The lawyer for Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate, is moving swiftly to head off the controversy known as "Troopergate."
With the country's attention focused on Palin the national candidate, lawyer Thomas Van Flein has worked aggressively to undermine an Alaskan legislative inquiry and has started questioning potentially damaging witnesses against the governor.
The legislature launched a probe of Palin in July after former safety commissioner Walt Monegan said he felt pressured by the governor's office to fire a state trooper involved in a messy divorce with Palin's sister.
In 2005, before Palin ran for office, she and her husband, Todd, claimed the trooper, Mike Wooten, threatened to kill Sarah Palin's father. Wooten was suspended over the allegations for five days in 2006 but still has his job. The Palin family also accused Wooten of drinking beer in his patrol car, illegally shooting a moose and firing a Taser at his 11-year-old stepson.
Van Flein wants the state personnel board to conduct the probe, not the legislature. The board members are gubernatorial appointees. Van Flein said he has already provided the board the depositions of two witnesses he has questioned, leaving the legislature in the dark.
The legal tactic of pre-emptive questioning gives the governor a distinct advantage in the controversy because it means that she already knows at the outset the detailed accounts of potential witnesses against her. The procedure also locks important witnesses into the accounts they give. If the witnesses provide statements now that are favorable to Palin, the witnesses' credibility could be called into question if they make statements in the future that are unfavorable to her.
The questioning by Van Flein of two witnesses took place on Aug. 26 and Aug. 28.
In one of the depositions, Van Flein questioned gubernatorial aide Frank Bailey, who on Tuesday refused to testify to the legislative investigation of the governor.
Van Flein released the depositions of Bailey and Michael Monagle, a state manager with the workers' compensation division, to The Associated Press on Thursday night.
In them, Bailey says that the governor never asked him to do anything regarding Wooten. Palin and her husband, said Bailey, expressed "serious genuine concern about not only their safety but the safety of their family, their kids, their nieces, nephews, her father, regarding trooper Wooten." Bailey's answers to Van Flein's questions were consistent with the account Bailey told The AP last month.
Monagle said that in regard to the controversy, there were rumors on the Internet that the governor or her office had requested Wooten's workers' compensation file.
"Absolutely not" true, said Monagle, who said that the file is "in my office in a locked file cabinet" for safekeeping.
Bailey's actions are among the most controversial aspects of the investigation.
Early this year, Bailey was caught on tape questioning an Alaska State Trooper official on why Wooten was still employed, given his conduct in regard to the divorce.
In the recorded conversation, Bailey said: "Todd and Sarah are scratching their heads, why on earth hasn't, why is this guy still representing the department? He's a horrible recruiting tool. ... You know, I mean from their perspective, everyone's protecting him."
In the Aug. 26 deposition, Van Flein asked why Bailey was saying such things.
Van Flein told Bailey, "You weren't doing it because the governor asked you to, correct?"
"Correct," Bailey responded.
After providing the depositions to the AP, Van Flein said Bailey and Monagle "have no reason to lie; they have been consistent in their statements. Why would they jeopardize themselves over something as inconsequential as this?"