Nation & World

Private lawyer hired for Palin in 'troopergate' probe

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — Republican John McCain's pick for vice president — now has a private lawyer representing her and others in the governor's office in an investigation into the firing of her public safety commissioner

It wasn't immediately clear who hired and who is paying for Thomas Van Flein, who is with a large Alaska law firm.

The Alaska Legislature approved spending up to $100,000 to investigate the circumstances surrounding the firing of the commissioner, Walt Monegan. He has said he believes he was pushed out at least in part because he had refused to fire a state trooper who is Palin's ex-brother-in-law and who the family considered dangerous and a "loose cannon."

"We have been retained to represent the Governor and the Governor's Office relative to the Legislative Council's investigation into the termination of Mr. Monegan ...," Van Flein wrote in a Friday letter to Steve Branchflower, the special counsel hired by the Legislature.

Van Flein said he wants the investigation handled by the state's three-member Personnel Board, not the Legislature. He also asked for all witness statements, documents and other materials collected in the course of the investigation.

No way to both requests, said state Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat and former state prosecutor who is project director for the legislative investigation.

"Governor Palin has repeatedly stated that she has nothing to hide and that she and her administration will cooperate fully with this investigation. Is your client aware that you seem to be challenging the Legislature's jurisdiction?" French wrote on Monday.

French said he had instructed Branchflower not to provide the letters or witness statements.

"I think you will agree that it would be highly unusual for an investigator to share information with one of the targets of the investigation," French wrote. "I am unaware of any precedent for such an arrangement."

Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg conducted a separate inquiry for the governor, French noted.

Branchflower is still trying to interview Palin. He made a request on Thursday morning, but hasn't heard back.

Palin was in Arizona with McCain on Thursday talking to him about the vice president's slot. McCain announced on Friday in Ohio that Palin was his pick.

"Clearly the Governor's new political role will make it more challenging for her to make time for this investigation," French wrote. "Nevertheless, her repeated promises to cooperate fully with the investigation, as well as statements that her new role as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee will not interfere with the day-to-day functioning of state business, should result in a concrete willingness to schedule and conclude her deposition."

French said in a telephone interview Monday that he was surprised that the governor's office had private counsel for the investigation. Usually, the attorney general would represent the governor's office, "at least for anything that happens I think in her capacity as a governor, which is clearly this," he said.

Van Flein didn't immediately return a call. He handles employment cases and has defended clients against dental, legal and medical malpractice claims. He is with the firm Clapp Peterson Van Flein Tiemessen & Thorsness, which has offices in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

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