In an announcement Monday that leaves Alaskans more confused than ever, Gov. Sarah Palin was cleared of any wrongdoing in the Troopergate scandal, according to a second and final investigative report.
"There is no probable cause to believe that the governor, or any other state official, violated the Alaska Executive Ethics Act in connection with these matters," according to the report issued on the eve of the U.S. presidential election.
Palin had asked the three-person Alaska Personnel Board, charged with investigating ethics complaints against state employees, to look at whether she committed any ethics violations in her July 11 firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. He claimed he was dismissed in part because he refused to fire state trooper Mike Wooten, who was involved in a divorce and custody battle with Palin's sister. Palin, 44, maintains she fired Monegan over budget disagreements.
Monday's findings contradict a separate probe conducted for a state legislative panel. On Oct. 10, the panel released findings that showed Palin abused her power in violation of state ethics rules. "Governor Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda,'' according to the Oct. 10 report.
But Tim Petumenos, the Personnel Board's investigator, came to a different conclusion. "The governor has testified that she did not seek the termination of Trooper Wooten after she became governor," he wrote in his report.
Petumenos announced his findings at a press conference in Anchorage a day before the presidential election. (Petumenos is a registered Democrat. The Personnel Board is made up of three political appointees, all of whom were named by the previous governor.) "If you think this is being done to favor the governor politically, it would have been more favorable to have it released days ago." Petumenos added, "I wish it had been released before. I had hoped we would release it last week."
The earlier investigation conducted for the state legislative panel found that Palin abused her authority and violated state ethics rules by letting her husband, Todd, use the governor's office to press for Wooten's firing. Palin refused to cooperate with that investigation, and the McCain campaign denounced it as partisan.
Even so, the Oct. 10 report said Palin's dismissal of Monegan was a "proper and lawful exercise" of her authority to fire department heads for any reason.
Bill McAllister, a Palin spokesman, said Monday that she is "gratified that after four months that she is now finally vindicated."
Aides to Arizona senator McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, released a statement from Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Flein, saying the personnel board "provided a fair and impartial review."
At the heart of the dispute is a years-long feud between the Palin family and Wooten. She and her family accused Wooten of using a Taser on his 10-year-old stepson, shooting a moose without a permit, drinking on the job and other acts of misconduct, all of which allegedly occurred before she was elected governor in November 2006.
An investigation by the Alaska state police before Palin became governor sustained some of the claims against Wooten and dismissed the rest. He was put on unpaid leave for five days in 2006. Palin was elected governor later that year.
Palin and her husband gave sworn statements Oct. 24 in the investigation that resulted in Monday's report.
Petumenos said Monday the legislative investigator wrongly interpreted the ethics law in finding an abuse of power by Palin. He said he interviewed more state officials than the legislative investigator. He said he found evidence that Palin and her staff had legitimate concerns about Monegan and his performance and that they were not looking to fire him because of Wooten.
The investigator said he was unsure whether he was able to review all e-mails related to the investigation because Palin and some of her staff conducted state business on their private e-mail accounts. The practice isn't illegal, though it "does not give us the assurance that we were able to locate all of the e-mails," he said in his report.
John Cyr, executive director of the Public Safety Employees Association, the union for state troopers, said in an interview he was disappointed with today's findings. "I was surprised to see the same set of facts portrayed in the last report as a violation of the ethics law and then to see a finding of no wrongdoing today," Cyr said.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing