Palin abused power: ethics report

Sarah Palin abused her power as Alaska's governor by trying to have her former brother-in-law fired as a state trooper, according to an ethics probe report released Friday.

Sarah Palin abused her power as Alaska's governor by trying to have her former brother-in-law fired as a state trooper, according to an ethics probe report released Friday.

Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin waves to supporters after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a community centre for the disabled in Ohio on Friday. ((Tony Dejak/Associated Press))

The news came shortly after Alaska lawmakers voted unanimously to make public a report about the abuse-of-power investigation into Palin, the U.S. Republican vice-presidential nominee.

Chief investigator Stephen Branchflower found Palin in violation of a state ethics law that prohibits public officials from using their office for personal gain.

Branchflower said Palin violated a statute of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act that says "any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that [public] trust."

Palin was accused of firing Alaska's public safety commissioner Walter Monegan because he refused to dismiss the state trooper involved in a bitter divorce and custody fight with Palin's sister. Palin has said Monegan was fired as part of a legitimate budget dispute.

Issued by a bipartisan panel tasked with investigating the accusations, the 300-page report concluded that while Monegan's refusal to dismiss Mike Wooten, a state trooper who is Palin's ex-brother-in-law,  wasn't the sole reason for his firing, it was likely a contributing factor.

The inquiry also found that while it was within the governor's authority to dismiss Monegan, she violated the public trust by pressuring those who worked for her to act in a way that advanced her personal wishes.

"Governor Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda, to wit: to get Trooper Michael Wooten fired," the report said.

The report does not recommend penalties against Palin, or a criminal investigation.

Palin's lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, said he disagreed with the finding that his client violated the statute.

"In order to violate the ethics law, there has to be some personal gain, usually financial. Mr. Branchflower has failed to identify any financial gain," he said.

Alaskan legislators voted Friday on whether to do one of four things: release the lengthy report, recommend the case be closed, have another committee continue to probe the matter, or hand it over to criminal investigators.

The panel has not yet voted on whether to endorse the report's findings.

Following the report's release, some lawmakers expressed skepticism over its findings.

"I think there are some problems in this report," said Republican state Senator Gary Stevens, a member of the panel. "I would encourage people to be very cautious, to look at this with a jaundiced eye."

For his part, Monegan said he was pleased with the panel's findings.

An investigation concluded that Todd Palin used inside access to his wife Sarah's office to try to get Mike Wooten, a state trooper who is Palin's ex-brother-in-law, fired. ((Associated Press))

"I feel vindicated," he said. "It sounds like they've validated my belief and opinions. And that tells me I'm not totally out in left field."

Monegan has said Palin and her husband Todd put pressure on him to dismiss Wooten, and that he was fired after he refused.

According to proceedings revealed by the report, a disciplinary case against Wooten was settled in September 2006 — months before Palin was elected governor — and he was allowed to continue working as a trooper.

Wooten had faced allegations that he illegally shot a moose, drank beer in a patrol car and used a Taser on his stepson.

After Palin's election, however, Monegan said he was summoned to the governor's office to meet Todd Palin, who said Wooten's punishment had been merely a "slap on the wrist."

Monegan said it was clear the Palins wanted Wooten fired.

"I had this kind of ominous feeling that I may not be long for this job if I didn't somehow respond accordingly," Monegan told the investigator.

Todd Palin continued to file complaints about Wooten for months.

Monegan said that when Alaska's attorney general eventually called him to inquire about Wooten, he told him they shouldn't be discussing the subject.

"This was an issue that apparently wasn't going to go away, that there were certainly frustrations," Monegan told investigators. "To say that [Sarah Palin] was focused on this I think would be accurate."

The investigation revealed that Todd Palin used inside access to his wife's office and her closest adviser to try to get Wooten fired. Branchflower blamed Sarah Palin for failing to take action to prevent that, noting there was evidence the governor also participated in the effort.

The ethics probe began in July, before Palin became the running mate of Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

McCain campaign says Palin acted properly

The McCain campaign released its own statement on the report Friday evening, saying Palin acted "within proper and lawful authority" in removing Monegan.

"This was a partisan led inquiry run by [Barack] Obama supporters and the Palins were completely justified in their concern regarding Trooper Wooten given his violent and rogue behavior," the campaign's statement said. Obama is the Democratic presidential candidate.

On Thursday night, the McCain campaign released its own report that cleared Palin of any wrongdoing.

That report says the firing was the result of a budget dispute and the legislature has taken it out of context and depicted what is a legitimate policy dispute between the governor and one of her commissioners as inappropriate.

"The following document will prove Walt Monegan's dismissal was a result of his insubordination and budgetary clashes with Governor Palin and her administration," the report from McCain's campaign says. "Trooper Wooten is a separate issue."

Critics of Palin have said the incident shows she misused the power of her position to try to resolve family problems.

"When you're the governor, you leave your household hat at home and you become governor," said Alaska Senate president Lyda Green, a Republican who is critical of Palin.

With files from the Associated Press and Reuters