The case for the impeachment of Governor Sarah Palin
September 2, 2008 32 Comments
On August 30, 2008, I reviewed online court records for the McCann/Wooten family court cases and created a timeline to help make sense of the news reports related to the “Troopergate” scandal. At this point, a narrative version seems appropriate to help make sense of that timeline, particularly in light of how the court cases provide a telling backdrop to the scandal.
In February 2005, Molly McCann confronted her husband Michael Wooten about “attending a trooper-sponsored event with another woman.” McCann called Sarah Palin and reported that Wooten was “headed home in a rage.”
McCann had Palin listen by speakerphone, “so Palin could listen when Wooten got there and get help if things got bad.” According to McCann and Palin, Wooten said “if their father got a lawyer for her “he would eat a f’ing lead bullet. I will shoot him.”
At some point during this episode, Palin drives to the McCann/Wooten residence. Palin reports that she thought that Wooten was “gonna blow it.” In an August 2005 email to the chief of the State Police, Palin writes that the threat left “no doubt he is serious about taking someone’s life who disagrees with him.”
In response to the apparent danger, Palin “left for a meeting without calling police.”
On April 11, 2005, Molly McCann files for an Order of Protection against Michael Wooten, with allegations that include “Extreme verbal abuse & violent threats & physical intimidation,” and the judge issues an ex parte order, based only on her affidavit, granting McCann twenty days of legal protection from Wooten. McCann also files for divorce on April 11, 2005.
On April 27, 2005, the State Police begin an investigation of Wooten, eventually interviewing 15 people over several months.
The case gets transferred to Anchorage, and on May 9, 2005, there is a hearing on the Order of Protection, and the case is dismissed. A “no contact order” is entered in the divorce, which is different than an Order of Protection.
In August 2005, Palin emails Col. Julia Grimes, head of the State Police, claiming that “she was writing not as his sister-in-law” but instead to “express concern over the lack of action about a trooper whom she said many described as a “ticking timebomb” and “loose cannon.””
On October 10, 2005, Chuck Heath, the father of McCann and Palin, writes to Grimes, “saying that the investigation is dragging on too long,” and describes Wooten as “a dangerous person, a loose cannon, ready to explode.”
On October 18, 2005, Sarah Palin announces that she is running for Governor of Alaska.
The child custody trial in the McCann/Wooten divorce is held on October 27, 2005. At the trial, the Judge remarks that “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.” A KTUU report and video, with audio clips from the divorce trial, can be seen here.
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.”
On March 1, 2006, the State Police investigation of Wooten concludes with a ten day suspension and stern warning.
On September 5, 2006, a union grievance results in the reduction of the suspension to five days.
In November 2006, Sarah Palin is elected Governor of Alaska. In December 2006, Palin begins her term as governor and appoints Walt Monegan as the Commissioner of Public Safety.
In January 2007, Todd Palin, husband of Sarah Palin, meets with Monegan in the governor’s office and presents information about Wooten, including reports from private investigators. Monegan reviews the information from Todd Palin, but concludes that there was “no new evidence.”
Monegan reports that several days after meeting with Todd Palin, Governor Palin called him “late at night” about Wooten. Monegan reports that Todd Palin and Governor Palin were not “happy” about Mongan’s conclusion that the case against Wooten was closed.
In February 2007, Monegan reports that Governor Palin again raised the Wooten matter to him, and he warned her to “stay at arm’s length.” Monegan reports that despite his warning, Governor Palin continued to raise the issue of Wooten “indirectly” via email.
On February 7, 2007, Governor Palin sends an email to Monegan that includes a reference to shooting a moose without his own permit, including “He’s still bragging about it in my hometown and after another cop confessed to witnessing the kill, the trooper was ‘investigated’ for over a year and merely given a slap on the wrist.” (This is interesting because Governor Palin now denies ever knowing the outcome of the State Police investigation, which makes a certain amount of sense because it may be illegal for her to have access to information from Wooten’s personnel file.)
