The first serious scandal in Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's administration has roots in a family feud. It erupted into public view with the July 11 firing of the state's top public safety official.
Palin's abrupt firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan is now being investigated by a special counsel hired by the Alaska Legislature.
The Legislature is spending up to $100,000 “to investigate the circumstances and events surrounding the termination of former Public Safety Commissioner Monegan, and potential abuses of power and/or improper actions by members of the executive branch.”
The investigation is supposed to wrap up by Oct. 31.
At issue is whether Palin, her administration or family pressured Monegan to fire Alaska state trooper Michael Wooten, the ex-husband of Palin's sister, and whether Palin fired Monegan when that didn't happen. Palin's sister, Molly McCann, and Wooten are divorced but still battling in court over custody and visitation.
Palin will be deposed along with others in the governor's office and former administration officials, said state Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat and former state prosecutor from Anchorage who is serving as the project director for the investigation. The special counsel just this week was trying to arrange the deposition, French said.
The investigation will continue, despite Palin's newfound prominence, French said.
Before she was governor, Palin pushed for an investigation of Wooten over a number of matters, including accusations of using a Taser on his stepson, illegally shooting a moose and drinking in his patrol car.
Troopers did investigate, and Wooten was suspended for 10 days, later reduced to five.
Palin initially said that after she took office in December 2006, she broached the subject of Wooten with her public safety commissioner, Monegan, just once, when they discussed her security detail. She said that she told Monegan of threats Wooten had made against her father and also that Wooten had threatened to “bring me down.”
But a week after his firing, Monegan said there was pressure to fire Wooten from Palin's administration as well as from Palin's husband, Todd.
On July 28, a bipartisan panel of legislators approved hiring an investigator to look into Monegan's firing and any abuse of power.
This month, as her administration gathered materials for the legislative investigation, Palin released a recording of a phone call in which one of her aides pressured a trooper lieutenant to fire Wooten. That contradicted Palin's earlier claims that there had been no pressure. She said she was unaware of the conversation until the investigation uncovered it.
In the phone call, which was recorded by troopers, aide Frank Bailey told the trooper lieutenant that Palin and her husband wanted to know why Wooten still had a job.
Palin has put Bailey on paid leave during the investigation. She said she never asked Bailey to make that call.
She has maintained that her decision to fire Monegan has nothing to do with Monegan's refusal to dump Wooten.