Sworn to secrecy, Alaska lawmakers have begun reviewing a lengthy and politically sensitive investigative report focusing on whether Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin abused her authority as governor.
The first-term Alaska governor has been accused of firing a state commissioner to settle a family dispute. But the report is also expected to touch on whether Palin's husband meddled in state affairs and whether her administration inappropriately accessed employee medical records.
The inquiry, approved by a legislative committee's bipartisan vote, began before Republican presidential nominee John McCain named Palin his running mate. Since then, the case has been dogged by accusations of political influence.
The investigation focuses on her firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan. Monegan says Palin and her husband pressured him to fire Mike Wooten, a state trooper involved in a nasty divorce and custody dispute with the governor's sister. When Monegan resisted, he says, he was fired.
Palin's critics say that shows she used her office to settle family affairs.
"When you're the governor, you leave your household hat at home and you become governor," said state Senate President Lyda Green, a Republican who has frequently clashed with Palin.
At their meeting Friday, lawmakers planned to vote to release the estimated 300-page report and some of the 1,000 or more pages of supporting documents. The 14-member legislative panel could recommend that the case be closed, that another committee continue to investigate, or that the matter be referred to criminal investigators.
In an effort to head off the report, McCain campaign spokesman Taylor Griffin released the campaign's own version of events. That report, which Griffin said was written by campaign staffers, says the Legislature has taken a legitimate policy dispute between a governor and one of her commissioners, and portrayed it as something inappropriate.
"The following document will prove Walt Monegan's dismissal was a result of his insubordination and budgetary clashes with Governor Palin and her administration," campaign officials wrote. "Trooper Wooten is a separate issue."
Monegan had not seen the closely held report Thursday night and said he did not know what to expect.
"I just hope that the truth is figured out," Monegan said in a telephone interview Thursday. "That the governor did want me to fire him, and I chose to not. You just can't walk up to someone and say, 'I fire you.' He didn't do anything under my watch to result in termination."
The report is also expected to focus on Palin's husband, Todd, who had extraordinary access to the governor's office and her top aides. Todd acknowledges calling and meeting over the course of many months with numerous senior government officials about Wooten, whom he described as a dangerous and unstable man who had threatened his family.
One of those meetings, Monegan said, occurred in the governor's office. Green said that raised questions of impropriety and that, ultimately, the governor is responsible.
"He shouldn't be sitting in the governor's office and making phone calls if he's going to be pushing his agenda," she said. "Everything's on her."
Steve Branchflower, a retired prosecutor hired by the Legislature, is also investigating whether anyone in the Palin administration pressured auditors to deny Wooten's disability claim. He had claimed he hurt his back moving a body bag, but Todd Palin later said he documented and took photos of Wooten riding a snowmobile that cast suspicion on his injury.
Republican state Rep. John Coghill, a member of the committee, said he would try to keep the discussion focused on the what legislators set out to investigate: Monegan's firing.
"It wasn't supposed to look into the whole administration team. It was supposed to look at the governor," he said before reading the report. "This is about the integrity of the legislative process."
Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Flein, said he had not received a copy of the report. Over the past few days, Van Flein has released affidavits and other documents that Palin's husband and aides provided to investigators. That rankled some lawmakers but Van Flein said he wanted to make sure Branchflower's report didn't take anything out of context.
"Whenever anyone writes their own report, they're filtering their data. And if you've already drawn your conclusion, you tend to filter it in a way to support that conclusion," he said.
Palin's allies have accused the committee of having already drawn their conclusion. They cited comments by Democratic state Sen. Hollis French, who said the investigation could provide an "October surprise" for McCain.
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