It’s been a slow whirlwind of activity on the dual (and dueling) investigations of Sarah Palin, known as Trooper’gate. So I’ll catch you up on both the legislation investigation (aka, the “witchhunt”) and the Personnel Board investigation (aka the authority via Alaskan State law to hear complaints under the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.)
The brief version so many like to have? (which I never recommend, since you should read and form your own opinions…) The legislative investigation has piled on yet one more event in their process that has the AG eyeing them and their methods of investigation warily. So he’s threatening to block their subpoenas unless they change their ways. In the meantime, the PSEA complaint filed with the Personnel Board may have a long row to hoe if they want to tie their medical records “leak” to Palin. And was it a “leak” at all, or merely common knowledge?
Now, the more indepth version with links…
As a brief recap (see more in depth in previous posts… the category linked above), a Personnel Board investigation can’t begin until they receive formal complaints. And as the Head Witch Hunter, Hollis French pointed out on Sept 1st, there were no complaints and therefore the Personnel Board was a moot point. Therefore, he believed the legislative investigation held priority standing.
It was, however, almost simultaneous with his statement that Palin’s Anchorage attorney, Thomas Van Flein, was filing her ethics disclosure/complaint with the AG’s office… thus kickstarting the procedure as per the Ethics Act. Palin’s disclosure dealt with the charges that she set her administration on Monegan, pressuring him to fire Trooper Wooten.
Sept 3rd, John Cyr – Executive Director of the PSAE (the AST union who negotiated Wooten’s suspension reduced from 10 days to 5 days with Col. Julia Grimes) – filed a separate complaint with the AGs office, also to appear before the Personnel Board. The PSEA complaint focuses on what they consider to be an invasion of privacy of Wooten’s personnel file, specifically his workman’s compensation claim. This, Cyr claims, is a violation of AS 39.25.080 in the Alaska State Personnel Act.
Both these complaints/disclosures – tho not briefs – present their case to the AG stating points of law and discussing evidence they have that makes them believe there is a case. The three-person Personnel Board deliberates if the evidence is sufficient to warrant the appointment of an independent counsel/investigator to pursue further…. much like a Grand Jury.
They can also take the facts at hand, and dismiss the charges.
Reading the six page complaint by the PSEA is, of course, recommended. And bear with me here as it’s not a cut/paste friendly document, so this will be summarizing. In my prior posts, I only mentioned it was forthcoming, but had not been yet made available to the public.
The PSEA complaint names as their subjects of investigation Frank Bailey (Palin’s special asst, and now on paid administrative leave for acting without authority), Brad Thompson (Director in the Risk Management in the Dept of Administration), Mike Monagle (brace yourself for a mouthful here… the Administrator for the Fisherman’s Fund Advisory and Appeals Council and the Second Injury Fund sections of the Dept of Workman’s Comp division…. whew…)…. and/or the Governor.
BTW, each violation (assuming one is found guilty of more than one) carries a fine of up to and no more than $5000, and disciplinary action. Heavy duty crime here, eh?
The heart of the complaint lies with the Frank Bailey recorded phone call with Lt. Dial that Cyr suggests would only be known from Wooten’s workman’s compensation file. BTW, in an old WaPo article from Aug 30th, the Alaskan AG had already been doing a review of these charges and found that in all, this phone call was the only one that was determined to be improper.
In July, Palin’s chief of staff told Monegan he was being fired because the governor wanted to “go in a different direction,” Monegan said.
Monegan went public, alleging that his firing was connected to his failure to remove Wooten. The state legislature launched its investigation, and the governor asked the attorney general’s office to conduct an internal investigation.
Barnhill said the review, made public two weeks ago, found that half a dozen officials had made about two dozen phone calls regarding Wooten. But only one call was determined to be improper, a tape-recorded conversation between Palin’s chief of boards and commissions, Frank Bailey, to a police lieutenant.
The others named in Cyr’s PSEA complaint are those that seemed to be in the chain that presumably gave Bailey this information. However note, the Governor is the last (least?) named. From any routing slips for Workman’s Comp files with the filing, evidently Palin is not named as the source requesting the file (or this would be an easier charge to believe, right?)
