Also published at my web magazine, The Public Record.
As Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin works to derail a legislative inquiry into her firing of the public safety commissioner, state officials are vowing to finish a report on the controversy by Oct. 10 and to weigh contempt proceedings against Palin’s husband early next year.
Palin, who initially welcomed the investigation into her dismissal of commissioner Walt Monegan in July, now appears determined to block completion of the inquiry before the Nov. 4 election when she hopes to become the next Vice President of the United States.
But her delaying tactics may extend the controversy into the start of John McCain’s presidency should he win. That could create a distraction for the new administration, especially if Palin’s husband Todd faces possible arrest for ignoring a subpoena from the state legislature.
Palin’s handling of the case also raises more questions about her credibility as a “reformer” who says no one is above the law. She now seems to be counting on her new-found celebrity and the hardball tactics of national Republican operatives to shield her from legislative oversight.
Further, Palin’s resistance to the investigation may remind some voters of the disdain that President George W. Bush has shown toward congressional oversight, including a similar pattern of ignoring subpoenas issued to Bush’s top aides who were involved in the 2006 firing of nine federal prosecutors deemed not “loyal Bushies.”
With the McCain campaign battling Democratic accusations that a McCain presidency would mean “more of the same,” the image of Palin and her husband refusing to answer questions about an alleged abuse of power might recall the troubling image of Bush stonewalling congressional oversight.
Palin’s “Troopergate” scandal centers on whether the governor, her husband and several of her senior aides pressured commissioner Monegan to fire Mike Wooten, a state trooper who was in an ugly divorce and child custody dispute with Gov. Palin's sister.
In Alaska, the battle lines around the scandal have grown sharper in the past two weeks as the McCain campaign dispatched national Republican operatives to advise Palin and her inner circle how to contest and discredit the legislative inquiry.
Demeaning the Prosecutor
Rescinding her earlier promise to cooperate, Palin then began challenging the legitimacy of the investigation and demeaning the professionalism of independent counsel Steven Branchflower, a longtime prosecutor hired to conduct the probe.
Palin’s lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, toughened the rhetoric this past week, claiming the investigation was “being pursued for partisan purposes” and arguing that the Judiciary Committee has no authority to investigate the governor’s office.
Additionally, Van Flein said the subpoena issued for Todd Palin is “unduly burdensome” due to “preexisting travel plans” because his wife is the Republican Party’s vice presidential nominee.
McCain-Palin campaign aide Meg Stapleton offered up another novel legal argument on Thursday, saying Alaska law prohibits action on ethics violations while someone is running for elected office.
“That law was passed to insulate investigations from exactly the kind of political maneuvering we are seeing in this inquiry," Stapleton said. However, the law pertains to individuals running for statewide office, not national.
Stapleton also said Monegan was fired because of “insubordination with respect to the budget process,” not because he balked at Palin’s demands that he oust her ex-brother-in-law.
Despite Palin’s success rallying some state Republican lawmakers to her side in the Troopergate battle, other legislative leaders from both parties appeared unwilling to back down in the face of the governor’s pressure.
Alaska Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat, recommended on Friday that Todd Palin and the two other Palin aides be held in contempt for their refusal to honor the legislative subpoenas.