Alaska Senate leaders want an investigation of whether Gov. Sarah Palin pressured and then fired the public safety commissioner because he wouldn't get rid of a state trooper who had gone through a bitter divorce with Palin's sister.
"I'm fairly confident at this point that what we're going to see is the appointment of an independent investigator," said Anchorage Democratic Sen. Hollis French, chairman of the judiciary committee.
Palin denied any wrongdoing Monday and said she welcomed an investigation.
"I've said all along, hold me accountable," Palin told reporters in Juneau. "And I'm telling the truth when I say that there was never pressure put on Commissioner Monegan."
The governor said she didn't think any conversations she, her husband, Todd, or members of her administration had with the commissioner about Mike Wooten should have been taken as pressure to get rid of the trooper.
"The proof is in the pudding," Palin said. "He didn't fire anybody. The trooper is still a trooper."
Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan has said he felt pressured after Palin, her husband and members of her administration contacted him about Wooten. He said he doesn't know why he was fired but thought Wooten could be part of it.
French said the investigator would explore whether Monegan's firing "was motivated by the Wooten case or something else." The investigator would also look at whether Palin or members of her administration violated the state personnel act by pressuring Monegan to get rid of the trooper, French said.
HOUSE TALKING ABOUT HEARINGS
Some state House member are talking about holding hearings on the issue in addition to having an investigator. Lawmakers were flying into Juneau on Monday to resume the special session on a gas pipeline and the House majority hadn't made a decision.
"I think everybody will be all over the place until we have a few days to be down here and get assembled," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks.
Ramras said he believes Palin would testify before a committee on what happened. That could "clear up this Jed Clampett-like issue surrounding her sister and trooper Wooten," he said.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, said he'd like the House Judiciary Committee to have subpoena power and the ability to question witnesses under oath.
But Sen. French said he doesn't think hearings are the best idea now. He said an independent investigator would help keep politics out of it and let the Legislature concentrate on the gas line and energy cost-relief issues of the special session.
French said he'd prefer the investigator to be an attorney, maybe with a background as a prosecutor, who is apolitical and comfortable saying Palin did nothing wrong if that is what the facts show. It's not clear what the Legislature would do if an investigator did find the governor misused her power or violated state personnel rules.
French said the legislative council, a joint Senate-House committee, would pick and hire the investigator. He said he believes that will happen this week.
PALIN: 'MORE ENERGETIC APPROACH'
Anchorage Republican Sen. John Cowdery chairs the legislative council. But he's been indicted on federal corruption charges and has been in poor health, and he isn't at the special session. So Eagle River Republican Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom would handle it, French said.
Dahlstrom was traveling Monday and did not return a phone message seeking comment.
State House Speaker John Harris said he's not pushing to have an investigator but is not opposed to it either. The governor is allowed to dismiss one of her commissioners at will but not to use "heavy-handed" tactics to try and remove a state trooper from his job, said Harris, who has a union background.
Harris also questioned Palin's explanation that she fired Monegan because she wants the public safety department to go in a "new direction." Palin has talked about being honest, open and transparent, Harris said, and her plans for the future of the department don't sound different from what Monegan was doing.
"There's no different direction we are going in," the Valdez Republican said. "That's not being honest about it, quite frankly."
Palin told reporters on Monday there is a need for action in the department of public safety and "a different, more energetic approach." She's said it's not about Wooten.
The Palins have made several accusations against Wooten and said they feared for the governor's safety. An internal trooper investigation in 2005 found all but two of the allegations to be unsubstantiated -- an illegal moose killing and a tasering of an 11-year-old. Wooten was disciplined.
Palin wrote Wooten a letter of recommendation for the trooper job in 2000, when she was Wasilla mayor. She said Monday that she obviously wouldn't do that now due to those "indiscretions, those illegal activities."
'A BIG MARE'S NEST'
Palin has defenders in the Legislature, including Palmer Republican Rep. Carl Gatto.
She's been honest in her two years as governor and he's inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, Gatto said.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Mike Doogan said sorting out the facts would be difficult, given all the rumors and assertions involved. He said he's not sure the Legislature can really do anything.
"You've got to have something more than I've seen so far," he said. "It's a big mare's nest, and you've got to pull everything apart and see what's pertinent and what's not."
Doogan also questioned the fired commissioner.
"If Walt Monegan felt that people were pressuring him in contravention of the law, why did he stay dummied up about it?" he said. "I never heard about it until he was canned."