'Troopergate' report set for Friday, despite Palin resistance

Anchorage Daily NewsOctober 8, 2008 

With his "troopergate" report due Friday, legislative investigator Steve Branchflower appears to have the makings of a fairly complete account, despite weeks of resistance from the Palin family and administration.

Branchflower has, or soon will have, answers from nearly all the people he'd hoped to question regarding Gov. Sarah Palin's firing in July of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.

Some of the final witnesses include seven state employees, including the governor's chief of staff, who lost a court fight to kill subpoenas Branchflower obtained through the Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee to compel their testimony.

The seven this week are answering a list of questions known as interrogatories. The answers are submitted under oath.

Another key witness, Todd Palin, the governor's husband, also is answering a list of questions in writing, and has a deadline of today to turn them in.

A legislative panel has scheduled a meeting for 9 a.m. Friday to receive Branchflower's report on Monegan's firing and whether Palin or members of her administration abused their powers in pushing for the dismissal of a state trooper involved in a child-custody fight with the governor's sister.

The legislative inquiry into the so-called troopergate affair has gathered huge national interest because of Palin's run for the vice presidency, and because of campaign charges that biased Democrats in the Legislature have manipulated the investigation to damage the McCain-Palin ticket.

When they launched the troopergate probe on July 28, about a month before John McCain chose Palin as his vice presidential running mate, legislators designated state Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat and Judiciary Committee chairman, as director of the Branchflower investigation.

French said Tuesday that Branchflower, a retired state prosecutor, is working as fast as possible to finish his questioning and draft his report.

Whether in person or in writing, Branchflower has been able to interview nearly all the witnesses he wanted to question regarding whatever they might know about events surrounding Monegan's firing.

The big exception is the governor herself, who had said initially she would cooperate but has since resisted. Legislators decided against hitting the governor with a subpoena, saying they wanted to "de-escalate" tensions between her and the Legislature.

"We tried to schedule a statement from her but it never worked out," French said.

By Friday, Branchflower is expected to have heard from at least 15 witnesses, including Mike Nizich, Palin's chief of staff, and Annette Kreitzer, Palin's commissioner of administration. He's also gathering e-mail and other documents.

French said Branchflower will have to speak for himself as to whether he was able to gather enough witness cooperation and facts to prepare a proper report.

"That's a question that's going to have to get answered Friday," French said. "I've been pretty careful not to peer over his shoulder. He's a very experienced investigator."

Some Republican legislators have criticized French, however, saying he made media remarks that seemed to presage an unfavorable outcome for the governor.

Palin has said she fired Monegan over budget and policy conflicts, not the trooper issue.

At 3 p.m. today, lawyers for six Republican legislators who last week lost a court case seeking to halt the legislative investigation will try to persuade the state Supreme Court to overturn Superior Court Peter Michalski's dismissal of the case.

Meg Stapleton, a local spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign, said Todd Palin is answering Branchflower's questions but isn't hopeful of a fair outcome.

"Todd certainly wants to make sure that everyone knows he has nothing to hide," she said. "But Todd and the governor both feel the outcome was predetermined and prejudged back when the governor was named a vice presidential candidate."

Monegan, the man at the center of the Troopergate affair, said he spent nearly a day answering Branchflower's questions in person. He said he also turned over some documents.

"I'm looking forward to whatever Steve finds out," Monegan said. "One, I want the truth to come out. But two, I am sure I'm like the rest of the state in that we'd like to see some conclusion to this thing."

Monegan said he wasn't sure at first, but has come to believe that his failure to heed pressure from Palin, her husband and others to sack state Trooper Mike Wooten is what cost him his job as public safety commissioner.

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