ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - An Alaska ethics inquiry found that Gov. Sarah Palin, the U.S. Republican vice presidential candidate, abused the power of her office by pressuring subordinates to fire a state trooper involved in a feud with her family, a report released on Friday said.
The investigation also found that the removal of Walt Monegan, the state’s public safety commissioner whose firing triggered the probe, was likely due in part to his refusal to fire Michael Wooten, the trooper involved in a contentious divorce and custody battle with the governor’s sister.
The inquiry found that while it was within the governor’s authority to dismiss Monegan, Palin violated the public trust by pressuring those who worked for her in a way that advanced her personal wishes.
The investigation, which was commissioned in July by Alaska’s Legislative Council composed of 10 Republican lawmakers and four Democrats, became politically charged after Palin was selected to be Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s running mate in August.
Responding to the probe’s findings, the McCain-Palin campaign said on Friday night, “Today’s report shows that the Governor acted within her proper and lawful authority in the reassignment of Walt Monegan.”
The campaign has attacked the investigation as a partisan effort led by supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and said the public safety commissioner was dismissed because of poor performance.
“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,” the campaign said in a statement.
The campaign has said the Palins were justified in their actions because they were trying to protect their family from Wooten who they said had made threats of violence.
In its findings, the report, written by Steve Branchflower, a retired state prosecutor, said, “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.”
“Such impermissible and repeated contacts create conflicts of interest for subordinate employees who must choose to either please a superior or run the risk of facing that superior’s displeasure and the possible consequences.”
According to the report, Palin allowed her husband, Todd Palin, to use the governor’s office and resources to continue to meet and speak to state employees in an effort to find some way to get Wooten fired.
“The problem with power is that people pay attention to it, and it’s very easy to ...use it in the wrong way. And you have to leave personal business at home,” said Alaska Senate President Lyda Green, a Republican member of the Legislative Council.
The report did not recommend any action be taken against the governor, but called for changes in statutes for handling government personnel.
While the scandal, known locally as “Troopergate,” has garnered national media attention, the Obama campaign has not used the inquiry to attack McCain or Palin.
The report said the governor’s public statements about fearing that Wooten would attack her family were not true.
“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 related reasons,” Branchflower said in the report.
Reporting by Yereth Rosen; Editing by Daisuke Wakabayashi and Peter Cooney
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