Palin vs. Wooten: Chronology of a Scandal
August 30, 2008 17 Comments
A bitter custody dispute, starring the sister of Governor Sarah Palin, Molly McCann, and her three attorneys, versus the currently unrepresented Michael Wooten? An erupting scandal involving allegations of political power being leveraged by Governor Palin for an advantage in that custody case? The Alaska Department of Public Safety makes recordings of all of its incoming calls? Could this be a bonafide scandal?
This calls for a timeline…
February, 2005: via the Anchorage Daily News:
Both McCann and Palin gave troopers detailed accounts of what happened. Wooten was headed home in a rage, McCann said. She called Palin and put the phone on speaker so Palin could listen when Wooten got there and get help if things got bad. Palin had her teenage son Track listen in, too. As McCann remembered it, Wooten said if their father got a lawyer for her “he would eat a f’ing lead bullet. I will shoot him.”
Palin drove over and watched through the window. She and McCann both said Wooten was all wound up. A neighbor who stood watch as well later told troopers that Wooten looked angry but that McCann wasn’t cowering or anything.
February 2005: via the Washington Post:
the alleged argument occurred after Palin’s sister, who uses her previous married name of Molly McCann, questioned Wooten about her husband attending a trooper-sponsored event in January with another woman. There is no record of police charging Wooten for the alleged threat. [...]
[Palin] told investigators that when she arrived at the house she could see Wooten “waving his arms.” She said she thought, “He is gonna blow it.” She said she left for a meeting without calling police
April 11, 2005: Palin’s sister, Molly J. McCann, files for a domestic violence restraining order against her then-husband Michael Wooten. The hearing is vacated, and the venue of the case changed to Anchorage, Alaska.
April 11, 2005: via the Anchorage Daily News:
“Extreme verbal abuse & violent threats & physical intimidation,” McCann wrote in her April 11, 2005, petition to the court. He had driven drunk multiple times, threatened her father, told her to “put a leash on your sister and family or I’m going to bring them down,” her petition says. A judge issued a 20-day protective order to keep Wooten away.
April 11, 2005: via the Anchorage Daily News:
The same day, a concerned neighbor of the couple called troopers with more accusations, including alcohol abuse, based on what Heath and McCann had relayed to him. Wooten seemed “disconnected” lately, the neighbor said. He told troopers that Heath and McCann were afraid to call troopers themselves.
April 11, 2005: via the Washington Post:
On the day that the governor’s younger sister filed for divorce — April 11, 2005 — Palin’s father, Chuck Heath, a retired teacher then in his late 60s, called state police to file a complaint about Wooten. He handed the phone to his daughter Molly, who told state police that her husband had threatened her father’s life and had drunk beer while driving his police vehicle home.
April 2005: via The Anchorage Daily News:
The troopers’ investigation into Wooten began after Chuck Heath — Wooten’s father-in-law and Palin and McCann’s dad — alerted troopers about a domestic violence protective order McCann had obtained against Wooten on April 11, 2005. McCann filed for divorce the same day, according to the court docket.
April 27, 2005: via the Anchorage Daily News:
On April 27, 2005, trooper Sgt. Ron Wall began the internal investigation, interviewing and re-interviewing more than 15 people over a period of months. Witnesses included Palin, her husband, Todd, two of their children, Heath, McCann, her son, Wooten, friends, neighbors, a bartender, and other troopers.
August, 2005: via the Anchorage Daily News:
In August 2005, nearly four months after the investigation began, Palin wrote a lengthy e-mail to Grimes about Wooten that included some new accusations and new witnesses. She wrote that she was writing not as his sister-in-law but to express concern over the lack of action about a trooper whom she said many described as a “ticking timebomb” and “loose cannon.””
October, 2005: via the Anchorage Daily News:
In October 2005, Palin announced she was running for governor. Sgt. Wall, who is now a lieutenant over patrol in Fairbanks, finished his investigation the same month.
October 10, 2005: via the Anchorage Daily News:
Chuck Heath writes Grimes saying that the investigation is dragging on too long and Wooten is “a dangerous person, a loose cannon, ready to explode.”
October 18, 2005: via the Anchorage Daily News:
“Palin announces she is running for governor.”
October 27, 2005: On October 27, 2005, a contested custody trial is held.
October 27, 2005: via the Washington Post:
The divorce went to trial in the fall of 2005 while the state police internal investigation was pending. Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock reviewed the complaints filed by Palin and her family. At trial on Oct. 27, 2005, the judge expressed puzzlement about why the family was trying to get Wooten fired, since depriving the trooper of a job would harm his ability to pay family support to Palin’s sister.
“It appears for the world that Ms. McCann and her family have decided to take off for the guy’s livelihood — that the bitterness of whatever who did what to whom has overridden good judgment,” Suddock said in an audio recording from the trial on TV station KTUU’s Web site.
