By Jason Leopold
The Public Record
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Favoured : 4
Published in : Politics
An Alaska Democratic state lawmaker has written a letter to a state trooper official calling for an investigation into possible witness tampering related to the state’s ethics probe of Gov. Sarah Palin by people working for or close to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign.
In a letter Wednesday to Alaska state trooper director Audie Holloway, Democratic Rep. Les Gara accused the campaign of Republican presidential candidate John McCain of intimidating witnesses and/or pressuring people close to Palin, McCain’s vice presidential running mate, not to comply with subpoenas seeking testimony about whether Palin improperly fired her public safety commissioner.
“Starting after August 29, certain staff for the McCain campaign came to Alaska in an effort to block this investigation,” Gara wrote in his letter to Holloway. Gara also issued a press release titled “Legislator Asks Troopers to Look at Possible Witness Tampering.”
“There are rumors that upwards of 30 staffers have come to the state since that date,” Gara added in his letter to Holloway. “I do not know the roles of the various staff members. Campaign representatives Ed O’Callaghan and Meghan Stapleton have held numerous press conferences in Anchorage to block the investigation. Since then three witnesses have failed to comply with legislative subpoenas, and up to seven more may do the same this coming Friday.”
“Something has caused, or in the words of the statute, may have “induced” these witnesses to change their position,” Gara wrote. “I do not know whether it is advice from staff for the McCain campaign, state counsel, private counsel, or from others, or whether these individuals have done this independently of advice or suggestions from third persons. But it seems a witness would not risk possible jail time that comes with the violations of a subpoena without advice of others.”
Last week, a Judiciary Committee hearing was scheduled for witnesses, including Palin’s husband, Todd Palin, who were subpoenaed. But none of the six witnesses who received a summons showed up.
Palin, who initially welcomed the investigation into her dismissal of commissioner Walt Monegan in July, now appears determined to block completion of the inquiry before the Nov. 4 election when she hopes to become the next Vice President of the United States.
Palin’s “Troopergate” scandal centers on whether the governor, her husband and several of her senior aides pressured commissioner Monegan to fire Mike Wooten, a state trooper who was in an ugly divorce and child custody dispute with Gov. Palin’s sister.
In Alaska, the battle lines around the scandal have grown sharper in the past two weeks as the McCain campaign dispatched national Republican operatives to advise Palin and her inner circle how to contest and discredit the legislative inquiry.
Rescinding her earlier promise to cooperate, Palin then began challenging the legitimacy of the investigation and demeaning the professionalism of independent counsel Steven Branchflower, a longtime prosecutor hired to conduct the probe.
Palin’s lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, toughened the rhetoric over the past two weeks, claiming the investigation was “being pursued for partisan purposes” and arguing that the Judiciary Committee has no authority to investigate the governor’s office.
Additionally, Van Flein said the subpoena issued for Todd Palin is “unduly burdensome” due to “preexisting travel plans” because his wife is the Republican Party’s vice presidential nominee.
Ed O’Callaghan, a former federal prosecutor who is now employed by the McCain-Palin campaign, denied allegations that witnesses were told not to testify or cooperate.
“Nobody ever told anyone not to testify,” said O’Callaghan, a former New York federal prosecutor now working locally for the McCain-Palin campaign. “Individuals who were subpoenaed conferred with their individual attorneys, presumably, and made a determination to how to respond to those subpoenas.”
Palin’s handling of the case also raises more questions about her credibility as a “reformer” who says no one is above the law. She now seems to be counting on her new-found celebrity and the hardball tactics of national Republican operatives to shield her from legislative oversight.
Further, Palin’s resistance to the investigation may remind some voters of the disdain that President George W. Bush has shown toward congressional oversight, including a similar pattern of ignoring subpoenas issued to Bush’s top aides who were involved in the 2006 firing of nine federal prosecutors deemed not “loyal Bushies.”
With the McCain campaign battling Democratic accusations that a McCain presidency would mean “more of the same,” the image of Palin and her husband refusing to answer questions about an alleged abuse of power might recall the troubling image of Bush stonewalling congressional oversight.
Meanwhile, an Anchorage-based attorney plans to file a motion this week asking a judge to dismiss two lawsuits aimed at derailing the Palin probe.
Five Republican lawmakers filed a lawsuit last week to block the Legislative Council’s investigation of Palin claiming Democrats had politicized the probe and that it should be placed on hold until after November’s presidential election. Additionally, Fairbanks attorneys and business owners also filed a lawsuit hoping to stop the investigation.
The investigation into Palin’s alleged abuse of power was unanimously approved in July—weeks before Palin was selected as McCain’s running mate—by the state’s Legislative Council, which is made up of a majority of Republicans.
Alaska state officials are vowing to finish a report on the controversy by Oct. 10 and to weigh contempt proceedings against Palin’s husband and officials who work for Palin for refusing to comply with subpoenas early next year.