From talking points memo

Getting Real About Palin

08.31.08 — 11:00AM

By Josh Marshall

I’ve noticed some people who should know better claiming that bringing up Gov. Palin’s troopergate scandal is tantamount to making a victim of or defending her slimeball ex-brother-in-law who allegedly once used a taser on his stepson.

That’s awfully foolish. So I thought I’d put together a post explaining why.

The person in question is state trooper Mike Wooten — Palin’s ex-brother-in-law who’s embroiled in a bitter custody and divorce battle with Palin’s sister. Back in the second week of August, well before Palin became a national political figure, TPMMuckraker was reporting on this story. And as part of the reporting we tried to get a handle on just how bad a guy Wooten was. Most people who are familiar with the ugliness that often spills out of custody and divorce cases know to take accusations arising out of the course of them with a grain of salt unless you know a lot about the people involved. And if you look closely at the case there are numerous reasons to question the picture drawn by the Palin family. Regardless, we proceeded on the assumption that Wooten really was a rotten guy because the truth is that it wasn’t relevant to the investigation of Palin.

Let’s review what happened.

The Palin family had a feud with Wooten prior to her becoming governor. They put together a list of 14 accusations which they took to the state police to investigate — a list that ranged from the quite serious to the truly absurd. The state police did an investigation, decided that 5 of the charges had some merit and suspended Wooten for ten days — a suspension later reduced to five days. The Palin’s weren’t satisfied but there wasn’t much they could do.

When Palin became governor they went for another bite at the apple. Palin, her husband and several members of her staff began pressuring Public Safety Commissioner, Walt Monegan — a respected former Chief of the Anchorage police department — to can Wooten. Monegan resisted, arguing that the official process regarding Wooten was closed. And there was nothing more that could be done. In fact, during one of the conversations in which Palin’s husband Todd was putting on the squeeze, Monegan told Todd Palin, “You can’t head hunt like this. What you need to do is back off, because if the trooper does make a mistake, and it is a terminable offense, it can look like political interference.”

Eventually, Palin got fed up and fired Monegan from his job. (Palin claims, not credibly, that she fired Monegan over general differences in law enforcement priorities.) This is an important point. Wooten never got fired. To the best of my knowledge, he’s is still on the job. The central bad act was firing the state’s top police official because he refused to bend to political pressure from the governor and her family to fire a public employee against whom the governor was pursuing a vendetta — whether the vendetta was justified or not.

Soon after this, questions were raised in the state about Monegan’s firing and he eventually came forward and said he believed he’d been fired for not giving in to pressure to fire Wooten.

After Monegan made his accusations, Palin insisted there was no truth whatsoever to his claims. Nonetheless, a bipartisan committee of the state legislature approved an investigation. In response, Palin asked the Attorney General to start his own investigation which many in the state interpreted as an effort to either keep tabs on or tamper with the legislature’s investigation. Again, very questionable judgment in someone who aspires to be first in line to the presidency.

The Attorney General’s investigation quickly turned up evidence that Palin’s initial denials were false. Multiple members of her staff had raised Wooten’s employment with Monegan. Indeed, the state police had a recording of one of her deputies pushing Monegan to fire Wooten. That evidence forced Palin to change her story. Palin said that this was the first she’d heard of it and insisted the deputy wasn’t acting at her behest, even though the trascript of the recorded call clearly suggested that he was. (Hear the audio here.)

Just yesterday, Monegan gave an interview to the Washington Post in which he said that not only Palin’s aides, but Palin’s husband and Palin herself had repeatedly raised the Wooten issue with him and pressured him to fire him. And now he says he has emails that Palin sent him about the matter. (In an interesting sidelight, that may end up telling us a lot, Monegan says no one from the McCain campaign ever contacted him in the vetting process.)

The investigator appointed by the state legislature began trying to arrange a time to depose Gov. Palin last week — in other words, in the final days before her selection.

So let’s put this all together.

We rely on elected officials not to use the power of their office to pursue personal agendas or vendettas. It’s called an abuse of power. There is ample evidence that Palin used her power as governor to get her ex-brother-in-law fired. When his boss refused to fire him, she fired his boss. She first denied Monegan’s claims of pressure to fire Wooten and then had to amend her story when evidence proved otherwise. The available evidence now suggests that she 1) tried to have an ex-relative fired from his job for personal reasons, something that was clearly inappropriate, and perhaps illegal, though possibly understandable in human terms, 2) fired a state official for not himself acting inappropriately by firing the relative, 3) lied to the public about what happened and 4) continues to lie about what happened.

These are, to put it mildly, not the traits or temperament you want in someone who could hold the executive power of the federal government.

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