Subpoenaed witnesses fail to show for 'troopergate' hearing

Anchorage Daily NewsSeptember 20, 2008 

A state Senate committee convened Friday to take testimony from witnesses facing subpoenas to tell what they know about the 'troopergate' affair, but none showed up — including Gov. Sarah Palin's husband, Todd.

The Anchorage Democratic senator heading the legislative investigation, Hollis French, said the snubs won't stop the inquiry into whether the governor abused her powers by pressuring an ex-Cabinet member to fire a state trooper involved in a rough divorce from her sister.

After waiting half an hour to see if any witnesses would show up, French, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said legislative investigator Steve Branchflower will proceed with his investigation and will finish his report as scheduled on Oct. 10.

He listed three witnesses who had complied with the committee's subpoenas, and said seven others — all state employees in the Palin administration — had not yet been served but soon will be because they failed to appear voluntarily to testify Friday.

Three others — Todd Palin, the governor's deputy chief of staff, Randy Ruaro, and aide Ivy Frye — will be referred to the full Senate for contempt for failing to comply with their subpoenas, French said.

Todd Palin's lawyer signaled on Thursday that the first gentleman, an oil-field worker, wouldn't appear Friday, citing among other things his busy schedule traveling with his wife on the campaign trail for the Nov. 4 election.

Though Friday's hearing never really got under way — only two of the five Judiciary Committee members attended — it nevertheless further inflamed the partisan brawl over "troopergate," which is drawing national attention because of Sarah Palin's status as the Republican vice presidential nominee.

The McCain-Palin campaign is attacking the legislative investigation as illegitimate, run by biased Democrats. But some legislators say they want the truth on whether the governor or her people invaded confidential state personnel files or committed other misdeeds in the run-up to Palin's July sacking of former public safety commissioner Walt Monegan, who said he felt pressure from the Palins to boot Trooper Mike Wooten. Wooten remains on the state police force.

State Sen. Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican, said after Friday's hearing the two sides, feeling the adrenaline of presidential politics, seem divided into two camps: Those who believe the governor is guilty of a cover-up, and those who believe the investigation is a witch hunt.

Another state lawmaker and ardent Palin backer, North Pole Republican Sen. Gene Therriault, voted against issuing the subpoenas as a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Now, he said, the Legislature has two bad options: withdraw the subpoenas in defeat to the governor's office, or go to court to enforce them.

Therriault also said Palin already has proven she had ample reason to fire Monegan, citing e-mails her office released arguing the ex-commissioner defied the governor's budget policies.

"What is this all about other than generating headlines in the press?" Therriault said.

But investigation backers note the probe is broader than simply Monegan's firing. They cite a bipartisan legislative panel’s original mandate: to investigate "potential abuses of power and/or improper actions by members of the executive branch."

In other "troopergate" developments Friday, Palin's appointed attorney general, Talis Colberg, traded dueling letters with Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat who heads the Legislative Council, the panel that unanimously ordered the Monegan investigation on July 28, well before Palin was announced as a vice presidential candidate.

Responding to Elton's assertion the attorney general broke a deal for seven state employees to cooperate without the need to serve subpoenas, Colberg wrote the employees were in a jam: They could voluntarily comply with the subpoenas, or they could side with their boss, Palin, who has said she'll cooperate only with a separate investigation the state Personnel Board is conducting.

Elton pointedly challenged Colberg on how he figures complying with a subpoena is voluntary.

"I hope you are not asserting that being a loyal employee subject to the supervision of the governor is of equal weight to the constitution or the rule of law," Elton wrote. ***** Subpoena list Here's the status of subpoenas the Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee authorized on Sept. 12 in the "troopergate" investigation:

• Frank Bailey, state boards and commissions director, now on paid leave: Provided copy of sworn statement he gave to Gov. Sarah Palin's attorney to legislative investigator Steve Branchflower, satisfying his subpoena.

• Bailey's cell phone records for calls between Feb. 1 and March 31: Phone company ACS has turned records over to Branchflower.

• John Bitney, Palin's former legislative liaison, now aide to House Speaker John Harris: Questioned in Branchflower's office, satisfying his subpoena.

• Murlene Wilkes, owner of Harbor Adjustment Service, an Anchorage business with a state contract to process workers' compensation claims: Scheduled to give statement Friday to Branchflower.

• Todd Palin, the governor's husband: Served with subpoena but hasn't given statement and didn't appear before the committee as ordered Friday to testify.

• Randy Ruaro, Palin's deputy chief of staff: Served with subpoena but hasn't given statement and didn't appear before the committee as ordered Friday to testify.

• Ivy Frye, a Palin special assistant: Served with subpoena but hasn't given statement and didn't appear before the committee as ordered Friday to testify.

• Annette Kreitzer, state administration commissioner: Not yet served with subpoena.

• Dianne Kiesel, a state human resources manager: Not yet served with subpoena.

• Nicki Neal, state personnel and labor relations director: Not yet served with subpoena.

• Brad Thompson, state risk management director: Not yet served with subpoena.

• Mike Nizich, Palin's chief of staff: Not yet served with subpoena.

• Kris Perry, director of the governor's Anchorage office: Not yet served with subpoena.

• Janice Mason, Palin's scheduler and executive secretary: Not yet served with subpoena.

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