauguration, Palin and her husband, Todd, contacted Monegan a half-dozen times about firing Wooten. Then Palin's staff members began the assault. Then more contacts from the Palins. Then more from staff.
The pressure was unrelenting and continued right up until the time that Monegan was fired. The record on that--emails, notes, even taped phone conversations--is quite clear.
Perhaps the most troubling piece of evidence is a February 7, 2007, email from Gov. Palin to Monegan. It's a long, rambling missive that concludes with a return to her obsession with Wooten: "Just my opinion -- I know you know I've experienced a lot of frustration with this issue. I know Todd's even expressed to you a lot of concern about our family's safety after this trooper threatened to kill a family member..."
Both Palin and her husband swore under oath that they did not have conversations with Monegan a month earlier (in January 2007) about the Wooten matter. Yet the February 2007 email proves concretely that Palin was aware that her husband had conveyed concerns to Monegan and, by implication ("I know you know") that she had as well. It also clearly establishes the pattern of her trying to use her influence to get Wooten fired from her earliest days in office.
Palin further contradicted her own testimony by saying that her husband complained to her so frequently about the handling of the Wooten matter that she had to tell him to stop, and then shortly thereafter contended that she knew nothing about his activities to get Wooten fired.
Implausible? Absolutely. Perjury? That remains for a legal body to decide.
But will one?
I contacted Monegan's talented attorney in Anchorage, Jeffrey Feldman, of Feldman, Orlansky & Sanders, to ask him about the state of the case and what were the next legal steps in this matter.
"No one knows the answer to that question," he declared. Since the Personnel Board made a finding of "no probable cause" and denied Monegan's request for a hearing, there "is nothing currently pending before the Personnel Board."
Feldman indicated that Monegan's legal options are also limited. He "could file an action in court either challenging his dismissal, asserting defamation claims, or seeking a due process name-clearing hearing," but as of now that's uncertain.
That leaves the Alaska Legislature. When it goes back into session in January, there are a variety of options it could pursue. Although there's a bipartisan majority caucus in the state Senate, Feldman said, it's uncertain whether Senate President-designate, Republican Gary Stevens (not related to the convicted U.S. Senator), will follow up on any matter dealing with Troopergate.
That, to me, would seem to be a dereliction of the Legislature's duty. The Alaska Legislature has the right--and I believe the obligation--to follow-up on the findings of its own investigation and to censure Governor Palin for what was a clear pattern of abusing her power.
Moreover, the Legislature also has the power to seek contempt charges against Palin and other state officials who willingly ignored the Legislative Council's subpoenas during its investigation of Troopergate. And it also has the power to hold hearings on whether or not Palin and her husband committed perjury. There's troubling evidence that they did.
Come January, someone needs to show Alaska's first family that they are not above the law.
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