In a brief telephone conversation Saturday with Alaska reporters, Gov. Sarah Palin said she did nothing wrong in the Troopergate affair involving her ex-brother-in-law and feels vindicated by a legislative investigation, the results of which are detailed in a hefty report.
"Well, I'm very, very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing ... any hint of any kind of unethical activity there," the governor said from her car on the way to a campaign stop in Philadelphia.
The investigation was ordered by the Legislature in July to examine the circumstances under which Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan was terminated. The results of that probe, released Friday, concluded she abused her power in pressing for the firing of an Alaska state trooper once married to her sister but was within her authority in firing Monegan.
Palin's characterization of the report is wrong, Sen. Kim Elton said later Saturday when told of the governor's comments. The Juneau Democrat chairs the Legislative Council, which authorized the investigation and released the report.
"Finding No. 1 says she violated the ethics law," Elton said. "Anybody who suggests that the report does not say she broke the law, they just need to read the report. They don't even need to read all 300 pages of it, just page seven or eight."
Aides said Saturday that Palin had not read the report but had been "extensively briefed" on it.
When Palin became John McCain's vice presidential running mate, the investigation became sharply politicized and the report's release didn't ease tensions.
Special counsel Steve Branchflower, a retired state prosecutor, found that Palin failed to stop her husband, Todd, from pressuring state employees to fire Trooper Mike Wooten. Palin's sister and Wooten divorced in 2006 but continue to fight over custody and visitation.
Branchflower determined Palin's termination of Monegan likely was related to his refusal to get rid of Wooten but still amounted to a "proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority to hire and fire executive branch department heads."
Palin has had barely any contact with Alaska reporters since going on the campaign trail in August. Saturday's tightly controlled telephone press conference with three Alaska reporters lasted for about 5 minutes and 30 seconds. Each reporter was limited to one question. Palin was traveling to a Philadelphia Flyers hockey game, where she dropped the puck. Taylor Griffin, a campaign spokesman, said she's trying to find more time to talk with Alaska reporters before the Nov. 4 election.
Palin said she appreciated the chance to address what she called "Tasergate," a reference to an earlier finding in a state trooper investigation that determined her ex-brother-in-law used a Taser on his 11-year-old stepson, among other issues.
Before Palin became governor, she and others in the family pushed troopers to investigate Wooten, then in the midst of the divorce, over a variety of issues, including the tasering. They claimed he threatened Palin's father, drank beer in his patrol car and illegally shot a moose, and the pressure continued once Palin was elected. Wooten ultimately was suspended for five days, but the Palins have said they didn't know the result of the internal trooper investigation until after Monegan's firing in July.
"Todd did what the state's Department of Law Web site tells anyone to do if they have a concern about a state trooper. And that's you go to the commissioner and you express your concern," Palin said.
Neither she nor Todd had anything to apologize for, the governor said.
"Todd did what anyone would have done given this state trooper's very, very troubling behavior and his dangerous threats against our family," Palin said Saturday. "So again, nothing to apologize there with Todd's actions and again very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing."
Yet, Elton said, if anything, Branchflower didn't go far enough in a separate finding that criticized the state Attorney General's office for failing to provide requested e-mails. That was just one problem with Attorney General Talis Colberg's actions in the case, the senator said. Colberg initially agreed to allow state workers to give depositions, then broke that agreement, and only after a court ruled the investigation was legitimate did he allow them to answer written questions, Elton said.
On Saturday, Palin was asked whether she thought she had done anything wrong, given the report's finding that she abused her power.
"Not at all and I'll tell ya ... I think that you're always going to ruffle feathers as you do what you believe is in the best interest of the people whom you are serving," Palin said. "In this case I knew that I had to have the right people in the right position at the right time in this cabinet to best serve Alaskans, and Walt Monegan was not the right person at the right time to meet the goals that we had set out in our administration."
