Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s Ethics Investigation: True Lies

Alaska State Senate President Lyda Green

Alaska State Senate President Lyda Green

Alaskans are becoming increasingly frustrated by the disregard of the “Troopergate” investigation shown by Governor Sarah Palin and the McCain presidential campaign staff who have descended on the state.  In a September 25, 2008 article for the Anchorage Press by Brendan Joel Kelley, Alaska Republican Attorney General Talis Colberg is on vacation to parts unknown while Ed O’Callaghan and Meg Stapleton continue to block the investigation. 

 

Attorney General Colberg (right) stated in a letter September 16 that ten state employees would not be cooperate with their subpoenas.  Gov. Palin’s husband Todd Palin, who has also been subpoenaed, did not appear for his scheduled testimony last week.  Although advising witnesses not to appear when subpoenaed is a clear violation of the law … Alaska Statute 11.56.545 … this doesn’t seem to have stopped someone (Colberg? O’Callaghan?) from doing just that. 

Alaska State Senate President Lyda Green expressed great concern as to the steamroller tactics of the McCain campaign in taking over what was clearly an internal state government ethics investigation.  Due to the difficulties in reconvening the state legislature for a special session to take some action in the investigation, it would appear at this point that “Troopergate” is unlikely to be resolved until after the national presidential election is held in November.

Whether or not the Republican presidential ticket wins in November, Alaskans are already living in McCainistan. It seems Governor Palin and Attorney General Talis Colberg have simply abdicated their positions, leaving operatives from the McCain campaign in charge of the executive branch (including the Department of Law) while attempting to undermine the authority of the legislative branch.

As one watches Governor Palin stumble through the three interviews she’s done since being announced as John McCain’s vice presidential running mate, and as one reads the reports in the national media of Palin being sequestered far away from inquisitive reporters, and as one hears that requests for information about both her record as governor for the past 21 months and the legislative investigation into whether she improperly dismissed former Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan are being shunted to the McCain campaign, it’s a bit jaw-dropping to attend one of the “truth squad” pressers and repeatedly hear that Palin is “an open book.” Actually it’s worse than jaw-dropping: It’s insulting. A visibly frustrated Sean Cockerham of the Anchorage Daily News expressed what most in the room were thinking at Tuesday’s installment of the Palin “truth squad” charade: “[Governor Palin] says she’s an open book, she wants her story to be told, then why does she not speak to the press?”

While Attorney General Talis Colberg is “vacationing” somewhere in the Midwest, we’re treated to a shrill performance by former Palin spokesperson Meg Stapleton, who glances up from her script occasionally to sneer smugly at the reporters in the room (see for yourself in video posted at ADN’s Alaska Politics blog).

Then, once she’s read her prepared statement, Ed O’Callaghan, until recently co-chief of the terrorism and national security unit of the U.S. attorney’s office in New York, takes questions, while Stapleton gazes dreamily at him, lips pursed.

O’Callaghan is billed as a McCain campaign spokesman, but why would a Justice Department prosecutor quit his job and fly to Alaska to be a mere flack? Because, by his own admission, he’s also advising Thomas Van Flein, an Anchorage lawyer representing the Palins in the Wootengate inquiry. Van Flein was originally retained by Alaska’s Department of Law; the McCain camp says that that contract has been terminated. Meanwhile, O’Callaghan can’t-or won’t-answer to what extent attorneys from the McCain campaign are advising the Department of Law.

Since Palin was named to the Republican ticket, Van Flein (with the counsel of O’Callaghan and another “volunteer” attorney that the Truthers declined to name) has asserted that the legislature has no authority to investigate the dismissal of Monegan, and that the state’s Personnel Board-which answers to the governor-has jurisdiction over such matters.

“Today, we reiterate and emphasize the ongoing cooperation in the truly independent investigation involving the only legal forum in the state for the Monegan inquiry,” Stapleton said Monday. “As you know, that is the Personnel Board.”

Except that we don’t know that. And that was never asserted prior to Palin’s August 29 selection by McCain as his running mate.

And that’s not the least of the inaccuracies and inconsistencies being peddled by Stapleton and O’Callaghan.

When Stapleton alleged that Senator Hollis French (D-Anchorage) decided not to subpoena Palin’s former chief of staff Mike Tibbles, KTUU’s Jason Moore pointed out that it was actually Fairbanks Republican Representative Jay Ramras that requested Tibbles not be subpoenaed. Following that report on KTUU, Stapleton called Moore’s wife and told her that Moore was calling Stapleton and O’Callaghan liars, then followed up by calling KTUU news director Steve Mac Donald to complain.

