Lawyers for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin assailed a legislative report released Friday -- which found she had abused her authority in an effort to remove her former brother-in-law as a state trooper -- saying the report misconstrued the state ethics law in an attempt to “smear” the Republican vice presidential nominee.
In a biting response to the report compiled by investigator Stephen Branchflower for Alaska’s bipartisan Legislative Council, Anchorage attorney Thomas Van Flein and his partners said the ethics law that Branchflower said had been violated was intended to address cases in which a public official had a financial interest, not merely a personal one.
“There is no accusation, no finding and no facts that money or financial gain to the governor was involved” in the July decision to replace Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, Van Flein said in a letter released late Friday.
The Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act states that “each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust.” Palin’s lawyers did not return calls Saturday.
Monegan had resisted pressure from the governor to fire Trooper Mike Wooten, who had been involved in a messy divorce and custody battle with Palin’s sister. The Palins had long complained that Wooten behaved inappropriately for a state trooper -- including shooting his 11-year-old stepson with a Taser, threatening Palin’s father, and driving his patrol car under the influence of alcohol.
“The report concludes that the governor had legitimate business reasons to remove Monegan. There can be no ethics violation under these circumstances,” the letter said. “But the partisan nature of the investigation ineluctably compelled Branchflower and [Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Hollis] French to smear the governor by innuendo and” misrepresenting law.
Palin was under no obligation to halt her husband’s campaign to get Wooten fired, the attorneys added. “Mr. Palin is free to tell anyone he wants, from the commissioner to the man on the street, about his concerns about Trooper Wooten,” the lawyers said.
Gov. Palin refused to cooperate with Branchflower’s inquiry, preferring to have the state’s Personnel Board handle it. She has not answered questions from the media about the episode since her nomination to be John McCain’s running mate.
At a campaign stop in Johnstown, Pa., Palin said she was “thankful” that Branchflower’s report found she did not act illegally when she fired Monegan. “I don’t micromanage my commissioners and ask them to hire or fire anyone. And, thankfully, the truth was revealed there in that report that showed there was no unlawful or unethical activity on my part,” she said.
The report found that Palin was within her rights to fire Monegan but that she violated the law in applying pressure -- personally and through her husband and others -- to get Wooten dismissed.
Times staff writer Robin Abcarian in Johnstown, Pa., contributed to this report.