Ethics probe hits hardest at Todd, not Sarah Palin
By MATT APUZZO, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 56 minutes ago
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A month after she became governor, Sarah Palin's staff ushered Alaska's public safety commissioner into her private office.
But Palin wasn't there. Her husband, Todd, had called the meeting. He was frustrated that his former brother-in-law remained on the job as a state trooper, and he prevailed upon the commissioner to get rid of him.
"I thought that was odd and made me a little uncomfortable," said Walter Monegan, the commissioner, who later was fired by Gov. Palin. "We're having it in the governor's office, and he's not the governor. I think he was trying to use state trappings to handle a personal issue."
The January 2007 meeting was part of a long pattern of pressure that she and her husband applied on state officials to try to get the trooper fired, according to an Alaska legislative report released Friday. The report said those contacts amounted to an abuse of power and a violation of the state's ethics laws, which prohibit using public office for personal benefit.
But while the condemnation of now-vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin was the conclusion, the nearly 300-page report by investigator Stephen Branchflower was more about her husband. Todd Palin, the self-described "first dude" of Alaska, had extraordinary access to his wife's office, her staff and her power.
Todd Palin spent about 50 percent of his time in the governor's office, making phone calls, participating in meetings or just hanging out, said Gary Wheeler, a member of Gov. Palin's security detail.
"He had a significant influence, in that he was always interacting with the, the employees there," Wheeler told state investigators. "Any time I needed to get information to the governor, I would always go through Todd."
The governor and her staff kept Todd Palin in the loop on a wide range of issues, copying him on e-mails about union matters, public relations and a bill requiring parental consent for abortions.
His efforts to get Mike Wooten, Sarah Palin's sister's ex-husband, fired were extensive. Todd Palin held dozens of meetings and phone calls with state officials, alleging that Wooten threatened the Palin family, was too unstable to be a trooper, and was cheating the worker's compensation system.
Todd Palin would not answer a question about the report during a campaign stop Saturday. GOP presidential candidate John McCain's spokesman in New Hampshire, Jeff Grappone, said Palin would not take questions from the media during his visit.
But in an affidavit he provided to investigators, he made no apologies.
"I have heard criticism that I am too involved in my wife's administration," he wrote. "My wife and I are very close. We are each other's best friend. I have helped her in her career the best I can, and she has helped me."
Taylor Griffin, a spokesman for John McCain's presidential campaign, compared Todd Palin's role to that of other political spouses.
First lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a vocal player in labor civil rights issues, Hillary Rodham Clinton took on health care while first lady, and Nancy Reagan was a close adviser to her husband.
"The role that Todd has played, I don't think is dissimilar from other spouses, and I think it's an entirely appropriate role," Griffin said. "And Todd will play an appropriate role as the spouse of the vice president."
The legislative probe began as an investigation into whether Palin improperly fired Monegan for resisting efforts to fire Wooten. The report concluded that Monegan's firing was legal, because Palin had the right to choose her top administrators, but that the pressure Palin and her husband exerted to try to get Wooten fired was improper.
Palin originally pledged cooperation with the legislative inquiry, which was approved by a bipartisan vote of a committee on which Republicans are the majority.
After McCain tapped Palin as his running mate, however, accusations of political interference quickly pushed the personnel matter into the national spotlight. Democratic state Sen. Hollis French drew heavy criticism for saying the investigation could provide an "October surprise" for the McCain campaign.
That allowed the McCain-Palin campaign to dismiss Friday's report as a political smear. The McCain campaign even issued its own rival report clearing Palin of all wrongdoing.
Though the committee's report reached some stinging conclusions, it was largely toothless. The Legislature has no authority to sanction Palin for ethical misconduct. That's up to the state Personnel Board, which is running a parallel investigation that Palin is cooperating with.
Associated Press writer Adam Goldman contributed to this report.