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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

New report from Alaska State Personnel Board concludes that there is no cause to believe Gov. Palin violated the state ethics law

The more closely I read it, the more convinced I became that the Petumenos Report adopted by the Alaska State Personnel Board put a fitting end to Tasergate, conclusively in Gov. Palin's favor, as I wrote in a guest-post and series of updates at HughHewitt.com.

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[Copied here for archival purposes on November 5, 2008, from the post linked above at HughHewitt.com.]

(Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar)

Encouraged by the Obama-Biden campaign, Democratic state senator Hollis French of Alaska masterminded the October 10th release of the so-called Branchflower Report, in which one guy — a lawyer hired by French's committee to conduct a charade of an "investigation" into the Tasergate (a/k/a Troopergate) matter — came to inconsistent conclusions, one of which was unfavorable to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

The Alaska Legislature is not in session, and has not approved or adopted that report in whole or part. Rather, the only official action yet taken with respect to it was a noncontroversial vote by French's committee to permit the first volume of the report to be released to the public.

Nevertheless, the Obama-Biden campaign and all of Gov. Palin's elitist enemies went into a feeding frenzy, gleefully lining up to support an admitted child abuser and lawbreaker, Trooper Mike Wooten, in one of the most shamefully thuggish incidents of modern American political history.

Today, however, the entity actually charged by the Alaska state constitution and laws with enforcing that state's ethics laws — the Alaska State Personnel Board — has released its own investigator's report on the matter. As reported by the Anchorage Daily News (boldface mine):

Both investigations found that Palin was within her rights to fire Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.

But the new report says the Legislature's investigator was wrong to conclude that Palin abused her power by allowing aides and her husband, Todd, to pressure Monegan and others to dismiss her ex-brother-in-law, Trooper Mike Wooten. Palin was accused of firing Monegan after Wooten stayed on the job.

The Palins have argued that Wooten was a loose cannon who had tasered his stepson, drank beer in his patrol car, and threatened Palin's father, and that their complaints that he shouldn't be on the force were justified....

The report, released at a Monday afternoon press conference at the Hotel Captain Cook, presents the findings and recommendations of Anchorage lawyer Timothy Petumenos, hired as independent counsel for the Personnel Board to examine several complaints against Palin.

Petumenos wrote the Legislature's special counsel, former state prosecutor Steve Branchflower, used the wrong state law as the basis for his conclusions and also misconstrued the evidence.

His findings and recommendations include:

  • There is no cause to believe Palin violated the state ethics law in deciding to dismiss Monegan as public safety commissioner.

  • There is no cause to believe Palin violated the state ethics law in connection with Wooten.

  • There is no cause to believe any other state official violated the ethics act.

  • There's no basis to conduct a hearing to "address reputational harm," as requested by Monegan.

  • The state needs to address the issue of using private e-mails for government work and to examine how records are kept in the governor's office. Palin used her Yahoo e-mail account for state business until it was hacked.

I'll be studying the executive summary and the report itself in more detail in the next few hours.

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UPDATE (Tue Nov 4 @ 4:25 a.m. CST): I'm still working my way through the Personnel Board's report, but in the meantime I commend to you this link-filled analysis by Dan McLaughlin.

It's also worth noting right away, as Power Line's John Hinderaker has, that the Personnel Board's independent counsel, Timothy J. Petumenos, is a registered Democrat who donated money to Gov. Palin's opponent, Tony Knowles, in 2006 — certainly no crony of Gov. Palin's.

At his news conference in connection with the release of the report, Mr. Petumenos noted the peculiar circumstance that French's committee had gone to the Alaska Supreme Court to confirm its right to issue and serve subpoenas in connection with its investigation, but that after having won in court, Branchflower proceeded to make up his mind, and issue his report, without having serving a subpoena on, or otherwise considering any testimony from, Gov. Palin herself. Mr. Petumenos, by contrast, spent three hours questioning Gov. Palin under oath, and also redressed other huge gaps in Branchflower's massively flawed and one-sided investigation.