In trying to paint Commissioner Monegan as a rogue, the Truthers alleged that Monegan had sought to go to Washington, D.C. in July to seek federal funds to fight sexual violence in Alaska without the administration’s approval (the campaign called this “the final straw”). However, ABC News unearthed the travel authorization-signed by Palin’s chief of staff Mike Nizich-authorizing Monegan to go to Washington to attend a meeting with Senator Lisa Murkowski.

Now Attorney General Colberg is missing in action after writing a letter on September 16 advising Legislative Council chair Senator Kim Elton (D-Juneau) that ten state employees would not cooperate with the subpoenas that the Senate Judiciary issued. Three, including Todd Palin, failed to show up last week, and the other seven are due to appear before the House Judiciary Committee this Friday.

It’s worth noting that if Colberg-or O’Callaghan-advised any of the subpoenaed witnesses not to appear, it appears to violate Alaska Statute 11.56.545, which makes it a class A misdemeanor to knowingly induce a witness to be absent from an “official proceeding,” which is defined as a “proceeding heard before a legislative, judicial, administrative, or other governmental body or official authorized to hear evidence under oath.”

Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage) has asked the state troopers to investigate whether witness tampering has occurred. “We’re looking at the statutes and the facts,” he says. “It’s pretty serious charges, so we’re not going to say that we know who’s broken the law.”

In Gara’s letter to Colonel Audie Holloway, he writes, “I do not know whether it is advice from staff for the McCain campaign, state counsel, private cousel, or from others, or whether these witnesses may have [chosen not to appear] independently of advice or suggestions from third persons. But it seems a witness would not risk the possible jail time that comes with the violations of a subpoena without advice of others.”

State Senate President Lyda Green (R-Wasilla) is exploring what actions the legislature can take at this point as well. “Reconvening the senate is one of the options,” she says. “I have an idea this will roll over into the next legislative year, and I have an idea that to try to reconvene the legislature after two rather long special sessions would be very difficult.”

Green says she welcomes the presence of national campaigns here in Alaska, but “I’m very concerned that [the McCain campaign has] become the spokesperson for the governor and her husband and issues concerning an Alaska legislature’s special investigator. I do feel the national Republican campaign is asserting way too much influence. It’s my understanding that the other day someone called the governor’s office to inquire about [the Monegan investigation] and they were given the McCain campaign number. That’s, to me, a very questionable use. I don’t know that it’s unethical, illegal, or improper, but to me it’s a very strange tie, since generally candidates are cautioned to keep your office and your campaign totally separate.”

The McCain campaign and Van Flein have insisted that Monegan and Stephen Branchflower, the investigator hired by the legislature to pursue the inquiry, are friends. But there is evidence to the contrary. “Steve Branchflower and Walt Monegan, if anything, probably have an adversarial relationship,” Senator Green says.

She’s referring to the 2002 murder of retired Commissioner of Public Safety Glenn Godfrey, when a former girlfriend of Godfrey’s, Karen Brand, entered the home, killed Glenn Godfrey, shot Godfrey’s wife Patricia four times, and then killed herself. Patricia Godfrey called 911, but it took police and medical personnel nearly an hour to find the Godfrey’s Eagle River home. Walt Monegan was the chief of the Anchorage Police Department at the time.

Patricia Godfrey filed a complaint with the Office of Victim’s Rights, whose director at the time was Stephen Branchflower. Branchflower’s subsequent investigation and report found that the APD, under Monegan’s reign, violated the victims’ rights by releasing confidential information about them at a press conference, and that APD’s delayed emergency response violated Patricia Godfrey’s right to immediate medical assistance, and that the delayed response was not an isolated event for the APD under Monegan’s watch.

On Tuesday, in a combative session with reporters, Stapleton and O’Callaghan said that Governor Palin-the “open book”-would be cooperating with the Personnel Board’s investigator, Timothy Petumenos, and that both Todd and Sarah Palin were working on scheduling interviews with Petumenos.

But this assertion that the Personnel Board investigation-launched suddenly after Palin’s nomination-is valid and nonpartisan, while the legislature’s investigation is irrevocably tainted by partisanship, is, quite simply, bullshit.

Last week, two lawsuits-one from five state legislators-were filed seeking to dismiss the Legislative Council’s investigation on grounds that it was partisan (never mind that Republican legislators were among those who’ve voted in favor of both the initial investigation and the subpoenas that it issued).

On Tuesday, came news that the Legislative Council has hired an attorney to file their own suit, this one asking the courts to quash those two lawsuits. In a press release from the office of attorney Peter Maasen, who’s representing the Council, the obvious is finally stated: “The complaints suggest that Alaska legislators with open political views should be prohibited from participating in any legislative function that might-might-reflect badly on Governor Palin, at least until the national election is over.

“The Alaska legislature is comprised of people with open political views, both Republican and Democrat. That does not disqualify them from legislative functions, not even during election season, and not even if powerful and increasingly heavy-handed national interests wish it were otherwise.”

True Lies

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