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Palin aide OKd disputed trip

CAMPAIGN '08: RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

The governor cited the travel to D.C. by the official she later fired as an example of his insubordination.

September 20, 2008|From the Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — Gov. Sarah Palin's chief of staff authorized former Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan to travel to Washington, although the governor has cited that trip as a primary example of the insubordination that led to his firing.

Monegan is the central figure in the investigation into whether Palin abused her power when she fired him. Monegan alleges he was fired because he refused to terminate a state trooper who was involved in a bitter divorce with the governor's sister. Palin says he was fired because of insubordination on budget issues.

A legislative committee voted July 24 to investigate the dispute, and Palin initially welcomed it. But after she was picked as Sen. John McCain's running mate on the GOP presidential ticket a month later, she reversed herself. The campaign sent a team of operatives to Alaska to coordinate any information that's released.

The investigation will be finished before the election, despite refusals by key witnesses to testify, including the Palin's husband, Todd, the legislator heading the inquiry said Friday.

After waiting 35 minutes for Todd Palin and two state administrative employees to appear under subpoena before the state Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Hollis French condemned their refusal to testify and accused the attorney general of breaking a promise by vowing that seven other witnesses who were not subpoenaed would testify.

French, a Democrat, said the retired prosecutor hired by the Alaska Legislature to investigate Palin, Stephen Branchflower, would conclude his investigation by Oct. 10. Still, that report will not include testimony from the Republican vice presidential nominee, her husband or most of the top aides Branchflower hoped to interview.

Sarah Palin's allies hoped the investigation would be delayed past the election to spare her any troublesome revelations, or at least the distraction, during the campaign. Palin's reputation as a clean-government advocate who takes on entrenched interests is central to her appeal as McCain's running mate, and possibly at risk in the inquiry.

The McCain-Palin campaign said there were concerns about the effect of political influence on the Legislature's inquiry and that the governor would provide any information needed to a separate investigation by the Alaska State Personnel Board, which consists of three Republican appointees.

Palin fired Monegan in July. It later emerged that Palin, her husband and several high-level staffers had contacted Monegan about state trooper Mike Wooten.

The campaign has released a series of e-mail messages detailing the frustration several Palin administration officials experienced in dealing with Monegan. The "last straw," the campaign said, was a trip Monegan planned to Washington in July to seek federal money for investigating and prosecuting sexual assault cases.

In a July 7 e-mail, John Katz, Palin's special counsel, noted two problems with the trip: The governor hadn't agreed the money should be sought, and the request was "out of sequence with our other appropriations requests and could put a strain on the evolving relationship between the governor and Sen. [Ted] Stevens."

But a travel authorization document signed by Palin Chief of Staff Mike Nizich on June 18 approved Monegan's trip to Washington for the purpose of meeting Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The document's existence was first reported by ABC News on Friday. Monegan told ABC that the travel authorization was explicitly to pursue funding for the anti-sexual-violence program, but the document does not give that as a reason for the trip.

Monegan did not immediately return a message left at his Anchorage home.

McCain spokesman Taylor Griffin said Friday that the travel authorization was for a routine trip.

"He was not authorized to lobby Congress," Griffin said.

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