Alaska's probe into whether Gov. Sarah Palin abused her power, a potentially damaging distraction for John McCain's presidential campaign, ran into intensified resistance Tuesday when the attorney general said state employees would refuse to honor subpoenas in the case.
In a letter to state Sen. Hollis French, the Democrat overseeing the investigation, Republican Attorney General Talis Colberg asked that subpoenas be withdrawn. He also said employees would refuse to appear unless the full state Senate or the entire Legislature votes to compel their testimony.
Colberg, who was appointed by Palin, said employees are caught between their respect for the Legislature and their loyalty to Palin, who initially agreed to cooperate with the inquiry but has increasingly opposed it since McCain chose her as his running mate.
“This is an untenable position for our clients because the governor has so strongly stated that the subpoenas issued by your committee are of questionable validity,” Colberg wrote.
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Last week, French's Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed 13 people. They include 10 employees of Palin's administration and three who are not: her husband, Todd Palin; John Bitney, Palin's former legislative liaison who now is chief of staff for Republican House Speaker John Harris; and Murlene Wilkes, a state contractor.
French did not immediately return a telephone call Tuesday for comment.
Earlier in the day, Harris, who two months ago supported the “Troopergate” probe, openly questioned its impartiality and raised the possibility of delaying the findings.
Like Colberg's letter, the surprise maneuver by Harris reflected deepening resolve by Republicans to spare Palin embarrassment or worse in the final weeks of the presidential campaign.
And it marked a further fraying of a bipartisan consensus, formed by a unanimous panel before Palin became McCain's running mate, that her firing of the state's public safety commissioner justified the probe.