This email is also reported to say “”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.” (emphasis added). I would like to know what Palin is referring to when she claims that Wooten’s supervisors caused the restraining order to be “lifted,” since the online court records suggest the parties agreed to settle the case with a no-contact order in the divorce and dismiss the restraining order.
It is important to point out that in this February 7, 2007 email, Palin mentions that Wooten “refused to be transferred to rural Alaska.” Of course he did, it would have made it extremely difficult to have regular contact with his children while they were in the residential custody of Molly McCann. The key part is what is reported by the Wall Street Journal on September 17, 2008:
Mr. Monegan said some [Palin] staff members inquired whether Mr. Wooten could be transferred away from the Anchorage area where he lives. The commissioner said he replied that Mr. Wooten’s seniority made it unlikely he could be reassigned.
It does seem that there was either a lack of concern or a recognition that the union-protected Wooten was not going to be fired easily. So it looks like another tactic was attempted – one that was not concerned with Wooten remaining employed as a trooper, but instead focused on keeping him away from his children.
It is interesting that in the same email, Palin raises concerns that Wooten disparages Alaskan “Natives” and appears to want to address that concern by giving Wooten greater access to the “native” community. And by interesting, I mean “doesn’t make any sense.”
On July 17, 2007, Governor Palin sends an email to Monegan, including this: “We can’t have double standards. Remember when the death threat was reported, and follow-on threats from Mike that he was going to ‘bring Sarah and her family down’ — instead of any reprimand WE were told by trooper union personnel that we’d be sued if we talked about those threats. Amazing. . . .” The Washington Post reports that this email was related to “a legislative proposal that would keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill,” and that Governor Palin wrote, ‘”No one’s above the law. If the law needs to be changed to not allow access to guns for people threatening to kill someone, it must apply to everyone.” (Considering that there is nothing to suggest that Michael Wooten was ever legally determined to be mentally ill, Governor Palin’s attempt to connect the proposed law to Wooten seems either incredibly unfair or incredibly ignorant.)
In November 2007, Michael Wooten files a motion to modify child custody. McCann, through her attorneys, files an opposition and a motion to modify child custody, and later asks for the child custody investigator previously assigned to the case to be reappointed.
On February 7, 2008, the Court agrees to reappoint the child custody investigator. Which sets the stage for Frank Bailey, while working for Governor Palin’s office, to contact the State Troopers office on February 29, 2008.
Coincidentally, after this call fails to stop Wooten from “representing the department,” the custody case reaches a settlement agreement that is approved by the Court on May 29, 2008.
It then looks like the custody case is closed, but Michael Wooten starts filing motions in July 2008, including a request for a status conference. The online docket does not offer a lot of detail about what Wooten is seeking from the Court.
Coincidentally, Walt Monegan is fired on July 11, 2008.
On July 17, 2008, Wooten’s request for a status conference is denied.
On July 19, 2008, Walt Monegan goes public with the allegation that he believes that he was fired because he did not cave to pressure from the Governor’s office to fire Wooten.
In response to the allegations, Governor Palin claims 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.”
As her former political opponent Andrew Halcro points out, it apparently was a ‘little known fact‘ that the Alaska Department of Public Safety records all of its incoming calls.
In July 2008, the Alaska Legislature appoints 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,” and Palin starts her own investigation through her administration’s legal department.
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.” 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 recieved “incompetent counsel” on key law enforcement issues.” Later on in this letter, he writes, “Governor Palin and her key advisors have made errors.” 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. (The Wall Street Journal reports, via TPM).
On August 13, 2008, Governor Palin admits that an initial investigation has found “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.”
On August 30, 2008, Monegan reports that since she became Governor, “Palin sent him two or three e-mails that referenced her ex-brother-in-law and his status with troopers.”
