Palin's preferred inquiry requires utmost secrecy

TROOPERGATE: Alaska law says those involved can't acknowledge its existence.

September 23, 2008 

Of the two Alaska investigations into abuse-of-power allegations against Sarah Palin, the governor has chosen to cooperate with just one: the one that guarantees secrecy.

The Legislature in August began its inquiry into whether Palin abused her office when she fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, which he claims happened when he didn't fire a state trooper whom Palin's sister had divorced.

Palin initially pledged cooperation with that investigation, which was unanimously approved by eight Republicans and four Democrats, saying, "Hold me accountable." After she became Sen. John McCain's running mate on Aug. 29, she backed off, claiming that those behind the probe were biased and manipulating the report's outcome and timing.

About the time she was announced on the McCain ticket, she filed a complaint against herself with the Alaska State Personnel Board, the body that investigates ethics complaints against executive branch employees. Her attorney asked the Anchorage prosecutor hired by the Legislature to step aside in favor of the Personnel Board investigation.

Palin, through the McCain campaign, says that the Personnel Board has jurisdiction over the matter and she won't cooperate with the legislative inquiry. The campaign accuses the Democratic lawmaker overseeing the investigation, state Sen. Hollis French of Anchorage, of planning to use the investigation as an "October surprise" before Election Day. Palin's husband and nearly a dozen state workers either subpoenaed or asked to testify before lawmakers have refused to do so.

Palin's preferred probe -- the one she filed with the state personnel board -- is nonpartisan and will be fair, McCain spokeswoman Meg Stapleton said Tuesday. The campaign is working to schedule interviews with the investigator for Sarah and Todd Palin, she said.

But that investigation, unlike the more public legislative one, would require the investigation to be conducted in complete confidentiality. Under Alaska law, those who are part of such an investigation are unable to acknowledge even its existence until the Personnel Board decides there's enough evidence to hold a hearing.

If the complaint is dismissed, the probe and all the information related to it remains confidential.

Palin can waive confidentiality. The McCain campaign -- which is fielding all questions about Troopergate on the Palins' behalf -- on Tuesday said the governor originally did so but that the investigator, Anchorage attorney Timothy Petumenos, requested she not speak publicly.

McCain spokesman Ed O'Callaghan later acknowledged that the state's confidentiality laws still apply.

Alaska law also allows a Personnel Board investigation to last for up to two years. It's unknown how long Petumenos will need.

The Legislature's investigator, Stephen Branchflower, plans to submit a report on Troopergate by Oct. 10, with or without the subpoenaed witnesses' testimony, French has said.

Also, Palin might be able to have the complaint dismissed simply by refusing to cooperate. State law says that if the person who filed a complaint is unwilling to assist in the investigation, that can justify the probe's termination.

O'Callaghan said he did not know whether that interpretation of the law was correct, but Palin intended to cooperate fully with the Personnel Board investigation.

An e-mail request for comment to the three members of the state Personnel Board was not answered on Tuesday.

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