Friday, October 10, 2008

Troopergate Report

The full .pdf of the investigation is here. Having read the first 100 pages, it basically says:

1) The Palin family had filed a complaint against Wooten simultaneously with the divorce. An investigation was undertaken and he was sanctioned. However, the Palins were not able to be kept informed of the status of the investigation due to an Alaskan rule forbidding it.

2) So the Palins kept bugging everybody about why Wooten wasn't fired. They hired a PI to investigate him, and submitted the PI's reports, wanting to know if the people investigating had the full information. They were told that there was no new info in the reports.

3) The Palins kept on it, reporting Wooten for things like dropping his kids off on company time (he'd had permission) and when he was injured at work, taking pictures of him snowmobiling to disprove his work comp claim. They kept bringing up the moose kill, despite being told that if they filed criminal charges against Wooten for pulling the trigger, they would also in fairness have to file charges against Palin's sister for falsely claiming she'd killed it (it was on her tag) and Palin's father for dressing the moose. The Palins didn't want those charges filed, but kept trying to get criminal charges against Wooten.

4) All this was making Monegan nervous, he was getting the impression if he didn't find reason to fire Wooten he wouldn't last too long.

5) Although the Palins did indicate that Wooten had threatened Sarah's father, they didn't ask for increased security, nor did they indicate during these multiple conversations about needing him to be fired that the reason was they felt he was a security risk to them. Instead, they kept talking about him being bad for recruiting and a bad trooper.

6) When the Palins heard he had applied for a new job as a police officer, they contacted those people as well and said they shouldn't hire him.

7) When it then came time for Molly (Sarah's sister) to argue for a larger child support award, the judge specifically denied it, based on the fact that a) she was capable of earning more herself; and b) the Palin family had done everything they could to "kill the goose that lays the golden eggs" by trying their hardest to get Wooten fired.

8) The Palin administration did have other beefs with Monegan, that were unrelated to the Wooten thing, specific instances of not following rules.

9) It appears that the straw that broke the camel's back came on a holiday commemorating police officers. There was an official picture taken of an officer in uniform to publicize the event, which was sent to Sarah Palin by Monegan for her official signature. Apparently the doofus didn't realize it was a picture of Wooten. That really pissed her off, and probably for good reason.

10) Within days, Monegan was gone.

Upshot: The report finds no ethics violation against Todd Palin, because he really wasn't a government employee. The report does find an ethics violation against Sarah Palin because she knowingly either actively used (for her part in the conversation) or failed to prevent from being used (for Todd's part - he had used her office, which he apparently was in, like, every day) her office to influence a employment decisions on Wooten based on her personal relationship with him. However, the report also finds that she was well within the scope of her duties in dismissing Monegan because even though the Wooten thing was a substantial part of it, she had the power to hire and fire him at will for any reason. Incidentally, the report notes that some of this could have been obviated if there had been an official mechanism for the Palins to gain information on the investigation. Because there was none, some of the improper contacts were simply motivated by trying to find out what happened. It recommends that rule be changed.

My personal opinion: Holy crap what a messed up family. Yep, I think Wooten did a bunch of weird-ass crap that I would certainly bring up. But their going after him like that (spying, private investigators, contacting people he'd applied for jobs with - and how did they know he'd applied?) smacks of the Godfather, Alaskan-style. They won't be able to do much to her, because she was within her rights to fire Monegan. Wooten probably has grounds for a harassment suit - one of the big things Monegan kept saying to them was "remember, this is subpoena-able official conversations, you don't want to give him grounds to win a lawsuit, do you?" Though I'm pretty sure if we looked we'd find he'd done as much to them as they'd done to him, knowing divorce cases. The judge was totally right in the whole "tried to kill the goose" thing. It's a pretty funny part of the report, it also uses "in like Flynn" and "until the cows come home" - go to pages 53 and 54 of the .pdf. Basically, I'm glad I'm not related to them. My family is messed up, too, but not that badly.

The spin:
The Branchflower Report is a series of guess and insupportable conclusions drawn by exactly one guy, and it hasn't been approved or adopted or endorsed by so much as a single sub-committee of the Alaska Legislature, much less any kind of commission, court, jury, or other proper adjudicatory body.