Monegan also reports that he “warned each caller about exposing the state to litigation from Wooten.” Monegan reports that he told Mike Tibbles, Palin’s chief of staff at the time, “every time we talk about this, it is discoverable. Do you want this trooper to own your house?“
There is a lot going on here. As an initial matter, there is the allegation that Governor Palin used her office to inappropriately attempt to exert pressure on the State Police to take further action against Wooten despite a lack of evidence to justify any further action. It seems important to point out that even Governor Palin did not perceive a real threat from Wooten during the February 2005 episode that has become a central focus of her later allegations – she was at the scene and instead remaining there to help her sister or calling the police, she instead drove to a meeting. She claims to have been at a dangerous situation but her actions suggest that at the time she did not actually consider it dangerous. One doesn’t have to have years of experience practicing family law to see that Palin did not act as if she was truly scared for her sister’s safety in February 2005, and how much this seems to undercut her later claims about the danger presented by Wooten during that episode.
As a central issue there is the question of whether Monegan was fired because he would not yield to the repeated requests by Palin, her husband and her administration officials to fire Wooten. One of the more bizarre aspects of this scandal is this statement by Monegan to McClatchy on August 30, 2008:
“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.’”
I don’t see the difference between asking for Wooten to be fired and stating that the Governor does not want Wooten representing state troopers.
update: From the Washington Post on September 4, 2008:
Monegan has said that Palin never directly told him to fire Wooten but that the message was clearly conveyed through repeated messages from Palin, her husband and three members of her Cabinet.
Referring to “representing state troopers” actually seems a little more threatening to Monegan, since it implies that his management of the image of the state troopers is in question. It seems to suggest that the administration’s confidence in him as a leader is damaged and that there is work for him to do in order to restore it. In some ways, it looks like Monegan was having his job called into question over the Wooten issue.
update: From the Washington Post on September 4, 2008, it is reported that the February 7, 2007 email sent by Palin to Monegan also says:
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.”
Another issue that stands out is how Governor Palin appears to have lied to the people of Alaska when she claimed that she had only communicated with Monegan about Wooten “once,” as it related to her security detail. It looks like a stunningly stupid lie to tell in the context of the documentation that exists. In many ways, it seems to call Palin’s credibility into question for any statement she makes about the allegations.
It also sounds like a recognition that communication with Monegan about Wooten for reasons other than her security detail would be inappropriate. Her first response to the allegations was that she had acted appropriately because she had not attempted any other communication with Monegan about the issue. The failure to mention her calls, her emails, her husband’s meeting and calls, as well as the numerous calls from her staff to Monegan, seems to create the appearance of an understanding that these contacts were inappropriate. As Palin recently said “I do now have to tell Alaskans that such pressure could have been perceived to exist.”
It appears that Governor Palin may have predicted the outcome of the current investigations, because her first response to the allegations appears to outline the limits of her authority as governor. It seems likely that the investigations will conclude that her instinct to immediately deny her involvement was the correct one, because her actual involvement appears to be an abuse of her authority as Governor.
update: From the Washington Post on September 4, 2008:
“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.
It looks like Governor Palin abused the authority of her office (and possibly violated state law) in an attempt to get Michael Wooten fired. It also looks like she abused her authority by firing Monegan when he refused to yield to those attempts. It further looks like Governor Palin walked herself into impeachment proceedings by claiming that she had only ever had one conversation with Monegan about Wooten.
The investigations continue and the report from the independent investigator is due to be presented to the Legislature in late October.
The original timeline can be seen here.
update: The report from the independent investigator is now due to be presented in early October.
However, Governor Palin now appears to be trying to stall the process:
In the latest sign that Sarah Palin’s promised cooperation with the Trooper-Gate investigation is failing to materialize, her lawyer is now demanding that the entire case be taken out of the hands of the independent prosecutor hired by Alaska lawmakers, and given over to a state personnel board — whose three members were appointed by the governor herself.
In an unusual “ethics disclosure” filed last night, along with related documents, to the state Attorney General, Palin’s lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, asked the personnel board to look into the firing of Walt Monegan, the former public safety commissioner at the center of the case. Van Flein also asked the legislature to drop its own investigation, contending that only the personnel board has jurisdiction over ethics. And he suggested that if the legislature didn’t agree to hand the matter over to the personnel board, Palin would not be made available for a deposition.