Instead, this is a complaint to see if Bailey’s personal conversation in question can be linked back to Palin. Todd Palin … who is not an elected official… is not the subject of an Executive Branch Ethics investigation. It must also be noted that Bailey is on record, under oath, that he did not act on any authority of the Governor, nor was requested to act on her behalf. Rather makes linking the two somewhat moot, yes?
So what’s up with a workman’s comp file? Remember, that on Feb 7th, 2008, Wooten signed a release of his entire employment file, including complaints and personnel records, that expired May 1, 2008. Also, the Governor’s office provided a disclosure that Palin had nothing to do with the litigation, and that all records involved with that litigation were procured per state law on discovery procedures.
So how does this all fit in with accusations against both Sarah and Todd Palin? In April of 2007 (approx 4 months after Sarah took office), Todd Palin said he had met with Wooten’s boss one time only, to give her pictures taken of Wooten, out on a snowmobile, when he was supposed to be out on workman’s compensation leave. Whether this was an avid snowmobiler, Todd Palin, having a chance run in with Wooten in the woods, or other methods of obtaining these photos, is not stated. The private investigation of Wooten by the Palins was done years earlier, during the heat of the original complaints mid 2005.
But would it really require scrutiny of a personnel file for the family members, friends and acquaintances to know Wooten was off regular duty on a workman’s comp claim? Or could it be something as simple as “hey Mike, how come you’re not working?” in passing conversation, and thereby commonly known? It’s not necessarily something most strive to keep private. Perhaps the nature of the injury, yes? But collecting a claim?
Now, remember one of the several reasons Gov. Palin’s gave for firing Walt Monegan was over AST recruitment, and that bad behavior by any could reflect on the department as a whole. It remains the task of the Personnel Board to determine if this, combined with an abuse of a workman’s comp claim by an AST, is related and sans violation. But some of those named in the PSEA complaint are part of both the Workman’s Comp division *and* the Admin Dept’s Risk Management department.
An obvious question comes to mind… is an Alaskan trooper, found in violation of collecting workman’s compensation funds under false pretenses, fair game for investigation by these departments? And when an administration discovers these violations and/or corruption, should they be bound to report them to the proper division? Or, because of the past relationship with Wooten, should they have turned a blind eye?
Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Barnhill had comments on Sept 11th about communications between the Governor’s administration, and Wooten’s superiors on what may be a violation of Wooten’s workman’s compensation claim… and even more importantly, how they fall in context for the Personnel Act that Cyr quotes in his PSEA ethics complaint.
Barnhill took exception to statements made by Sen. Hollis French, the Democrat who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee. French was quoted early this month as saying that if the governor’s office obtained confidential information from Wooten’s personnel file “it would be a violation of state law.”
Under state law, personnel records of state employees are confidential except for names, titles, dates of employment and compensation. Under standard operating procedures set out by the Department of Administration, which maintains many personnel records, routine access to confidential documents “is limited to those employees who must use state personnel records in order to perform their regular ongoing assigned job duties.”
But nothing in those regulations prevents the governor from assigning staff members to review personnel files, Barnhill said.
It is, in fact, French’s unethical prosecution of his legislative investigation that had Barnhill threatening to block the legislature’s subpoenas bac on Sept 11th. [Note: same article as linked above]
In a letter made public Thursday, Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Barnhill promised to go to court to block the subpoenas “unless the current manner of pursuing the investigation changes.”
At the same time, Barnhill outlined a potential compromise: If lawmakers agree that the governor has legal authority to designate staff to review confidential personnel files, the staff members will voluntarily speak with the Legislature’s investigator _ no subpoenas necessary.~~~
“Conducting these depositions under an improper threat of potential prosecution is unfair,” Barnhill wrote.
If the lawmakers agree in writing with his interpretation of the Personnel Act, he said, the attorney general’s office “will drop its objections and the depositions may proceed without subpoenas.”
Sen. Kim Elton, who chairs the Legislative Council, was on a plane and could not be reached for comment Thursday. An aide, Jesse Kiehl, said: “He’s read the letter. I don’t believe that we have written back.”
Barnhill acknowledged that if any administration officials improperly disclosed information from Wooten’s personnel file, that could violate the law. But, he said, he knows of no evidence any did so.