Here's a note to Mr. Branchflower, who clearly is verbose, but obviously none too keen a scholar of logic: Gov. Palin's so-called "firing" of Monegan (it wasn't a firing, it was a re-assignment to other government duties that he resigned rather than accept) can't simultaneously be a violation of the Ethics Act and "a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority." This, gentle readers, is a 263-page piece of political circus that actually explicitly refutes itself on its single most key page!

To distill the arguments:
1) The Palins never "fired" Monegan, they just "reassigned" him.

2) The Palins never said they wanted Wooten fired either.

3) You can't both be in violation of the Ethics act and acting within discretionatory powers.

4) It was all about safety: Well, here's another memo to Mr. Branchflower: When the family is question is the family of the Governor of Alaska, and when her security detail is charged with protecting her from threats, and in the process of that, the security detail actively seeks out information as to who may have previously made death threats against the family, that's no longer solely a "personal family related reason." and that "[e]very prior reported Ethics Act violation involved financial motives and financial 'potential gain, or the avoidance of a potential loss.' ... Here, there is no accusation, no finding and no facts that money or financial gain to the governor was involved in the decision to replace Monegan."

I find the arguments flawed, based on the statutes involved.
1) Anyone who's ever been involuntarily "reassigned" from a job to a lesser job realizes point #1 is disingenuous. Certainly Monegan feels he was fired from the job, though given a replacement job. The reassignment is splitting hairs.

2) Wooten had been disciplined - suspended, etc. - and the Palins felt he got a "slap on the wrist" - their words, not mine. They kept asking, according to multiple witnesses, why is this guy still carrying a badge, and saying he shouldn't be a trooper. To say that wasn't agitation to have him fired because they never used the word "fired" is a flat lie, of the sort Clinton used when denying Monica. Okay, you can't use the tactic after you've bitched about Dems using it, unless you've decided to withdraw you're original bitching. That's just slimy.

3) Actually, as I read it, you can be in violation of the Ethics statute and still be within your rights as Governor. The statute - AS 39.52.110 broadly states: 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. (Page 49 of the .pdf) The term "benefit" means anything that is to a person's advantage or self-interest, or from which a person profits, regardless of financial gain, and [t]he term "personal interest" means an interest held or involvement by a public officer, or the officer's immediate family or parent, (the statutory term family member is laid out, which includes siblings and parents). Finally "official action" is defined under AS 39.52.960(14) as advice, participation, or assistance, including, for example, a recommendation, decision, approval, disapproval, vote or similar action, including inaction, by a public officer. So basically, they've worded their ethics statute so broadly as to encompass any action - or inaction! - by public officers that benefits you or a family member personally. Quite frankly, it's too broad. I can't see a scenario where an action or inaction on any major issue which could be entirely divorced from any "benefit" to self or family. Taxes? That's bound to affect you. Hunting? Yep, that too. So they're attacking it wrongly. If they want to argue this correctly, not just issue a blind spin, point out that the ethics statute is just too damn broad. Admit you're in violation, and defy anyone not to be.

4) I don't agree that their sole motivation was safety. First, they never mentioned him as a specific threat to their security chief when requesting security in the first place. They did mention it later on, but the testimony of the officer assigned to coordinate their security (Wheeler) said on page 208 of the .pdf that "I never felt that they were in fear of Mr. Wooten doing anything to them, because they never required the protection detail to provide protection to them. And in fact, about two or three weeks into the - the Palin administration, the governor actually asked us not to drive her to and from her residence and the events, and normal day-to-day duties that the protection detail normally does were greatly curtailed." Finally, as the report points out, none of the complaints against Wooten were couched in terms of the first family's safety, but rather focused on the idea that it was inappropriate that he was still a trooper and got a "slap on the wrist." Certainly, the judge in the divorce case strongly felt they embarked on a vendetta to get him fired, and I'm sure he heard pages more testimony than we've been provided. Res judicata anyone?

Given all that, I don't think anyone who still likes Palin is really going to care, and of course if they don't like her it's not exactly changing their minds. I decided a few weeks ago that I don't think she's a fit candidate. This has been entertaining, but probably changes little in the terms of actual votes.

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