In monitoring how a joint-custody arrangement worked out, the judge said in his order that he would pay particular attention to problems noted by a “custody investigator,” specifically “the disparagement of the father [Wooten] by the mother [Molly Hackett, Sarah Palin's sister] and her family members.”
“It is the mother’s [Hackett's] responsibility to set boundaries for her relatives and insure [sic] they respect them, and the disparagement by either parent, or their surrogates is emotional child abuse,” Judge Suddock wrote. He added that: “If the court finds it is necessary due to disparagement in the Mat-Su Valley [the area north of Anchorage where Palin and her extended family live], for the children’s best interests, it [the court] will not hesitate to order custody to the father and a move into Anchorage.”
March 1, 2006: via the Anchorage Daily News:
Grimes issues a letter suspending Wooten for 10 days and warning that the discipline is “a last chance for corrective action” and that further occurrences “will not be tolerated.”
September 5, 2006: via the Anchorage Daily News:
Wooten’s suspension reduced to five days after union files a grievance.
November 2006: via TPM: “Sarah Palin elected Governor of Alaska.”
December 2006: via the Washington Post:
She took office in December 2006 and appointed Monegan, who’d just retired as Anchorage police chief after five years, to be public safety commissioner, a cabinet position.
January 2007: via ABC News:
Monegan says that he also met with Todd Palin in the governor’s office in January 2007 and claims, “He showed me … private investigator reports, letters, correspondence” that raised issues suggesting Wooten should be punished.
… “They were already done deals and he had already been punished,” says Monegan, who adds that the governor called him late at night on his cellphone a few days after his meeting with Todd Palin.
“There was no new evidence, and I called [Todd Palin] back and told him it was a closed case,” Monegan says. “He wasn’t happy to hear that. I got a subsequent phone call from the governor about it, and she wasn’t happy, either.”
February 2007: via the Washington Post:
[Palin] brought it up again in February 2007 in the state capitol building and Monegan warned her to stay at arm’s length.
February 7, 2007: via the Associated Press:
e-mails were sent from Palin’s personal Yahoo account. In one, dated Feb. 7, 2007, it says of the investigation of Wooten: “This trooper is still out on the street, in fact he’s been promoted.”
“It was a joke, the whole long ‘investigation’ of him,” says the e-mail [...]. “This is the same trooper who’s out there today telling people the new administration is going to destroy the trooper organization, and that he’d ‘never work for that b ‘,” Palin’.”
via the Washington Post, this February 7, 2007 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.” and “He threatens to always be able to come out on top because he’s ‘got the badge’, etc. etc. etc.)”
Palin wrote that the Wooten matter had contributed to “the erosion of faith Alaskans should have in their law enforcement officials.” She concluded by saying the e-mail was “just my opinion.”
July 17, 2007: via the Associated Press:
e-mail was sent [from Palin to Monegan on] July 17, 2007, discussing a bill before lawmakers that would prevent the mentally ill from having guns.
The e-mail says the first thought “went to my ex-brother-in-law, the trooper, who threatened to kill my dad yet was not even reprimanded by his bosses and still to this day carried a gun, of course.”
Spring – Fall 2007: via the Washington Post:
Monegan said Palin mostly backed off, but kept raising the matter indirectly through e-mails. In the fall of 2007, Monegan said he alerted her to a bad jury verdict against a trooper in rural Alaska, and she replied by mentioning Wooten, but not by name.
November, 2007: On November 2, 2007, Wooten files a “Notice of Motion (RE: Motion to Modify Child Custody), apparently without an attorney appearing in the case on his behalf. He also submits a Shared Custody child support calculation, giving his custody petition the distinct appearance of a bid to share custody.
November, 2007: On November 16, 2007, McCann’s attorney cross-files a petition to modify custody and files an opposition to Wooten’s request to modify custody.
December, 2007: On December 20, 2007, McCann’s attorney files a motion to stall re-appoint the child custody investigator previously appointed to the case.
February, 2008: On February 7, 2008, the Court grants the request to stall appoint the custody investigator.
February 29, 2008: via TPM:
Frank Bailey placed a call to the State Troopers office pressing to have Mike Wooten, Palin’s former brother-in-law and a state trooper fired. The call is recorded by the state troopers office. Listen here.
and via MSNBC:
“Todd and Sarah are scratching their heads, why on Earth hasn’t — why is this guy still representing the department?” Bailey said on the tape.
May, 2008: On May 16, 2008, a notice of a settlement agreement for the custody case is filed with the court.
May, 2008: On May 29, 2008, the settlement is accepted by the court and the custody case is closed.
July 2008: or is it? it is not clear from the online docket what exactly is going on in the case, but July, 2008 sees a flurry of motions related to the case, including a request for a status conference from the unrepresented Wooten on July 1, 2008.
July 11, 2008: via TPM:
Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan fired from his position.
