JUNEAU - Five Republican state lawmakers filed suit today to end the bipartisan investigation into Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of the public safety commissioner, even though the vice presidential candidate once said she welcomed the probe into allegations of abuse of power.
The lawsuit called the investigation "unlawful, biased, partial and partisan." None of the lawmakers who filed the suit in state Superior Court in Anchorage serves on the bipartisan Legislative Council that unanimously approved the investigation in July.
A group of Fairbanks and North Pole citizens today also filed a lawsuit against the lead legislative investigator, Steve Branchflower. They claim his investigation is unconstitutional and want a judge to stop it.
Separately, House Speaker John Harris sent a letter this morning to state Sen. Kim Elton, chairman of the Legislative Council, demanding that the body convene within a week "for the purpose of discussing the status of the investigation currently under way by Stephen Branchflower."
All this relates to the scandal known as Troopergate, which gained national attention after Republican presidential candidate John McCain chose Palin as his running mate on Aug. 29. Since then, Palin and the McCain campaign have sought to distance Palin from the controversy and have taken actions that could slow its resolution until after the November election.
Palin fired public safety commissioner Walt Monegan in July. Weeks later, it emerged that Palin, her husband, Todd, and several high-level staffers had contacted Monegan about state trooper Mike Wooten, who had gone through a nasty divorce from Palin's sister before Palin became governor. While Monegan says no one from the administration ever told him directly to fire Wooten, he says their repeated contacts made it clear they wanted Wooten gone.
Palin maintains that she fired Monegan over budget disagreements, not because he wouldn't dismiss her ex-brother-in-law. Still, she said in July that she'd welcome and cooperate with the investigation ordered by the Legislative Council. McCain campaign spokesman Ed O'Callaghan now calls the investigation "tainted."
Today, three state representatives and two state senators sued Democratic Sen. Hollis French, who is overseeing the investigation; Juneau Democratic Elton, who heads the Legislative Council; Branchflower; and the Legislative Council itself.
The lawsuit seeks to either delay the investigation until after the Nov. 4 general election or remove French and Elton.
"There is no nonpartisan reason to complete this investigation until after the election," said Anchorage attorney Kevin G. Clarkson. "We just want to take the politics out of it and bring fairness back into it."
Clarkson said he and a nonprofit legal firm in Texas, Liberty Legal Institute, were donating their work on the suit. A phone message for French was not immediately returned.
The Legislative Council, made up of four Democrats and eight Republicans, voted unanimously to investigate the circumstances of Monegan's dismissal. Although Monegan was an at-will employee who could be fired for almost any reason, lawmakers wanted to see whether Palin tried to use her office to settle a personal score with Wooten.
Last week the state Senate Judiciary Committee voted to issue subpoenas for Todd Palin as well as nearly a dozen others and to gain phone records of a top aide to the governor. The subpoenas seek to compel their cooperation in the investigation.
O'Callaghan said Monday that Sarah Palin, who was not subpoenaed, was unlikely to speak to Branchflower and that he didn't know if Todd Palin would challenge his subpoena. At the same time, the campaign released e-mails it claimed supported Sarah Palin's assertion that disagreements over budget were behind Monegan's firing.
Among the e-mails released was a farewell note by Monegan. In it, he suggested the governor had reason to believe she had lost his support, and he urged his former colleagues to communicate better with her.
"For anyone to lead effectively they must have the support of their team, and I had waited too long outside her door for her to believe that I supported her," he wrote. "Please, choose a different path."
Palin's lawyer has sought to have the three-member state Personnel Board take over to investigation, alleging that public statements made by French indicated the probe was politically motivated. French had said the results of the investigation could constitute an "October surprise" for the McCain campaign, and he later apologized.
The campaign insists that French, Branchflower and Monegan are friends, even though the men say they only know each other professionally and have never socialized. Democrats charged that the McCain campaign was trying to stall the investigation.
"Rather than cooperating with the investigation, the Republican presidential campaign is doing everything it can to stall and smear," said Patti Higgins, chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party.
McCain campaign spokeswoman Meg Stapleton denigrated Monegan at a news conference Monday, accusing the veteran law enforcement officer of "insubordination," "obstructionist conduct" and a "brazen refusal" to follow proper channels for requesting money.
When Monegan was fired, the governor offered to let him head the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Asked why someone with a history of insubordination would be given such a position, Stapleton said that without having to deal with a budget, Monegan would be able to focus on alcohol abuse issues.
The governor "respects the fact that he was respected in the community," she said.
Thomas Van Flein, a lawyer for the governor's office, cited the newly released e-mails Monday in asking the Personnel Board to find no probable cause for an ethics investigation.
In an interview Monday night, Monegan said Palin never raised concerns about his management. In fact, at an event in May, she singled him out and praised his efforts to reduce violence against Native women.
"In my time as a commissioner, the governor has never talked to me about complaints about my efforts," Monegan said.
The Anchorage Daily News contributed to this article.