ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CNN)
Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin abused her power as Alaska’s governor and violated state ethics law by trying to get her ex-brother-in-law fired from the state police, a state investigator’s report concluded Friday.
“Gov. Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda,” the report states.
Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan’s refusal to fire State Trooper Mike Wooten from the state police force was “likely a contributing factor” to Monegan’s July dismissal, but Palin had the authority as governor to fire him, the report by former Anchorage prosecutor Stephen Branchflower states.
However, it states that her efforts to get Wooten fired broke a state ethics law that bars public officials from pursuing personal interest through official action.
Monegan has said he was fired in July after refusing pressure to sack Wooten, who had gone through an acrimonious divorce and custody battle with Palin’s sister.
Palin and her husband, Todd, have consistently denied wrongdoing, describing Wooten as a “rogue trooper” who had threatened their family — allegations Branchflower discounted.
“I conclude that such claims of fear were not bona fide and were offered to provide cover for the Palins’ real motivation: to get Trooper Wooten fired for personal family reasons,” Branchflower wrote.
The Branchflower report states Todd Palin used his wife’s office and its resources to press for Wooten’s removal, and the governor “failed to act” to stop it. But because Todd Palin is not a state employee, the report makes no finding regarding his conduct.
The bipartisan Legislative Council, which commissioned the investigation after Monegan was fired, unanimously adopted the 263-page public report after a marathon executive session Friday. About 1,000 more pages of documents compiled during the inquiry will remain confidential, the council’s chairman, state Sen. Kim Elton, said.
A spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign responded by calling the investigation “a partisan-led inquiry” run by supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, but hailing its finding that Monegan’s firing broke no law.
“Gov. Palin was cleared of the allegation of an improper firing, which is what this investigation was approved to look into,” campaign spokeswoman Meg Stapleton said.
She said the Legislature exceeded its mandate in finding an ethics violation. “Lacking evidence to support the original Monegan allegation, the Legislative Council seriously overreached, making a tortured argument to find fault without basis in law or fact,” she said.
Rep. John Coghill, a Republican who criticized the handling of the investigation, said it was “well-done professionally.”
But he said some of the conclusions were judgment calls by Branchflower, and recommended readers should view them with a “jaundiced eye.”
Palin originally agreed to cooperate with the Legislative Council inquiry, and disclosed in August that her advisers had contacted Department of Public Safety officials nearly two dozen times regarding her ex-brother-in-law.
But once she became Sen. John McCain’s running mate, her advisers began painting the investigation as a weapon of Democratic partisans.
Ahead of Friday’s hearing, Palin supporters wearing clown costumes and carrying balloons denounced the probe as a “kangaroo court” and a “three-ring circus” led by supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The state senator managing the probe, Sen. Hollis French, fueled those complaints with a September 2 interview in which he warned the inquiry could yield an “October Surprise” for the GOP. But Palin’s lawyers already had begun pushing for the state Personnel Board to launch its own investigation, calling it the proper legal venue for the matter.