In a deposition for the Legislature's investigation, Monegan said he at first was confused about why he was fired but later came to believe Wooten's continued employment was the primary cause.
"I had no idea. I suspected. But why I feel more certain now than I did in July is that I have watched through the media where she would make -- well, he didn't recruit enough, or he wasn't a budget player, or he wasn't concerned about the Bush enough."
None of those things were true, Monegan told Branchflower. "So by her statements, it literally was a process of elimination for me ... What was the central theme through the 17 months of my tenure at (the Department of Public Safety)? And that was Wooten, from the beginning to the end."
Asked whether the report was partisan, Palin said it was. "What this legislative investigation -- quote unquote -- turned into was a political circus," she said.
The state Personnel Board, which is doing its own investigation, is the proper venue, she said.
Palin was also asked about whether she approved of how the campaign is going in Alaska, especially regarding concerns about attacks on " good people," such as Monegan being called "rogue."
"Rogue isn't a negative term when you consider that in a cabinet you need a team effort going forward with a governor's agenda," Palin said.
What happens next is unclear. Some legislators are planning bills to address weaknesses exposed in the investigation. The Legislature could take up the report when it convenes in January. The Personnel Board's investigation continues on, but it's being done in secret. Under the state ethics act, the board has authority to impose fines or take other actions, including recommending impeachment, for ethics act violations.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.
Q&A with Governor Palin
Reporters from three Alaska news outlets were given about 5 minutes, by phone, with Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday to ask questions about the Legislature's report on the Branchflower investigation. The reporters, from the Daily News, KTVA-Channel 11 and KTUU-Channel 2, were each allowed one question. Here's what the governor said:
Anchorage Daily News: Governor, finding No. 1 on the report was that you abused your power by violating state law. Do you think you did anything wrong at all in this Troopergate case?
Palin: Not at all and I'll tell you, it, I think that you're always going to ruffle feathers as you do what you believe is in the best interest of the people whom you are serving. In this case I knew that I had to have the right people in the right position at the right time in this cabinet to best serve Alaskans, and Walt Monegan was not the right person at the right time to meet the goals that we had set out in our administration. So no, not having done anything wrong, and again very much appreciating being cleared of any legal wrongdoing or unethical activity at all.
KTVA-Channel 11: ... The report that came out yesterday, do you think that the end result is partisan?
Palin: Yeah, I did think it did turn into a partisan circus to tell ya the truth. Yes I did. You know from Day One it's been the Personnel Board that clearly laid out in state statute there -- Personnel Board deals with any issue of question regarding a governor, a lieutenant governor or an attorney general in the state of Alaska. What this legislative investigation -- quote unquote -- turned into was a political circus.
KTUU-Channel 2: Governor, so good to hear from you. Do you approve of the way that your campaign has handled themselves here in Alaska? We've had a lot of people voice concerns about what they call attacks of good people in our state while you are away.
Palin: Well I haven't heard of any attacks on good people in Alaska from our campaign. If you have specifics there, maybe I could answer specifically. But no, in John McCain's mission here, in taking the high road, as you're going to see too with a lot of unfair shots he has taken in this campaign with some of his opponents' supporters, McCain and I taking the high road, being positive. I wouldn't support nor would I condone taking shots at any good Alaskans.
KTUU-Channel 2: Let me answer your question since you asked for specifics.
KTUU-Channel 2: Walt Monegan was called "rogue." How do you feel about that?
Palin: Rogue isn't a negative term when you consider that in a cabinet you need a team effort going forward with a governor's agenda. And our agenda has been to find efficiencies in every department and make sure that we are serving the people of Alaska to the best of our ability given the resources that we have. And remember I fought very hard to increase funding for state troopers so that we could fill positions there and goals not being met that included not being able to recruit and retain all the state troopers that I wanted to best serve Alaska. That could be characterized I think as a cabinet member who -- it's not a negative term I think -- being rogue in terms of not meeting those goals.