As of the Anchorage Daily News today, however, there are some administrative members that have agreed to testify anyway. But after reading the details of the reasons of why the AG’s office wanted to block the subpoenas, the ADN prefer to lead their readership’s opinion by using the language instead that “the Palin administration was threatening to quash the subpoenas.
Troopergate showdown may be avoided. The Wall Street Journal Washington Wire blog reported Sunday that at least two of the witnesses who received subpoenas Friday plan to testify. This word came after news last week that the Palin administration was threatening to quash the subpoenas.
On Sunday, Annette Kreitzer, Gov. Palin’s commissioner of administration, said in a telephone interview that she has agreed to testify, probably as soon as this coming week. “My understanding (is) it’s not just me but everyone,” Ms. Kreitzer said, clarifying that by “everyone” she meant the four witnesses who worked directly in her unit at the Department of Administration.
Nicki Neal, another witness on the to-be-subpoenaed list, also agreed to speak to investigators without a subpoena.
And speaking of those subpoenas, just who’s in charge of this witch hunt anyway? Is Steve Branchflower an “independent” counsel, or merely a puppet of French and the Alaskan lawmakers? And how does this process compare to what we know of other legislative investigations at the federal or state level?
As for who’s in charge, we should have had a heads up when on Friday we read that the legislators “voted” to subpoena Todd Palin and twelve other witnesses.
Well, one smart cookie at Townhall, Amanda Carpenter, picked up on that bizarre event and started putting two and two together within the next 24 hours.
Investigator Steven Branchflower admitted he had ceded control of his subpoena list to Sen. Hollis French (D.) during Alaska’s Joint Judiciary Committee September 12 hearing that was scheduled to approve subpoena requests. French is a partisan who has endorsed Palin’s Democratic presidential ticket rival Barack Obama for president and is actively supporting his candidacy.
Lawmakers approved 13 of Branchflower’s subpoena requests that day, which included one for Palin’s husband, Todd. Four other subpoenas were approved for aides Branchflower believes participated in a meeting called by Palin’s former chief of staff Mike Tibbles where Wooten’s firing was allegedly discussed.
Rep. David Guttenberg (D.) asked Branchflower why he was requesting subpoenas for only those people attending the meeting and not Tibbles himself.
Branchflower said he would “have to defer that question to Mr. French.”
Have a listen to the complete audio exchange yourself…
Joint Judiciary Committee September 12 hearing
What’s so danged bizarre about this is that most federal and/or state legislative investigations have independent investigator/counsels that are appointed either by the Atty General’s office, or some Board that answers to the AG’s office (as in Alaska’s situation). It was in the wake of the expiration of the Independent Counsel’s Act (June 1999) where both sides of the aisle felt that the law perpetuated unfair and biased witch hunts. Even Ken Starr himself came out in favor of sunsetting the law when due for expiration.
Even at that, in other federal and/or state legislative investigations, which were appointed by the AG, the legislators were not involved in the investigation itself… not the witness lists, not nada… nothing.
So how is it French and company pick the indy counsel, then tell the indy counsel who to interview, who not to interview, and remain so involved in the process? And why is it a letter from Palin’s attorney to the independent counselor, requesting witness lists disclosures etal, is responded to by Sen. Hollis French, and not the independent counsel himself?
As Dem Rep. David Guttenberg says in the audio… “something’s fishy here”.
It is, for these reasons, that the legislative investigation has been revealed to be a politically motivated witch hunt from early on. And while lawmakers do have the right to investigate as part of their oversight responsibilities, they are also required by the Alaskan State Constitution not to deny fair due process to those under investigation, as stated in their Declaration of Rights.
Then there is the matter of their efficiency, which makes this being political in nature even more suspect. Despite the appointment of Steve Branchflower as independent counsel back on Aug 1st, they had yet to interview any of those central to the investigation even a month later. In that time, French himself has been quoted in the media as it being tandamount to possible impeachment, and “very damaging”… all without interviews.
Yet the media still only focuses on the legislative investigation, and ignores the Personnel Board process. Gee… wonder why?
Vietnam era Navy wife, indy/conservative, and an official California escapee now residing as a red speck in the sea of Oregon blue.