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Alaska's attorney general resigns

Atty. Gen. Talis Colberg had told Gov. Sarah Palin's husband and nine state employees they could ignore subpoenas in the 'Troopergate' inquiry, putting him at odds with lawmakers.

February 11, 2009|Kim Murphy

SEATTLE — Alaska Atty. Gen. Talis Colberg, who defended Gov. Sarah Palin's administration in the "Troopergate" abuse-of-power investigation, resigned Tuesday in what he said was the "best interest" of the state.

The move came less than a week after an acrimonious showdown with the Legislature, which found the governor's husband and nine state employees, including several top administration aides, in contempt over their delay in responding to subpoenas in the investigation.

Colberg's resignation appeared to close a bruising chapter in Alaskan politics that began when Palin fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan in July. The firing prompted the Legislature to investigate whether Monegan's dismissal was linked to his refusal to fire a state trooper who had been involved in a contentious divorce with the governor's sister.

The story erupted into a political firestorm with Palin's selection as the running mate of GOP presidential nominee John McCain, engulfing her administration, her family -- and the political supporter and former small-town lawyer she had appointed attorney general.

Several legislators said Colberg had acted improperly by advising Palin's husband, Todd, and administration aides that they were not necessarily required to comply with the subpoenas.

Officials in the governor's administration called the Legislature's inquiry a politically motivated attempt to discredit her. They said they had submitted lawful objections before failing to testify, and later gave written answers to the investigator's questions.

State Sen. Hollis French, the Democratic chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Colberg had reneged on an agreement by his deputy to make the witnesses available in person.

"Fundamentally, we had a deal and he broke it, and that was unfortunate given that it simply escalated the situation," French said in a telephone interview.

The Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jay Ramras, said several lawyers and McCain-Palin campaign media advisors had played an inordinate role in the state government's response to the "Troopergate" inquiry.

"We had the national media and all these out-of-state attorneys peeking through the state's bedroom window, and I think Talis Colberg was collateral damage," Ramras said. "Ultimately, though, he gave poor advice to his clients to ignore subpoenas."

Colberg, 50, had been in private practice in the governor's hometown of Wasilla when Palin appointed him attorney general in December 2006.

"He went from running a one-man shop on worker's compensation to being responsible for 500 attorneys. And he was doing OK in a really tough job," Ramras said. "But I think the rough-and-tumble of politics in an isolated capital in a small state just wore him out. He's a very nice, thoughtful, really academic fellow . . . who got caught up in a swirl that was much larger than him."

Palin said she had accepted the resignation of Colberg, whom she praised as "a highly intelligent, thoughtful and reserved scholar."

In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Palin blamed the resignation on the "harsh political environment" in Alaska.

"You saw what he went through these last couple of weeks with speculation that a couple of the lawmakers wanted to continue to grill him, a couple of the lawmakers not believing, it seems, what he had to say," Palin said. "I just hope this political environment doesn't deter others who want to make a positive difference."

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kim.murphy@latimes.com

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