Were Sarah "I can see Russia" Palin not already having a tough time on the campaign trail, the report released on Friday by a special prosecutor in Alaska finding that she "abused her power" might be more of a blow to the McCain-Palin campaign. But even though she has already fallen in the polls, there is room for more of a drop. And now the mavericky reformer who is part of a campaign attacking Barack Obama as old-style Chicago pol looks like a lying, vengeful pol herself.
The report was commissioned by a bipartisan group of Alaskan legislators after Palin was accused of firing her public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, after Monegan did not dismiss Mike Wooten, a state trooper who had gone through an ugly divorce with Palin's sister. Though Palin--pre-veep campaign--had pledged to cooperate fully, once she became part of the Republican ticket, she reneged on that promise, as the McCain camp tried to shut down the investigation. But the Alaskan courts refused to short-circuit the investigation, and Stephen Branchflower, a former prosecutor retained by the Alaskan legislators, managed to finish his inquiry, after getting reluctant witnesses--including Todd Palin, the governor's husband--to answer written questions.
The report is blunt:
I find that, although Walt Monegan's refusal to fire Trooper Michael Wooten was not the sole reason he was fired by Governor Sarah Palin, it was likely a contributing factor to his termination as Commissioner of Public Safety.
Branchflower explained that Palin's firing of Monegan was "lawful"--because she has the authority to hire and fire executive branch department heads--but that Palin "knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda, to wit: to get Trooper Michael Wooten fired." She thus violated the state Ethics Act which says that "any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust." The violation was not the dismissal but the exertion of pressure Palin either orchestrated or permitted.
Before the report was released, the Palin camp was busy spinning, claiming it would not mean much because Branchflower had not interviewed Palin. But as Branchflower notes in the report:
Out of deference to her position, no subpoena was issued for Governor Sarah Palin. However, she was requested to cooperate with the investigation by providing a sworn statement. She has not done so. Governor Palin's sister Molly McCann was requested by me to give a deposition; she declined through her attorney.
So now this supposedly new-and-clean politician whom McCain has been selling as an antidote to business-as-usual politics in Washington has been found to have violated a law of her own state. Hard-core Palin supporters will, no doubt, accept the party-line: this was a partisan witchhunt. They will ignore the fact that the investigation was a thoroughly bipartisan endeavor. (At the legislative meeting today that led to the report's release, McCain-Palin volunteers dressed up as clowns and handed out kangaroos--as in kangaroo court--in a stunt that was reminiscent of the GOP protests during the Florida recount and an action that demonstrated the McCain-Palin camp has no regard for the day-to-day workings of government.) But if the McCain crew still harbors hope that Palin can appeal to indie voters as a reformer, this report will make that now difficult task even more difficult.