Alaska legislature, Palin face showdown over 'troopergate'

Anchorage Daily NewsSeptember 11, 2008 

ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Legislature's House and Senate judiciary committees meet Friday in Anchorage to determine whether they'll issue subpoenas to compel members of Gov. Sarah Palin’s administration – but not the governor herself – to sit for interviews with an investigator looking into Palin's dismissal of the state's top cop.

That decision could set up a showdown with Palin after the state's Department of Law, which represents the govenror's aides, threatened this week to go to court to block the subpoenas.

In a seven-page letter, Michael Barnhill, senior assistant to state Attorney General Talis Colberg, asserts that the legislature has overstepped its bounds by ordering an investigation into Palin's dismissal in July of Walt Monegan, then the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. Monegan has said Palin removed him because he refused to fire her former brother-in-law, Mike Wooten, as state trooper involved in a messy child custody battle with Palin's sister.

Barnhill cited several points in saying the legislature's probe was ut of line:

-- The governor is basically the boss over all executive branch employees, and she and her staff can legally look at confidential employee personnel files "in the course and scope of their official duties."

A central question in the troopergate case, of course, is whether the governor or her staff improperly perused Wooten's personnel files.

"At this point, the Department of Law knows of no evidence that suggests that any Department of Administration employees violated the State Personnel Act in handling Trooper Wooten’s personnel file," the letter says.

-- The letter accuses Anchorage Democratic Sen. Hollis French, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and "project director" for the Legislature's troopergate investigation, of making biased media remarks and suggesting state employees might even face criminal prosecution.

-- The letter says that, even though legislators have said the investigation will wrap up by Oct. 10 rather than the end of October as originally planned, that's still suspiciously close to the Nov. 4 election, in which Palin is standing for vice president.

The letter, which drops references to McCarthyism, "secret depositions" and "unchecked investigative enthusiasm," ends on a note of questioning the legitimacy of the Legislature’s investigation.

"Bluntly and to the point, we think there is a legitimate concern that this investigation is no longer being conducted in a fair manner – and therefore is potentially violative of Alaska's constitutional due process safeguards," Barnhill’s letter says, adding:

"The eyes of the nation have now turned upon us."

Before she was nominated as the Republicans' vice presidential candidate, Palin had pledged to cooperate with the Legislature's investigation.

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