What about “Troopergate”? What about the brother-in-law “scandal”?
Sometimes the questions come from Sarah Palin critics who aren’t interested in real answers because they believe the questions themselves are the answers — making plain that the governor is in trouble in Alaska and doesn’t deserve her reputation as a corruption fighter or her place on the John McCain ticket. But many others want real answers to what are legitimate questions about this newcomer to the national stage — answers they don’t often find in quick references, snarky or otherwise, to Palin’s own ethics investigation or “Troopergate.” So let’s run down what we know now.
What’s the beef? That Palin fired Alaska’s Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan because he wouldn’t fire her ex-brother-in-law, State Trooper Mike Wooten, who was involved in a bitter divorce and custody battle with Palin’s sister.
Who’s leveled this charge? An Alaska blogger who ran against Palin in the 2006 gubernatorial race.
But didn’t Monegan serve at the pleasure of the governor? Couldn’t she fire him for any reason whatsoever? Yes. If she fired him because he wouldn’t fire Wooten, however, this would betray a frightening lack of judgment on her part. Evidence that she used her office to settle family scores would destroy her credibility as an ethics reformer and government-corruption fighter. The woman who’s now heralded as the next Ronald Reagan would be unmasked as the next Richard Nixon.
So what’s Palin say in her own defense? That she has nothing to hide, she welcomes an investigation and showed Monegan the door — and offered him another job — because they had differences over budget priorities and policy at the department.
But haven’t Palin and her family had a problem with Wooten for some time? Absolutely. The problem goes back, at least, to April 2005 — months before Palin kicked off her campaign for governor.
What was their problem with Wooten? Didn’t he share Sarah Palin’s conservative politics? This goes beyond a source of tension at Thanksgiving dinners. In April 2005, Palin alleged that Wooten had threatened to harm her sister and father and engaged in other misconduct. An Alaska judge issued a domestic violence protective order against Wooten, and a state police investigation found in March 2006 — a half-year before Palin was elected — that, among other things, he had used a Taser on his 10-year-old stepson, drank beer in a patrol car and told others his father-in-law would “eat a (expletive deleted) lead bullet” if he helped his daughter get a divorce attorney. “The record clearly indicates,” investigators concluded, “a serious and concentrated pattern of unacceptable and, at times, illegal activity occurring over a lengthy period, which establishes a course of conduct totally at odds with the ethics of our profession.” He was suspended for 10 days and given one last chance to shape up.
But isn’t it a fact that the Palins would not let the Wooten problem go once Sarah became governor? True, again, but there’s no evidence so far that the Palins sought his removal. After Palin won election, the governor’s security detail asked the Palins if they knew of anyone who might want to harm the governor or her family. Wooten’s name naturally came up, and Sarah’s husband, Todd, was told to take up the issue with Monegan.
Ah, but didn’t Palin herself bring up her brother-in-law with Monegan? Yes, again, but not to ask for his firing. How do we know? Monegan has said so. “For the record,” he told the Anchorage Daily News, “no one ever said fire Wooten. Not the governor. Not Todd. Not any of the other staff.”
But doesn’t Monegan say he felt pressured to fire Wooten? Yes, but only after Monegan first said he didn’t know why he was fired and had no idea if the pressure he felt was related to his firing. And consider what Monegan now deems pressure: two e-mails from Palin he showed The Washington Post last week. Both mention Wooten, and her frustration with the state police’s handling of his case is apparent. But her February 2007 “just my opinion” comments come in the context of asking Monegan to testify for a bill requiring a 99-year sentence for police officers found guilty of murder — to do “whatever we can do to build trust back into [the department].”
The second e-mail, in July 2007, came in response to news reports of legislation to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. She said she thought immediately of Wooten: “We can’t have double standards. Remember when the death threat was reported, and follow-on threats from Mike that he was going to ‘bring Sarah and her family down’ — instead of any reprimand WE were told by trooper union personnel that we’d be sued if we talked about those threats. Amazing.”
Smoking guns? Not even smoking pop guns. They’re a governor seeing an issue through the prism of her own experience. They don’t manifest pressure. At worst, they manifest a preoccupation, but one that many Americans probably understand.
Is there a legitimate cause to criticize Palin in this case? Perhaps. Maybe for not having her staff in check on this. Unknown to her, others in her administration had talked to Monegan about Wooten. One testified under oath that he did so on his own because he was worried about the Palins’ security. Palin disclosed this contact, calling it “unauthorized” and “wrong” and suspended the individual.
So far, however, the only violation here seems to be the journalistic crime of attaching the suffix “gate” at the drop of an allegation.
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