In addition, key witnesses are becoming uncooperative as well:
A key witness in the Alaska State Senate Ethics investigation of Gov. Palin has backed out of testifying today, the state senator in charge of the investigation tells NBC News. The senator — Democrat Hollis French — says Frank Bailey’s decision not to testify will slow down the “Troopergate” investigation into the current candidate.
… Since becoming the VP nominee, Palin has challenged jurisdiction of the ethics investigation. Bailey cites that jurisdictional uncertainty as his reason for not testifying.
At this point, it apears that seven potential witnesses are now refusing to cooperate with the investigation:
State legislators said Friday that seven “key witnesses,” all Palin administration members, cancelled appointments this week for interviews with Branchflower.
These seven could receive subpoenas compelling their cooperation, depending on decisions made at a joint hearing of the House and Senate judiciary committees next Monday in Anchorage.
update: The Associated Press reports on September 16, 2008 that Sarah Palin is refusing to meet with the independent investigator appointed by the State Legislature.
update: The Anchorage Daily News reports on September 16, 2008 that Palin is instead taking her case to the press:
“The last straw” leading up to Monegan’s firing, Van Flein wrote, was Monegan’s planned trip to Washington, D.C., to seek funding for a new, multimillion-dollar sexual assault initiative the governor hadn’t yet approved.
Monegan, in an interview Monday, said that the papers the governor’s lawyer filed are selective and he’s provided other documentation to the legislative investigator, Steve Branchflower, that will provide a more balanced portrayal of his time as commissioner.
update: This “last straw,” as TPM points out, is a new reason for Monegan’s firing that contradicts earlier statements made by Palin:
But whatever the role of the sexual assault initiative in Monegan’s departure from state government, this is by now the third substantive explanation given by Palin for that departure. And, to one degree or another, all those explanations contradict each other.
In this interview from July, Palin said she fired Monegan because she was dissatisfied with his performance on filling vacant trooper positions and on bootlegging and alcohol abuse issues.
Around the same time, she told The New Yorker, for a story published this week, that she hadn’t actually fired Monegan, but rather had wanted to reassign him to combat alcohol abuse, and that he quit instead.
She said that one of her goals had been to combat alcohol abuse in rural Alaska, and she blamed Commissioner Monegan for failing to address the problem. That, she said, was a big reason that she’d let him go–only, by her account, she didn’t fire him, exactly. Rather, she asked him to drop everything else and single-mindedly take on the state’s drinking problem, as the director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. “It was a job that was open, commensurate in salary pretty much–ten thousand dollars less”–but, she added, Monegan hadn’t wanted the job, so he left state service; he quit.
But the new line from the Palin camp is that Monegan was fired for his insubordination on budget issues, culminating in his effort to win federal money for the initiative to combat sexual assaults — an explanation that neither Palin nor anyone around her had raised until now, two months after the firing.
and it is interesting that Palin thought Monegan was doing a bad job addressing alcohol abuse in Alaska, so she decided to give him more authority to address the issue. And by interesting, I mean “doesn’t make any sense at all.”
update: The independent investigation approved by the State Legislature is heading to court:
From an e-mail sent overnight by Anchorage attorney Kevin Clarkson:
Five Alaska Legislators, Rep. Wes Keller, Rep. Mike Kelly, Rep. Bob Lynn, Sen. Fred Dyson, and Sen. Tom Wagoner, will file suit in state superior court in Anchorage tomorrow morning (9/16/08) at 9:00 am (Superior courthouse 4th Avenue) against Sen. French, Sen. Kim Elton, Stephen Branchflower and the Alaska Legislative Council in order to halt the investigation of Governor Sarah Palin and others because the investigators have lost the appearance of impartiality required under the Alaska Constitution. The Legislators will ask for declaratory and injunctive relief in the investigation, stating that it is an attempt to use the Alaska Legislative Council to further partisan politics.
update: a round up of the various investigations that are currently pending against Governor Palin, including but not limited to Troopergate, can be seen here.
update: Extensive coverage of Troopergate by the Anchorage Daily News can be seen here.
update! Independent investigator Stephen Branchflower has released his report, which finds that Governor Palin abused her authority. Highlights from the 263 report can be seen here.