July 17, 2008: Wooten’s request for a status conference is denied.
July 19, 2008: via TPM:
Walt Monegan came forward to say he’d been pressured to fire Palin’s former brother in law, a state trooper, but had refused. He believed that this led to his dismissal. Anchorage Daily News reports.
July 2008: via MSNBC:
the state Legislature appointed an independent investigator to review whether the governor or her aides abused their power by pressuring Monegan to fire the trooper, a probe that the Democratic chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee said could lead to Palin’s impeachment.
… Palin strongly denied the accusations and ordered her own investigation by the state Law Department.
July 2008: via McClatchy:
Palin initially said that after she took office in December 2006, she broached the subject of Wooten with her public safety commissioner, Monegan, just once, when they discussed her security detail. She said that she told Monegan of threats Wooten had made against her father and also that Wooten had threatened to “bring me down.” She said she thought that was the end of it.
mid July 2008: via the Washington Post:
“To allege that I, or any member of my family . . . directed disciplinary action be taken against any employee of the Department of Public Safety, is, quite simply, outrageous,” Palin said in a statement in mid-July after Monegan’s dismissal.
On July 24, 2008, former US Attorney Wevley William Shea writes a letter to Governor Palin that states, “Unfortunately, in my opinion, you have had very naive unprofessional counsel on the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Law.” (via The Wall Street Journal, via TPM).
On July 26, 2008, former US Attorney Wevley William Shea writes a letter to the Anchorage Police Department, the Alaska Department of Public Safety and the FBI, stating “I firmly believe that Governor Palin received “incompetent counsel” on key law enforcement issues.” Later on in this letter, he writes, “Governor Palin and her key advisors have made errors.” (via The Wall Street Journal, via TPM).
On August 4, 2008, Shea writes to Governor Palin again, explaining the apparent limits of executive privilege based on various court rulings and legal analysis, including what appears to be a broad hint that Governor Palin is in a similar predicament to what President Nixon faced before his resignation. (via The Wall Street Journal, via TPM).
August 13, 2008: via MSNBC:
on Aug. 13, Sarah Palin called a news conference to acknowledge that the Law Department investigation had found that 14 members of her administration made more than 20 calls to Monegan and other public safety officials regarding Wooten since she became governor in 2006.
August 13, 2008: via KTUU:
Attorney General Talis Colberg’s office determined there were more than two dozen calls from Palin’s husband, Todd Palin, and her staff to Monegan and other supervisors in the department regarding Wooten. [...]
The attorney general revealed that he, along with Todd Palin and former Palin Chief of Staff Mike Tibbles had all made contact regarding Wooten.
August 13, 2008: via TPM:
Palin had at first denied that her office had a hand in pushing to have the trooper fired, but was forced to retract those denials when taped evidence emerged that a staffer in her office was involved.
It sure sounds like it was a ‘little known fact’ that those calls were being recorded…
update! McClatchy reports on August 30, 2008 that Walt Monegan has:
disclosed for the first time that Palin sent him two or three e-mails that referenced her ex-brother-in-law and his status with troopers. Monegan declined to provide the e-mails because of the ongoing investigation.
“For the record, no one ever said fire Wooten. Not the governor. Not Todd. Not any of the other staff,” Monegan said Friday from Portland. “What they said directly was more along the lines of ‘This isn’t a person that we would want to be representing our state troopers.’ “
well surely the McCain campaign took all these allegations seriously, right?
No one from the McCain campaign ever contacted him to vet Palin as a candidate, Monegan said.
update: did someone say bonafide scandal?
Marc Ambinder writes for the Atlantic on August 31, 2008 about the extent of the vetting process by the McCain campaign:
the campaign was aware of the ethics complaint filed against her but accepts Palin’s account
and from the Washington Post on August 31, 2008, this means:
A spokesman for Sen. John McCain‘s campaign, who asked not to be identified because the matter is under investigation, said Palin’s actions were merely intended to alert Monegan about potential threats to her family from her sister’s ex-husband, Mike Wooten.
why yes, I believe someone did say bonafide scandal…
Monegan said he also got telephone calls from three Palin appointees, including her then-chief of staff, Mike Tibbles; Commissioner Annette Kreitzer of the Department of Administration; and Attorney General Talis Colberg.
… With each of the calls, Monegan became more concerned and warned each caller about exposing the state to litigation from Wooten. Monegan told Tibbles: “This is not your issue. This is something I am supposed to handle. Every time we talk about this, it is discoverable. Do you want this trooper to own your house?”
update: via Progressive Alaska, a recent news report from KTVA/CBS:
update: Ongoing updates about the development of this scandal and an analysis on how this all adds up to the possibility of impeachment proceedings against Governor Palin can be read here.
update! Independent investigator Stephen Branchflower has released his report, which finds that Governor Palin abused her authority. Highlights from the 263 page report can be seen here.