Gov. Sarah Palin’s chief of staff authorized ex-Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan to travel to Washington, although the governor has cited that trip as a primary example of the insubordination that led to Monegan’s firing.
Monegan is the central figure in the investigation into whether Palin abused her power when she fired him. Monegan alleges he was fired because he refused to terminate a state trooper who was involved in a bitter divorce with the governor’s sister. Palin says he was fired because of insubordination on budget issues.
A legislative committee voted July 24 to investigate the dispute, and Palin initially welcomed it. But after she was picked as Sen. John McCain’s running mate on the GOP presidential ticket, she reversed herself. The campaign sent a team of operatives to Alaska to carefully coordinate any information that’s released.
The investigation will be finished before the election, despite refusals by key witnesses to testify, including the governor’s husband, the legislator heading the probe said Friday.
After waiting 35 minutes for Todd Palin and two state administrative employees to appear under subpoena before the state Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Hollis French condemned their refusal to testify and the attorney general’s broken promise that seven other witnesses would testify who were not subpoenaed.
French said the retired prosecutor hired by the Alaska Legislature to investigate Palin, Stephen Branchflower, will conclude his investigation by Oct. 10. Still, that report will not include testimony from the Republican vice presidential nominee, her husband or most of the top aides Branchflower hoped to interview.
Sarah Palin’s allies hoped the investigation would be delayed past the election to spare her any troublesome revelations — or at least the distraction — before voters have made their choice. Palin’s reputation as clean-government advocate who takes on entrenched interests is central to her appeal as McCain’s running mate, and possibly at risk in the probe.
The McCain campaign said there are concerns about the effect of political influence on the Legislature’s inquiry and Palin will provide any information needed to a separate investigation by the Alaska State Personnel Board.
Palin fired Monegan in July. It later emerged that Palin, her husband and several high-level staffers had contacted Monegan about state trooper Mike Wooten. Palin maintains she fired Monegan over budget disagreements.
The campaign has released a series of e-mails detailing the frustration several Palin administration officials experienced in dealing with Monegan. The "last straw," the campaign said, was a trip Monegan planned to Washington in July to seek federal money for investigating and prosecuting sexual assault cases.
In a July 7 e-mail, John Katz, the governor’s special counsel, noted two problems with the trip: the governor hadn’t agreed the money should be sought, and the request "is out of sequence with our other appropriations requests and could put a strain on the evolving relationship between the Governor and Sen. Stevens."
But a travel authorization document signed by Palin Chief of Staff Mike Nizich on June 18 approves Monegan’s trip to Washington for the purpose of meeting Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
The document’s existence was first reported by ABC News on Friday. Monegan told ABC that the travel authorization was explicitly to pursue funding for the anti-sexual-violence program, but the document does not give that as a reason for the trip.
Monegan did not immediately return a message left at his Anchorage home.
McCain spokesman Taylor Griffin said Friday that the travel authorization was for a routine trip and that state commissioners regularly travel to meet members of Alaska’s congressional delegation.
"He was not authorized to lobby Congress," Griffin said.