Finally (for now), it's also worth noting right away that in contrast to the French Committee's vote to release the Branchflower Report (which had not been approved or vetted by that committee, much less by the entire Alaska Legislature, and with respect to whose conclusions some committee members indeed expressed their substantive disagreement), the Personnel Board has actually made a substantive decision that's consistent with and reflected by this report, a decision that effectively ends the inquiry before it under the relevant Alaska statutes (boldface mine):

As for the last-minute timing — Petumenos gave out his report hours before the polls opened on Palin's bid to become vice president — the investigator said it wasn't ready until now.

 

"If you think this is being done to favor the governor politically, it certainly would have been much more favorable for her to receive this days before now," Petumenos said.

He'd hoped to release it Thursday, but it wasn't finished, he said. Personnel Board chair Debra English got her copy at about 4 p.m. Sunday.

The board voted to accept the report Monday, ending the investigation.

Unlike the Branchflower Report, in other words, this isn't just "one guy's opinion." There being "no probable cause" to find any statutory violation, there's no need for further gathering of evidence, taking of testimony, or deliberation by the Board. It's finished. Short of impeachment proceedings (for which there's no possible basis, there now having been a finding by the competent state agency that no law was violated), there's nothing further the Legislature could do either.

UPDATE (Tue Nov 4 @ 6:15 a.m. CST): I really hadn't planned to spend the night before Election Day reading a lengthy report on Tasergate, but it's probably just as well that I did.

Steve Branchflower's report was, frankly, one of those bloated documents that make one sorry for the invention of word processors. It was cobbled together from assorted parts of an investigation that was half-cocked to begin with, and that got worse as it went along. Not only did Branchflower's report suffer from bad writing and muddled thinking, but it was based on a process that contained no passing resemblance to due process. And its two key findings — that it was okay for Gov. Palin to actually fire Monegan, but that it wasn't okay for her to supposedly have merely threatened to fire Monegan — were logically inconsistent with one another. It was, in short, a mess — and an obvious political hatchet job.

The State of Alaska and, indeed, the people of the United States owe thanks, by contrast, to the Personnel Board's independent counsel, Timothy Petumenos, for his thorough investigation, clear thinking, and comparatively crisp 58-page report (125 pages when exhibits are included). It deals comprehensively with both facts and law. The bottom line is this: The report Mr. Petumenos has prepared for the Personnel Board, and that it has accepted on behalf of the State of Alaska, is as thorough and persuasive an exoneration of Gov. Sarah Palin's actions as can possibly be imagined.

The bullet points I've quoted above from Mr. Petumenos' executive summary are accurate. I don't want to re-argue the fine points of statutory construction that I've already gone over in my previous critiques of the Branchflower Report, except to note that in my previous analyses, I missed an important point which, fortunately, Mr. Petumenos caught — which is that the specific provision which Branchflower argued that Gov. Palin had violated is not a substantive description of a possible violation of the law, but rather part of an introductory overview stating the entire statute's general purpose. That further reinforces my own conclusions, to which Mr. Petumenos came independently, that Gov. Palin couldn't have been promoting a "personal interest" within the meaning of the statute so long as her concerns about Wooten even arguably paralleled those which the general public might have about such a rogue trooper. Simply put: Even if she was personally horrified that a child-abusing thug like Wooten was still on the job, that wouldn't have made it legally or ethically improper under Alaska law for her to express concerns about that to Monegan.

I will mention that Trooper Wooten comes off looking even worse in Mr. Petumenos' more detailed and better-organized summary of the total universe of evidence (which includes materials and testimony from witnesses whom Branchflower entirely ignored). How that miscreant still has a badge — indeed, why he's not in prison for defrauding the State of Alaska on a bogus workers compensation claim! — remains the lingering mystery of this entire controversy. (Mr. Petumenos is restrainedly but appropriately skeptical of Wooten's chiropractor's clearance of Wooten to ride his snowmachine for long periods while he's supposedly too disabled — and therefore off work at full pay — to remain seated for more than a few minutes on the job.)

Whatever happens on Election Day, there will be those who will try to resurrect this controversy in the future to besmirch Sarah Palin's reputation. If this report and the Personnel Board's decision based upon it are given their due, however, those folks will have less credibility than the so-called "9/11 Truthers" — crazed conspiracy nuts impervious to being influenced either by evidence, law, or rational analysis.

Tasergate is over, and Sarah Palin has been vindicated.

— Beldar

Posted by Beldar at 05:28 AM in Palin | Permalink

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