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By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008
Troopergate Drive-By

I'm still wiping my late-evening cocktail off the computer screen after reading the front-page story on Palin's "troopergate" in the New York Times. Someday, somewhere it should be used a seminar topic for students studying how to write a hack piece posing as serious news.

The headline and lede state:

Alaska Inquiry Concludes Palin Abused Powers

Gov. Sarah Palin abused the powers of her office by pressuring subordinates to try to get her former brother-in-law, a state trooper, fired, an investigation by the Alaska Legislature has concluded. The inquiry found, however, that she was within her right to dismiss her public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, who was the trooper’s boss.

Abuse of office allegations is something that follows a politician around. My guess is that as long as she stays in public life, this report is going to get dredged up. In other words it's a permanent stain on her record.

However is it a valid stain?

That depends on the context which the NY Times article never provides.

First the investigation was launched by the Alaskan Legislature which given its nature makes the the investigation a political one. Nothing wrong with that, checks and balances, separation of powers and all of that but if you have followed Palin's record as Governor you know she has butted heads with the Legislature and that the council which approved the investigation and released the report has both her enemies and Obama supporters on it. Can you say perception of "payback?"

Second, the article makes passing reference, through the use of a quote from the Governor's spokeswoman, to the role of Obama supporters in the investigation. However the article provides no additional detail leaving the matter as an allegation. However the investigation was directed by a Senator Hollis French who has gone on the record as both an Obama supporter and as saying before the report was released that this would be an "October Surprise" as far as the election. Did French have an undue impact on the report? Unclear. He was responsible for hiring the investigator, but anything more than that is speculative at this point. However given this and the above point it should cast immediate doubt on the report

Third the article minimized the past history of the fired trooper in question, especially as it relates to the Palin family. The article mentions early on that the trooper was the former brother-in-law of the Governor and mentions the messy divorce giving the perception that any actions against said trooper was a form of a family vendetta. The only concession the article makes to the threat that the trooper posed to the Palin family was a quote from the Governor's spokeswoman regarding "... his violent and rogue behavior.”

When you quote a spokeswoman rather than cite the facts, you lower the "violent and rogue behavior” to the level of allegation. What we do know is that he tasered the Governor's nephew and indirectly threatened the life of her father by threteaning to shoot him in the head. These "allegations" led to:

"The record clearly indicates a serious and concentrated pattern of unacceptable and at times, illegal activity occurring over a lengthy period, which establishes a course of conduct totally at odds with the ethics of our profession," Col. Julia Grimes, then head of Alaska State Troopers, wrote in March 1, 2006, letter suspending Wooten for 10 days. After the union protested it, the suspension was reduced to five days.

Note "suspension" and not "dismissal," this is a guy who still carries a gun and a badge. If your family was injured and threatened by this guy wouldn't you be applying the screws to get him dismissed? What does someone have to do to get fired? Palin family vendetta? Hardly. More like trying to protect your family against a violent and unstable person.

Fourth, Palin family influence on Wooten and Monegan. The Anchorage Daily News article states that Palin and her family had been working on the Wooten case a year before she was elected governor and was focused on the nature of the stalled internal investigation into his actions. Does that mean any resultant pressure from the Palin family after her election was justified or ethical? No but it does cast any such action in a different light; as a continuation of past efforts rather than settling accounts from a position of power.

Fifth, the article fails to mention that Todd Palin had submitted a statement earlier that week stating that Governor Palin had asked him to back off on contacting any state employees regarding Wooten. Note that this was the crux of the ethics complaint, it is not clear from the report of any unethical pressure from the Governor herself but that such contact came from her husband. In the report the Governor is held resposnible for not attempting to stop her husband's actions, but this week Mr. Palin has stated that she did in fact do so. Apparently Mr. Palin refrained from making an earlier statement on the advice of the Alaska Attorney General.

Sixth, the article mentions that the legislative council voted unanimously to release the report but declined to report any criticism from council members of the report giving the unwary reader a perception of the report's veracity that is totally unjustified.

Is there something to Troopergate? Maybe, but this report and the national media coverage of it is more of a political hit peiece than a serious desire to get to the truth.