Gov. Sarah Palin has taken an unusual step: She’s made an ethics complaint against herself. She wants an Alaska state board to review the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.
Her lawyer sent an "ethics disclosure" Monday night to Attorney General Talis Colberg. The governor asked that it go to the three-person Personnel Board as a complaint. While ethics complaints are usually confidential, Palin wants the matter open.
The lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, also asked the state Legislature to drop its own investigation into the Monegan matter. He says the Personnel Board has jurisdiction over ethics, but a senator running the investigation immediately refused.
The 13-page document gives Palin’s view of a controversy that’s dogged her for weeks. Questions about whether she, family or her administration pressured Monegan to fire her ex-brother-in-law, state Trooper Mike Wooten, are now receiving intense national attention with her newfound prominence on the national stage. Republican Sen. John McCain announced Friday that she’s his pick to be vice president.
Under state law, the board must hire an independent counsel for complaints against the governor to evaluate evidence of a violation.
"Governor Palin believes it will find no conceivable violation of the Ethics Act," her complaint says. She wants the investigation "to put these matters to rest."
The Legislature plans to go forward with its investigation, said Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat and former state prosecutor who is project director for the case.
That investigation isn’t just examining potential abuse of power by the governor, but also others in her administration, French said.
"We’re going to proceed. If they want to proceed, that’s perfectly within their right but it doesn’t diminish our right to do so," he said.
The Legislature’s special counsel, Steve Branchflower, has not been able to depose either Palin or her husband, Todd. Van Flein indicated the governor likely will not agree to a deposition unless lawmakers turn the matter over to the Personnel Board.
"Assuming you agree to submit to proper jurisdictional process, we can check the Governor’s schedule to see when she and the First Gentleman are available for an interview," Van Flein wrote.
He also warned that all communications need to go through the lawyers. He said he had recently learned that Branchflower tried to call Todd Palin directly "on a secure and confidential line. This represents a serious security breach that we may be obligated to report to the Secret Service."
This isn’t the first time Palin has lodged a complaint that went before the state Personnel Board.
In late 2004, the former Wasilla mayor joined then-state Rep. Eric Croft, an Anchorage Democrat, to seek an investigation into whether then-Attorney General Gregg Renkes broke the law through his investments in an energy company that stood to benefit from a state trade deal.
In the days after he resigned in February 2005, Renkes settled with the board and the Palin-Croft complaint was dismissed.
Tom Daniel, an Anchorage labor and employment lawyer hired by the board in the Renkes case, said Palin’s ethics complaint was "very unusual," since they are typically filed against other parties.
Daniel said he didn’t think that filing a complaint with the personnel board could preclude the Legislature from conducting an investigation.
The ethics disclosure echoes points made in a four-page backgrounder on the Wooten matter released by the McCain/Palin campaign. Did Van Flein write the background paper on Wooten for the campaign? He didn’t answer that question when asked in an e-mail Tuesday evening.
Wooten was married to Palin’s sister, Molly McCann, and as recently as this summer, they were still struggling over child custody and visitation.
Among key claims in Palin’s complaint:
— Special Agent Bob Cockrell of the governor’s security detail told Todd Palin to let Monegan know about Wooten’s threats against Chuck Heath, who is Palin’s father and was Wooten’s father-in-law.
— Monegan never told the governor or Todd Palin that Wooten had been disciplined over complaints brought by the family that included tasering his stepson, illegally shooting a moose and telling others that Heath would "eat a f***ing lead bullet" if he helped his daughter get an attorney for the divorce. Wooten ultimately was suspended for five days by troopers but the family says they only learned that when the conflict spilled into public after Monegan’s firing. In her complaint, Palin calls the suspension "a slap on the wrist."
— Recently, Wooten’s supervisor intervened when he wouldn’t return the children after a visit, the complaint says. Wooten warned his ex-wife he was going to get her and Palin, the complaint says. "There is evidence suggesting that Wooten was following the governor," it says.
Palin is facing another ethics complaint, filed by a former state employee and political activist, alleging her office used improper influence to award a state job.
Van Flein is a private lawyer with expertise in employment law hired by the Department of Law because of a potential conflict of interest by Attorney General Talis Colberg, who had contacted Monegan about Wooten. Van Flein is representing the governor’s office though some Palin staff have their own lawyers.
Van Flein donated to Palin’s campaign for governor in 2006, but he also donated to Democrats.
Reporters Wesley Loy and Megan Holland contributed to this story.
(E-mail Lisa Demer at ldemer(at)adn.com)