Palin Troopergate: The Timeline, the Truth

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The media just can’t get enough of Alaska’s governor Sarah Palin. The report released on Friday concluded that Palin “abused her power.” But I think it’s important to take an objective look at what really happened and when it happened.

Before going into the specifics, I think it’s important to start with a hypothetical question. If you and your family were being physically threatened by a law enforcement officer who had admitted to using a taser in the past on his small child, what would you do? Would you do everything in your power to make his superiors aware of his behavior and threats? Would you think it appropriate for that law enforcement officer to be disciplined, up to and including getting fired?

I would suggest that any rational person’s response to those questions would be Yes, Yes, and Yes. Keep that in mind as you look over this timeline of events relating to “Troopergate.”

April 2005 – Trooper Mike Wooten is in the middle of a divorce from Molly McCann, Sarah Palin’s sister.

McCann says in a petition for a restraining order against Wooten that he has engaged in “extreme verbal abuse & violent threats & physical intimidation.” She aslo says that he drives drunk, has threatened her father, and said “put a leash on your sister and family or I’m going to bring them down.” A 20-day protective order is issued.

Sgt. Ron Wall begins an investigation into Wooten’s actions in April 2005.

In August 2005, Sarah Palin sends an email to Col. Julia Grimes, head of the state police. In that email, Palin says “My concern is that the public’s faith in the Troopers will continue to diminish as more residents express concerns regarding the apparent lack of action towards a Trooper whom is described by many as ‘a ticking time bomb’ and a ‘loose cannon.’ “and “Wooten is my brother-in-law, but this information is forwarded to you objectively.” Palin asks Grimes to treat the information objectively.

The investigator issues his report on Wooten in October 2005. He finds four instances of law-breaking or policy violations:

  • Wooten used a Taser on his 11-year-old stepson
  • He illegally shot a moose on a hunt in 2003
  • He drank beer in his patrol car on one occasion, with other allegations of drinking and driving
  • He told others his father-in-law would “eat a f’ing lead bullet” if he helped his daughter get an attorney for the divorce.

In October 2005, Sarah Palin annouces that she’s going to run for governor.

In January 2006, the divorce of McCann and Wooten is finalized, and they receive joint custody of the children. The judge says he’ll be monitoring whether McCann and her family “disparage” Wooten.

In March 2006, Wooten is suspended from his job for 10 days and given a warning that this is his “last chance for corrective action.” Grimes says: “The record clearly indicates a serious and concentrated pattern of unacceptable and at times, illegal activity occurring over a lengthy period, which establishes a course of conduct totally at odds with the ethics of our profession.”

In September 2006, the suspension of Wooten is reduced to 5 days following a union grievance.

In November 2006, Sarah Palin wins the general election, and becomes Alaska’s governor in December 2006. She appoints Walter Monegan as public safety commissioner.

In January 2007, Palin’s husband Todd invited Monegan to the governor’s office, and he asked Monegan to look into the Wooten matter. Todd shows him private investigator reports, letters, and correspondence which might indicate Wooten should be punished. Monegan said that the matter was closed.

Monegan says Palin herself called him a few days later about the issue, and again brought it up in February 2007.

Monegan says this was her last direct contact with him about the Wooten issue, although he says she “indirectly” brought it up in emails. He says that in one email, Sarah Palin said: “She said troopers like this one [referring to a jury verdict against a trooper] and my former brother-in-law, or that trooper I used to be related to, are the things that make people not trust troopers.”

The same email also says: “He threatened to kill his estranged wife’s parent, refused to be transferred to rural Alaska and continued to disparage Natives in words and tone, he continues to harass and intimidate his ex. — even after being slapped with a restraining order that was lifted when his supervisors intervened,” the e-mail said. “He threatens to always be able to come out on top because he’s ‘got the badge’, etc. etc. etc.)”

Monegan further reports phone calls from Sarah Palin’s chief of staff, commissioner of the Department of Administration, and the Attorney General. The Attorney General, Talis Colberg, says his contact was in response to Todd Palin’s question about “the process” when a state trooper makes a death threat against the first family.

In all, an estimated 20 to 24 phone calls were made to Monegan regarding wooten.

