On Monday, Sarah Palin's lawyers announced the Alaska governor's intention to cooperate with the Troopergate investigation.
Palin won't actually cooperate with the original investigation the one approved unanimously by a majority Republican committee in the state legislature this summer, which Palin welcomed in a spirit of transparency and accountability before she became the Republican Party's vice-presidential nominee. The Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee had started the inquiry when former public safety commissioner Walt Monegan alleged that he might have been dismissed for not firing the allegedly loutish state trooper Mike Wooten, who was in a bitter custody battle with Palin's sister Molly McCann and was accused of threatening members of the governor's family. The investigation has since been painted by John McCain and Palin backers as a purely partisan exercise, particularly because the committee chair, state senator Hollis French, is an Anchorage Democrat who made several seemingly prejudicial statements to the media early on, including that the probe could yield an "October surprise" right before the election. Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton says French has already made up his mind about the governor's guilt and at this point is "just leading people into an ambush."
Instead, Palin plans to cooperate with an investigator from the state personnel board. That investigator is a Democrat, but the board's three members are political appointees who ultimately answer to the governor herself. (One was appointed by Palin, the other two by her predecessor.) They got involved only after Palin took the unusual step of filing an ethics complaint against herself in early September to spark an investigation that her lawyers hoped would overshadow and effectively kill the legislature's inquiry.
But the Alaska senate inquiry is moving ahead. Last week, after many of Palin's aides and associates, as well as her husband, reversed their positions and refused to testify in front of the legislative committee, French said the senate investigator would issue findings on the matter in early October with or without their testimony. As if to parry that move, Palin's lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, met with the personnel board's investigator on Monday and promised that he would furnish a list of who would be interviewed on Tuesday. The McCain campaign told the Associated Press that after Tuesday, the entire personnel board process would be confidential and that the campaign would have no further comment. The Alaska personnel board is "the only legal forum in the state for the Monegan inquiry," Palin's spokeswoman explained.
For many Alaskans, all this maneuvering is a bit too clever. Palin's jockeying doesn't just clash with her previous image as a good-government reformer. It strikes some here almost as a matter of state sovereignty. There was grumbling when the McCain campaign brought in a high-powered cheechako (that's an outsider), former federal terrorism prosecutor Ed O'Callaghan, to dictate the governor's strategy and deal with the media. Spokeswoman Stapleton says O'Callaghan is in Alaska because she and Van Flein need the extra help, and that the media have made this a national issue, so bringing in advisers from outside of Alaska is only appropriate. But the campaign's public bashing of Monegan, a widely respected, longtime public official in the state, didn't help its case. Now that O'Callaghan's hardball tactics are becoming clearer, the complaints have grown louder, from all sides of the political spectrum.