Monegan says he was pressured to fire trooper

July 18, 2008 

Former Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan on Friday said that since Gov. Sarah Palin took office, members of her administration and family pressured him to fire a Palmer Alaska State Trooper to whom her sister was involved in a bitter child custody battle.

Monegan said phone calls and questions from the Palin administration and the governor's husband, Todd Palin, about trooper Mike Wooten started shortly after Monegan was hired and continued up to one or two months ago.

The governor herself also had a brief conversation with him about Wooten in February, Monegan said.

The new assertions from Monegan, who has been mostly silent on his abrupt firing July 11, conflict with what the Republican governor said earlier in the week. She said neither she never put pressure on the commissioner to fire her sister's ex-husband and no one from her office had complained about Wooten. She has also said replacing Monegan with Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp had nothing to do with Wooten. She has offered little explanation for the dismissal.

A former political rival and current harsh critic of her administration, Andrew Halcro, has charged in his blog that the firing was because Monegan would not fire Wooten.

But Monegan says pressure came from those around Palin, including former Palin chief-of-staff Mike Tibbles, Department of Administration Commissioner Annette Kreitzer, and director of boards and commissions Frank Bailey.

Tibbles, who is now the campaign manager for Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, said Friday he couldn't comment on whether he spoke to Monegan about Wooten.

Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Bailey never had such a conversation with Monegan.

Kreitzer could not recall, Leighow said.

Monegan, though, did not open a new investigation into the allegations or fire the trooper.

"They weren't getting the message, and I think they were trying," Monegan said. "The fact that they tried for better than a year while I was there is kind of indicative that somebody was trying to pressure something. Because they were trying different venues and different people."

Todd Palin called a meeting with Monegan to specifically talk about Wooten shortly after his wife took office in December 2006, Todd Palin said on Friday.

Monegan says Todd Palin talked to him several times after that about Wooten. Todd Palin said, though, he couldn't recall if he had any conversations with the commissioner about his ex-brother-in-law outside of that initial meeting.

"But I know I've never told him to fire trooper Wooten," Todd Palin said.

The meeting occurred in the governor's office, but the governor was not there, Monegan said.

Todd Palin showed Monegan the work of a private investigator the Palins hired. The Palins accused Wooten of drunken driving, illegal hunting and child abuse, among other charges.

The governor's husband says the family was concerned about the governor's safety. The Palins say that Wooten threatened to kill Sarah Palin's father and made vague threats to her that he would "bring me down."

Monegan said he told Todd Palin that he would look into Wooten. The then-commisioner, though, found that the allegations had already been investigated with an internal trooper investigation in 2005. All but two - an illegal moose killing and a Tasering of an 11-year-old - were found to be unsubstantiated. Wooten was disciplined.

In February, the governor brought up Wooten's name to Monegan, according to Monegan. They were walking together to wish Sen. Lyman Hoffman a happy birthday. "I told her I needed to keep her at arm's distance and she shouldn't be involved," he said. "She said, ‘OK, that's a good idea.' "

Bailey was the latest to contact him about Wooten. He called a trooper commander, and several others, before the calls ended up in Monegan's lap. Monegan called him back.

" ‘We can't do this. This is not what we are supposed to do,' " Monegan said he told Bailey.

Col. Audie Holloway, head of the troopers, reached on Friday said the governor never spoke to him about Wooten. Nor did anyone in the governor's office. But asked if anyone in the administration had, he said: "I can't answer that."

Todd Palin on Friday said he spoke to Holloway about Wooten after he saw Wooten on a snowmachine in April 2007. He gave Holloway a photo of Wooten on the machine, demonstrating what he thinks is a violation of his worker's compensation claim.

Monegan says the troopers looked into it and found that it probably occurred but was not something that warranted a dismissal.

Todd Palin on Friday said he didn't think his conversations about Wooten to Monegan and Holloway had any effect.

Wooten is still employed as a trooper in Palmer. He and his ex-wife and Sarah Palin's sister, Molly McCann, continue to have a troubled relationship since their divorce in 2005. On Sunday, she called 911 because he would not hand over their young children to her, she said this week. She was scared, she said.

Wooten showed up at the governor's picnic in Mat-Su on Friday. Todd Palin said he was gone when the governor got there. "He's riding his high-horse right now," Todd Palin said. "He thinks he's untouchable (because of all this.)"

Monegan said he still isn't sure why he was fired but thought that Wooten could be part of it. "I don't know that it's all of it. ... I worked at the pleasure of the governor," he said.

Monegan said he decided to say something after his week of silence because "I'm watching the stresses put on everyone I used to work with. And, these guys are good people," he said. "This may be one of the few things, one of my last things, to support them.

"You know, they can't fire me twice."

Find Megan Holland online at adn.com/contact/mholland or call 257-4343. Reporter Sean Cockerham contributed to this story.

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