In April 2007, Tod Palin meeds with Wooten’s boss, Col. Audie Holloway to give her pictures of Wooten riding a snowmobile while out on a worker’s compensation claim.

In July 2008, Monegan is fired and told that Sarah Palin wants to “go in a different direction.” Monegan alleges that he was fired because Palin (and her administration and family) pressured him to fire Wooten and he refused. Palin denies that his firing had anything to do with Wooten.

According to the report of the investigator examining whether Sarah Palin abused her power:

“… I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.”

That act says that “… any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust.” I just don’t see any personal gain in this situation. All we have is a family that has been threatened with violence by a law enforcement officer, and they want to voice their concerns. Wouldn’t you be concerned if someone who carried a handgun every day for his job had threatened to put a bullet into one of your family members?

The other finding was that the firing of Walt Monegan was “… a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority to hire and fire executive branch department heads.”

Here’s what concerns me about the report as a whole: The report came from an investigator appointed by a supposedly bi-partisan ethics panel. The McCain campaign says that the panel isn’t really so bi-partisan, as it’s run by supporters of Barack Obama. They say that the report made “a tortured argument to find fault without basis in law or fact.”

The McCain campaign has said this in response to the report:

“The Palins were completely justified in their concern regarding Trooper Wooten given his violent and rogue behavior.”

15 thoughts on “Palin Troopergate: The Timeline, the Truth

  1. The findings on this case infuriate me. Clearly this was meant to discredit Palin prior to the election. There have also been lots of reports that Monegan was flat out insubordinate toward Palin during his tenure and that she had many reasons to fire him. I think this whole Troopergate issue came up simply because Monegan wouldn’t take responsibility for his own behavior– or see to it that Wooten was held accountable either. The “investigation” was mostly a witch hunt.

  2. Palin is on record as saying the report found she did nothing wrong.

    This is evidence that she is either terribly uninformed, or attempting to mislead the public.

    The report’s first finding directly contradicts Gov. Palin’s statement (and the premise of your post).

    From the Branchflower report:
    —————-

    For the reasons explained in section IV of this report, I find that Governor Sarah Paliln abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) provides

    “The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust.”
    —————-

    Your post’s interpretation of “personal benefit” is different from the one defined by Alaska Statute.

    From the Branchflower report:
    —————-
    The term “benefit” “means anything that is to a person’s advantage or self-interest, or from which a person profits, regardless of the financial gain…” AS 39.52.960(3);

    The term “personal interest” “means an interest held or involvement by a public officer, or the officer’s immediate family member or parent…

    The term “immediate family member” “means

    (A) the spouse of the person;

    (D) a parent, sibling, grandparent, aunt, or uncle of the person; and

    (E) a parent or sibling of the person’s spouse;” AS 39.52.960 (11)
    —————-

    In other words, Gov. Palin’s benefit does not have to be financial, and doesn’t have to be exclusively hers. Actions she takes on behalf of her sibling or spouse fall under the definition.

    The passage you cite does not exonerate Palin from the report’s first finding (that she abused her office in breach of the public trust), it merely means that Palin has not committed a second offense by firing Monegan.

    If you read the timeline of events in section IV of the report, it becomes very clear that not only did Gov. Palin engage in behavior that is at odds with Alaska statutes, you will find that she was repeatedly warned by Monegan that contacting Monegan about a closed investigation was improper.

    Monegan’s primary concern appears to be that Wooten would sue the State of Alaska and that any conversations about Wooten would be discoverable in court proceedings. Monegan appears very concerned that this would expose anyone discussing the case to personal liability (he asks “Do you want Wooten to own your house?”).

    Like Palin, hate Palin – any reading of the Branchflower report cannot conclude that there was no finding of wrongdoing.

  3. Tracy Coenen

    Actually, if you read the WHOLE transcript of what she said instead of just one sentence, what you see is that she was referring to being cleared regarding Monagan’s firing. Her initial sentence said that she was cleared of any wrongdoing, and then one or two sentences later she clarifies that she was cleared of wrongdoing regarding the firing.

