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Karl Rove in Alaska? McCain's Spin and Interference With Bi-Partisan "Troopergate" Investigation

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Politicians are good at spin. The McCain camp has brought a whole new level of it to our small state -- in what looks like an effort to show they can play the same Karl Rove-like political games that have haunted this country for the last 8 years. I like Governor Palin on a personal level. But I don't like what the McCain campaign is doing to our state. I don't like deception. And I don't like politics as usual.

Alaskans are starting to see evidence of a Karl Rove-like effort to stonewall what started as a non-controversial, bi-partisan "Troopergate" investigation. A little deception here, a few personal attacks there. And the kind of spin you see at an amusement park tilt-a-whirl station.

This investigation was started by a Republican-dominated Alaska Legislature to look into Governor Palin's conduct in seeking the termination of a State Trooper, once married to the Governor's sister, Trooper Michael Wooten. The McCain camp wants to stop it by saying it's a "democratic" investigation. Apart from facts, and the reputations the McCain folks don't mind destroying, there's not a lot standing in the way of this strategy.

Until August 29 "Troopergate" was a small state investigation Governor Palin, and every Republican and Democrat in a Republican-led Legislature, had agreed was appropriate. But things changed the day Governor Palin joined the McCain ticket. His handlers went ballistic that the Governor agreed to an investigation they now needed to stop.

I know Senator McCain is now running on a political platform of "change." Leave aside how he'll fight to change what he's voted to do to this country for the last 8 years. If you ask me, the only thing he's changed so far is Governor Palin's position -- her decision to cooperate with this once-small investigation.

This is one of those cases where there's a clear truth. It's a clear truth -- about a bi-partisan investigation -- that I hope McCain's operatives will ultimately fail at spinning into a "partisan" plot against his running mate.

To get their way, and prevent sworn testimony from leaking out on what I suspect was probably a minor breach by Governor Palin, McCain's operatives have come to Alaska to add invective in a state where people generally get along. They've chosen to vilify: 1) one of the state's most respected public officials, Senator Hollis French; 2) the state's most respected law enforcement official, Walt Monegan; and 3) a highly respected former DA and Victims Rights advocate a legislative committee voted 12 - 0 to hire to conduct the investigation, Steve Branchflower.

It's the ghost of Karl Rove. Say something untrue enough times -- like that al-Qaeda is training with Saddam Hussein's help -- and people will believe it. Not this time. I'm not sure if I mentioned a few important facts.

Did I mention that no one ever attacked the Troopergate investigation by Alaska's Legislature -- started long before Governor Palin was placed on McCain's ticket -- until August 29? That was the day Governor Palin joined the McCain bid for the White House.

Did I mention that before the McCain camp got involved, the Governor stated of the Legislative investigation: "That being the route they choose, so be it. I'm happy to comply, to cooperate." (KTUU.com, July 24, 2008). She repeatedly stated she'd comply, and that it was the right thing to do.

Did I mention the personal attacks against our local public officials only started after Sen. McCain sent his flacks up to our small state on August 29? They came with a mission to make America believe a Republican-initiated investigation, started with a unanimous committee vote of eight Republicans and four Democrats, was a "partisan" plot. That's only a tough sell if people know the facts.

Did I mention they now claim the Legislature cannot legally proceed with an investigation into government misconduct (I thought Republicans didn't like attorneys who made frivolous arguments), and that they are threatening to to go to court to stop it? The Governor's attorneys started writing those letters on -- you guessed it -- August 29. Before then they agreed the investigation was proper.

Oh, and what about this: last week the McCain camp put our Governor in a bizarre position. They told her to file an ethics complaint against herself! Yup, again after her VP nomination. Too weird? What's behind this move? You guessed it. Lawyers.

To create the legal argument that the Legislature cannot investigate government misconduct, the McCain team has had her file a complaint against herself before something called the State Personnel Board. That's a 3 member group of Republican Gubernatorial appointees -- that, if it started this week, wouldn't get an investigation done, and reported to the public, until after the November election. Convenient.

Hm. The Legislature has announced they'd have their investigation done -- if witnesses would cooperate like they were until August 29 -- by October 10. I can't imagine why the McCain camp would prefer an investigation that doesn't get finished until after November. Any ideas?

So what about the claim that this investigation is some sort of partisan plot against a Republican ticket? A legislative committee of eight Republicans and four Democrats asked former Assistant District Attorney Hollis French, a Democrat -- to hire a legislative investigator in July. He did. He's not doing the investigation. So the complaint that he's a Democrat who supports Barack Obama is, well, weak. He's a Democrat who supports Barack Obama, who was appointed before Governor Palin was a VP candidate. More importantly, he's a Senator who has the confidence of a majority Republican Senate.

He once said to the press the results of the investigation are likely to be troubling. He shouldn't have said that. But the Governor's said it too. The newspapers have said it. We all know it. The public record already contains evidence that the Department of Public Safety was contacted roughly 20 times by Palin senior staff, and her husband Todd, about firing Trooper Wooten. The Governor has conceded that based on this evidence, the public could conclude the Department could have felt pressure from above to fire Trooper Wooten.

The investigator, Steve Branchflower, is a former DA and Office of Victims Rights head (a job he was appointed to by a Republican Legislature). He's actually conducting the investigation. Attacking Senator French doesn't really work if he's not investigating the case, or making any findings. So the McCain folks have attacked Mr. Branchflower. And they've tried to stop him from issuing subpoenas to the witnesses now directed not to talk. Today the McCain folks suffered a setback. A bi-partisan committee of Republicans and Democrats authorized Mr. Branchflower to move ahead to subpoena those witnesses.

And for good measure -- the McCain folks are attacking Walt Monegan -- the Public Safety Commissioner Governor Palin fired. The Troopergate investigation involves claims that Monegan was fired for not agreeing to fire Trooper Wooten, the Governor's brother in law involved in a very ugly custody dispute with the Governor's sister.

I don't begrudge the Governor for not liking her brother-in-law. I don't really like him either, from what I've read. I do begrudge those who'd attack Commissioner Monegan, a quintessential public servant who's worked for both Republican and Democratic heads on the state and local level.

These three public servants deserve better. What they've received so far, is a little dose of ugly Washington politics in a state where we don't see that stuff too often.

I stood on the sidelines when this investigation started. When Governor Palin fired Commissioner Monegan, my advice was to end the flap and just hire him back. He does good work. He's well respected. Unfortunately, my advice sometimes isn't that good, and the Governor didn't agree.

Then McCain's staff of outsiders came to town. And they began to launch personal attacks on people I respect. They started proving that the same old politics that have caused dissatisfaction with Washington insiders these past eight years are going to be the bread and butter of the McCain campaign.

So -- here I am today. I support an Obama presidency because he shares a vision I believe in. I've publicly supported him since the race started last year. I also think Governor Palin originally did the right thing in agreeing to take some small lumps by proceeding with a legislative investigation Republicans and Democrats, and much of the public asked for.

But unfortunately Alaska is the bull's eye in a national presidential race today. When told by the McCain folks that she needed to change her position, she did, as a loyal running mate. I understand that.

As an Alaskan I'm not really angry at our Governor for this mess. I do blame John McCain for the ugliness he's brought to our state this week. His folks have come to my small state to attack my friends, and people I respect, for political gain. In my book, that's not OK. We all mess up time to time. But this crosses the line.

In small states, like small towns, people who act like the McCain folks apologize. Until that happens, I'll keep defending three public servants who deserve better.