Republican State Senator Lyda Green, the president of the Alaska Senate, has been no fan of Governor Sarah Palin. After John McCain tapped Palin to be his running mate, Green told the Anchorage Daily News, “She’s not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president? Look at what she’s done to this state. What would she do to the nation?”
For two years, Green feuded with Palin over key policy matters. But in recent days, Green has become even more dismayed with the Palin pick, for she believes the McCain-Palin campaign has undermined the rule of law in the Last Frontier. She says she has watched with outrage as McCain-Palin operatives have flown into her state and interfered with the so-called Troopergate investigation–the official, approved-by-the-legislature inquiry into whether Palin dismissed her public safety commissioner because he refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper who went through a messy divorce with Palin’s sister.
Calling herself a “raging Republican,” Green says, she is “absolutely disgusted, embarrassed, and ashamed” by the McCain-Palin campaign’s intervention in the Troopergate probe. Over a week ago, McCain campaign aides began handling the investigation for Palin. The campaign dispatched Edward O’Callaghan, who recently had been a terrorism prosecutor in the Justice Department, to Alaska to oversee Palin’s legal strategy. O’Callaghan then declared she would not cooperate with the inquiry. (Before becoming the GOP vice presidential nominee, Palin had repeatedly vowed to cooperate. At one point, she said, “I’m happy to comply, to cooperate. I have absolutely nothing to hide.”) And last Thursday, O’Callaghan announced that Palin’s husband, Todd, would not heed a subpoena to appear before a state legislative committee to testify about his role in Troopergate.
Meanwhile, state Attorney General Talis Colberg, a Palin appointee, said that he would instruct state employees subpoenaed in the case to refuse to testify (after his Department of Law had already arranged for the state employees to cooperate). And Palin attorney Thomas Van Flein–who once was being paid by the state government and who now says he is being paid privately–last week released official state emails that the Palin camp pointed to as proof that Walt Monegan, the dismissed public safety commissioner, had been fired because of insubordination. (A month earlier Palin had given a reporter a much different account of what had happened with Monegan, and Monegan has produced records he claims undermine the insubordination argument.) Van Flein also sent a letter to Troopergate investigator Steve Branchflower saying that one reason Todd Palin was not complying with the subpoena was that the proceeding “with an ethics investigation involving the Governor during a period in which she is involved in a campaign for public office” is a violation “of due process under the Alaska Constitution.” That is, a governor cannot be investigated for an ethics violation whenever he or she is campaigning for an office.
Ever since the McCain operatives became involved, the pushback against the investigation has been fierce. Five Republican legislators filed a lawsuit to stop the investigation, which had been unanimously endorsed by a bipartisan council of the state House and Senate. They claimed the probe was “a ‘McCarthyistic’ investigation” and was compromised because Democrats who supported the investigation were Obama backers. A Texas-based conservative legal outfit called the Liberty Legal Institute has been representing these lawmakers. Six Alaskan residents filed a similar but separate lawsuit. And the Republican Speaker of the House, John Harris, stepped back from his previous endorsement of the investigation.
The campaign against the investigation has been reminiscent of the Florida recount. Oce again, Republican lawyers and political operatives parchute in and mount a kitchen-sink effort to stymie the workings of a local government. All of this has Green upset. “It is very distressing,” she says, “that a national campaign would come into our state and tell our attorney general to tell our state employees not to honor subpoenas, to obstruct justice.”
She says she is exploring various options. The subpoenas cannot be enforced while the House and Senate are out of session, and neither body is due to return to the state capitol until January. Green, who is retiring as a state senator, says she is looking into whether she could call just the Senate back. The body could vote to instruct the attorney general to change his position; it could vote to impose punishments on those not complying with the subpoenas. But the Republican-controlled House might not be eager to return in order to inconvenience McCain’s running mate. (The state Senate has a small Democratic majority; because a Democratic-Republican coalition controls the body, Green, a Republican, is Senate president.)
“We’re looking at a lot of choices,” Green says. “I just started making phone calls. But we don’t want to end up with any court action that says the legislature doesn’t have the power to do what we want to do. The court usually defers to the power of the legislature. And my hunch is that it would under normal circumstances. But these are not normal circumstances.”
Green is alarmed by the McCain squad’s use of hardball tactics and “the length to which they’re going to impede and delay” the investigation. The local press conferences held by McCain-Palin aides, she adds, “are vile. They’re attacking nice people, saying things that are not true. Walt Monegan has been respected in all circles. To see him used as a scapegoat is very disheartening.”
As soon as the McCain ops became involved in the investigation, the Palin camp and its supporters began relying on a mantra: the probe was tainted by politics. “I can assure you Barack Obama has no role in this investigation,” Green says. “They keep saying it’s tainted. Say something over and over, it’s true, right? This has been a very sophisticated intrusion into Alaska, which usually doesn’t want people coming up here and telling us what to do.”
On Sunday, the Anchorage Daily News ran an Associated Press story headlined, “Troopergate seems to be trapped in limbo.” The article noted that even though Branchflower says he plans to release some sort of a report by October 10, “the probe is effectively killed until January.” The sub-headline on the article: “McCain campaign uses its power.” At the moment–despite Green’s efforts–it seems that power may have triumphed.