    I have a problem with the concept of her getting personal gain from pursuing the Wooten issue. What is the personal gain? There is no personal gain for anyone related to Palin, as I see it. (In fact, there could be financial harm to Palin’s sister if he can’t pay child support.)

    I don’t think that the investigator has told us what this gain was. He’s alleged there is some, but hasn’t stated what that might be. I don’t know how he can make a finding that there was something to gain, but then not state what that gain is.

  4. From the Alaska Daily News’s transcript at:
    http://community.adn.com/adn/node/132625

    ADN: Governor, finding No.1 on the report was that you abused your power by violating state law. Do you think you did anything wrong at all in this Troopergate case?

    Palin: Not at all and I’ll tell you, it, I think that you’re always going to ruffle feathers as you do what you believe is in the best interest of the people whom you are serving. In this case I knew that I had to have the right people in the right position at the right time in this cabinet to best serve Alaskans, and Walt Monegan was not the right person at the right time to meet the goals that we had set out in our administration. So no, not having done anything wrong, and again very much appreciating being cleared of any legal wrongdoing or unethical activity at all.

    ———————-

    I have my own definition of benefit as well – but the only definition that is legally binding on the Governor is the one contained in the Alaska statutes.

    She intervened and allowed her surrogates to intervene into a disciplinary matter involving a state trooper with whom her family members were involved in a legal dispute.

  5. Tracy Coenen

    Sorry, Murph. But that’s not the whole transcript. And her answer to the question was correct. She was asked if she thought she did anything wrong, and her answer was NO. She doesn’t think she did anything wrong. When she later refers to being cleared…. well that’s exactly what I’m talking about. She later clarifies that she is referring to no wrongdoing in the Monagan firing. You’re picking and choosing, and that’s wrong.

  6. The Governor says:

    “So no, not having done anything wrong, and again very much appreciating being cleared of any legal wrongdoing or unethical activity at all.”

    in response to a question on finding number 1 (that she abused her power in office).

    I’ll repost that:

    “…very much appreciating being cleared of any legal wrongdoing or unethical activity at all.”

    That is a categorical statement.

    I see no clarification of that answer or walkback in anything that follows that answer. If you can find one in the transcript, please post it.

  7. Tracy Coenen

    Here is the part in which she clarifies that she’s referring to the firing of Monagan:

    ADN: Governor, finding No.1 on the report was that you abused your power by violating state law. Do you think you did anything wrong at all in this Troopergate case?

    Palin: Not at all and I’ll tell you, it, I think that you’re always going to ruffle feathers as you do what you believe is in the best interest of the people whom you are serving. In this case I knew that I had to have the right people in the right position at the right time in this cabinet to best serve Alaskans, and Walt Monegan was not the right person at the right time to meet the goals that we had set out in our administration. So no, not having done anything wrong, and again very much appreciating being cleared of any legal wrongdoing or unethical activity at all.

    It appears from the reading of the transcript that when this statement was made, Palin hadn’t yet read the report. So she’s going on her understanding of it, which is that the firing of Monagan was not deemed improper.

  8. First, if she hasn’t read the report – it’s pretty irresponsible to make statements to the effect that the report clears you of “any legal wrongdoing.”

    The reporter asks her if she’s read the entire report (in context it appears that the reporter is asking her to clarify her statement that the report clears her). There is no response to this question – so it’s an open question whether or not the governor has read the report.

    Second, your posts said:

    “Her initial sentence said that she was cleared of any wrongdoing, and then one or two sentences later she clarifies that she was cleared of wrongdoing regarding the firing.”

    and

    “When she later refers to being cleared…. well that’s exactly what I’m talking about. She later clarifies that she is referring to no wrongdoing in the Monagan firing.”

    The sentence where she says she has been cleared is the *last* sentence of her response to the question about whether she thought she did anything wrong.

    There is no clarification of what she has been cleared of after that.

    The next question is about the perception of partisanship in the investigation and the final questions are about the civility of the McCain/Palin campaign.

    She makes a blanket statement – which is directly at odds with the first finding of the report she refers to – and makes no clarifying statements afterwords.

