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Palin abused powers, Alaska ethics probe finds

The Baltimore Sun

Gov. Sarah Palin abused the powers of her office by pressuring subordinates to get her former brother-in-law, a state trooper, fired, an investigation by the Alaska Legislature has concluded.

A report on the bipartisan inquiry that was released yesterday by lawmakers in Anchorage concluded, however, that Palin was within her right to dismiss her public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, who was the trooper's boss.

The public portion of the report on the inquiry concluded that Palin violated the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act by allowing pressure to be exerted to get Trooper Michael Wooten, her former brother-in-law, dismissed.

In the 263 pages that were released, the independent investigator, Stephen E. Branchflower, a former Anchorage prosecutor, said that Palin wrongfully allowed her husband, Todd, to use state resources as part of the effort to have Wooten dismissed.

The report says she knowingly "permitted Todd Palin to use the Governor's office and the resources of the Governor's office, including access to state employees, to continue to contact subordinate state employees in an effort to find some way to get Trooper Wooten fired."

Further, it says, she "knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda."

Todd Palin has admitted he advocated forcefully to have Wooten removed because of his allegedly inappropriate actions, including threatening Palin's father and giving his son a slight jab with an electric Taser gun.

Branchflower based his finding of abuse of power on the ethics act, which was established to "discourage executive branch employees from acting upon personal interest in the performance of their public responsibilities and to avoid conflicts of interest in the performance of duty," the report says.

But the document concludes that Palin created a conflict of interest by forcing subordinate employees to choose between doing her bidding or not.

The report concluded that "Gov. Palin's firing of Commissioner Walt Monegan was a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority to hire and fire executive branch department heads." It cites the Alaska Constitution, which says "the governor may discharge department heads without cause" and that department heads "serve at the pleasure of the governor."

"In light of this constitutional and statutory authority, it is clear that Gov. Palin could fire Commissioner Walt Monegan at will, for almost any reason, or no reason at all."

The report states that, while there is no doubt that Monegan's "failure to fire Trooper Wooten was a substantial factor in his own firing, the evidence suggest it was not the sole reason."

Twelve members of the legislature's 14-member Legislative Council, the interim body that meets when the Legislature is not in session, deliberated in closed session over the findings for most of the day before voting unanimously to release the 263-page document publicly. One member voted by telephone.

Several Republican legislators had launched a legal effort to halt the inquiry, which they said had become tainted by politics after Palin's nomination to the GOP ticket.

But even the eight Republicans on the council supported the report's release, though many emphasized they were voting to make it public, not in endorsement of its findings.

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