Todd Palin refuses to testify in probe

September 18, 2008 

Gov. Sarah Palin's husband has refused to testify in the investigation of his wife's alleged abuse of power, and a key lawmaker said today that uncooperative witnesses are effectively sidetracking the probe until after Election Day.

Todd Palin, who participates in state business in person or by e-mail, was among 13 people subpoenaed by the Alaska Legislature. McCain-Palin presidential campaign spokesman Ed O'Callaghan announced today that Todd Palin would not appear, because he no longer believes the Legislature's investigation is legitimate.

Sarah Palin initially welcomed the investigation of accusations that she dismissed the state's public safety commissioner because he refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper. "Hold me accountable," she said.

But she has increasingly opposed it since Republican presidential candidate John McCain tapped her as his running mate. The McCain campaign dispatched a legal team to Alaska including O'Callaghan, a former top U.S. terrorism prosecutor from New York to bolster Palin's local lawyer.

Earlier this week, Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg said the governor, who was not subpoenaed, declined to participate in the investigation and said Palin administration employees who have been subpoenaed would not appear.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said the McCain campaign is doing all it can to prevent the Legislature from completing a report on whether the GOP's vice presidential nominee abused her power as governor.

Wielechowski, a member of the panel that summoned the witnesses, said the witnesses can avoid testifying for months without penalty and that court action to force them to appear sooner is unlikely.

Palin fired Walt Monegan as public safety commissioner in July. It later emerged that Palin, her husband, Todd, and several high-level staffers had contacted Monegan about state trooper Mike Wooten. Palin maintains she fired Monegan over budget disagreements, not because he wouldn't dismiss her former brother-in-law.

Wooten 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.

Senate President Lyda Green, a Republican foe of Palin, said Wednesday that the investigation is still on track.

"The original purpose of the investigation was to bring out the truth. Nothing has changed," she said.

Without the testimony, the retired prosecutor hired to head the investigation could still release a report in October as scheduled, based on the evidence he's already gathered. As of today, Steve Branchflower had interviewed or deposed 17 of the 33 people he had identified as potential witnesses in the probe.

The Legislature does not have the leverage to compel any witness to testify before Nov. 4, said Wielechowski, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Wielechowski said he did not know whether Branchflower has enough material for a complete and fair report with so few witnesses. But he said delaying the probe, which began as a bipartisan effort, would only politicize the matter more.

"It would be to appease the McCain camp," Wielechowski said. "They're doing everything they can to delay."

Ignoring a legislative subpoena is punishable by a fine up to $500 and up to six months in jail under Alaska law. But courts are reluctant to intervene in legislative matters and the full Legislature must be in session to bring contempt charges, Wielechowski said. The Legislature is not scheduled to convene until January.

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