    Third – even accepting the notion that Gov. Palin was parsing her statement tighter than the transcript shows, she would be “picking and choosing” which finding she chooses to feel vindicated about.

    Were she to do this (and she did not) she would be making a blanket statement (“cleared of any legal wrongdoing”) about finding #2 of the report, in response to a specific question about finding #1. In the absence of a follow up – this leaves the public with the impression that she believes she has not been found to have done anything illegal.

    And she has.

    Whether she’s answering with a demonstrably false statement – or a cynically parsed one that avoids a direct question and leaves the public with a false impression, it’s pretty shameful behavior.

    With Gov. Palin, night is day – apparently.

    That said – it is unlikely in the extreme that this ethical violation will be prosecuted. Findings are one thing, but proof in a court of law is much harder to establish – especially in the absence of documents like financial records.

    The consequence of violating the law Gov. Palin was found to have broken is a misdemeanor and the immediate resignation of her state office.

    A current reading of the tea leaves suggests the Governor will serve out her term.

  9. Tracy Coenen

    LOL – The media is going to badger her about the report whether she’s read it or not. If she doesn’t say anything, she’ll be accused of avoiding questions. If she does say something, she’s accused of being irresponsible.

    You clearly want to believe she’s a liar.

    I will give her the benefit of the doubt because:
    a. I don’t know her state of mind.
    b. It’s clear she hasn’t read the report and she’s trying to answer to the best of her ability.
    c. The conclusion of the investigator regarding abuse of power is very, very thin. i.e. I think it’s crap.

    So thanks for your comments. There is no need for you to disparage Palin here any further.

  10. Duped

    If this drinking on the job, abusive, threatening trooper was not related to Palin in any way, there would be no questions asked. No one would be nitpicking, except maybe this trooper and his family! Just because the threats were directed to Palin’s family, as opposed to any other citizen, this does not negate the trooper’s abuse of his power, and the fact that his actions are a threat to everyone in his jurisdiction. Palin and her family are also citizens of Alaska, and are entitled to the same protection that is afforded to every other citizen.

    When spindoctors get stuck on “who said what, when” they are trying to make the public forget the original transgression. Let’s not forget that officers of the law are there to protect everyone. Who would be running for any kind of office if they and their families must give up their rights as citizens, in order to serve?

  11. Interestingly, the very day we discussed this, Palin repeated her claim on a Pittsburgh CBS affilliate:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTe7is-80j8

    Palin: The report that came out also was very clear in that there was no unethical or unlawful behavior on my part. … No abuse of power there at all.

    Watch the video. No parsing, no clarification. Just a blanket statement that is at odds with the first finding of the report.

  12. charlie mx

    tracy i want to make you a comment. in this life you have the 3% chances of become millioner 97% to survive. i think that any chance to change your statuts it worth it to take it. like in a lot of buisness you can win or lose but the MLM buisnes like in another kind of buisness you have the same chance to lose money some times a lot of money or to win money some times a lot of money i like to think that we live in a universe of oportunities and MLM Its only another option and i have a very good friend that have 29 years old he had on real state and money in the bank like 6 million dolars at least. he made his money in a MLM and im a witness no body told me about it. i belive in MLM and i think u cant generlize that all MLM are bad.

    have a nice week end and take care. and another advice. if some people find their hope, and the belive that they can change their destiny in a MLM. at least only for that moment its a good buisness. couse some times the sistem dont let u look up for another kind of opportunities and u just survive and u forgot to live happy ever after take care sorry my english its not my birth language bye

  13. Tracy Coenen

    Charlie – The sad truth is that with MLM you have probably the worst chance of any occupation or opportunity to even make enough to live on. Less than 1% even turn a profit. And even far fewer make what could be considered a “good” living.

    So no, consumers should not take this “chance”. It is a complete waste of money… money that could feed their children or pay a few bills.

  14. andy qcl

    I agree with Tracy. I know a lot of “opportunities” such as Amway, and many others (now Shop n’ Earn) that seems too good to be true. Always take a look at the bottom line and think why the promoters are acting like a religious pastors. They are encouraging people to find out more people to sign up and out there is not easy money to make (at least the legal one) So, always be carefull Do I am wrong?

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