Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, abused her power as Alaska governor by seeking to get a state trooper fired, says an investigative report released tonight.
A family grudge wasn't the sole reason for firing Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan after he refused to dismiss the trooper, but was a contributing factor. But Palin still had the authority to dismiss Monegan last year as a department head, the report found.
"I find that, although Walt Monegan's refusal to fire Trooper Michael Wooten was not the sole reason he was fired by Governor Sarah Palin, it was likely a contributing factor to his termination as Commissioner of Public Safety. In spite of that, Governor Palin's firing of Commissioner Monegan was a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority to hire and fire executive branch department heads," the chief investigator said in the report.
The report found that Palin violated a state ethics law that prohibits public officials from using their office for personal gain, but it does not recommend sanctions or a criminal investigation. Still, the finding could undermine her as she campaigns in the final month of the presidential campaign.
UPDATE: The McCain-Palin campaign issued a statement tonight: "Today's report shows that the Governor acted within her proper and lawful authority in the reassignment of Walt Monegan. The report also illustrates what we've known all along: this was a partisan led inquiry run by Obama supporters and the Palins were completely justified in their concern regarding Trooper Wooten given his violent and rogue behavior. Lacking evidence to support the original Monegan allegation, the Legislative Council seriously overreached, making a tortured argument to find fault without basis in law or fact. The Governor is looking forward to cooperating with the Personnel Board and continuing her conversation with the American people regarding the important issues facing the country."
Monegan says he was pressured by her and her husband to fire Mike Wooten, a state trooper involved in a nasty divorce and custody dispute with Palin's sister. Monegan says he was dismissed when he refused.
The inquiry, approved by a bipartisan vote, began before Republican presidential nominee John McCain picked Palin as his running mate. Since, Republicans have called the case a partisan witch hunt, particularly after the Democrat overseeing the case predicted an "October surprise" for the McCain campaign.
McCain's presidential campaign issued its own report Thursday night, asserting that the firing was over a legitimate policy dispute. "The following document will prove Walt Monegan's dismissal was a result of his insubordination and budgetary clashes with Governor Palin and her administration," campaign officials wrote. "Trooper Wooten is a separate issue."
But the report says, "The evidence supports the conclusion that Governor Palin, at the least, engaged in 'official action' by her inaction if not her active participation or assistance to her husband in attempting to get Trooper Wooten fired...She knowingly...permitted Todd Palin to use the Governor's office and the resources of the Governor's office, including access to state employees, to continue to contact subordinate state employees in an effort to find some way to get Trooper Wooten fired," the report said.
"Such impermissible and repeated contacts create conflicts of interests for subordinate employee who must choose to either please a superior or run the risk of facing that superior's displeasure and the possible consequences of such displeasure."
"The following events demonstrate that Governor Palin and Todd Palin and her family have, over an extended period of time, endeavored to get Trooper Michael Wooten fired from his job as an Alaska State Trooper," the report said.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.