Nation & World

Alaska legislature to subpoena Palin aides in 'troopergate'

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska state legislators are preparing to issue subpoenas as part of an investigation into Gov. Sarah Palin's handling of the "troopergate" affair, but Palin herself won't be hit with one.

State Sen. Hollis French, the Anchorage Democrat who is managing the probe into Palin's firing of her former public safety commissioner, said legislators decided not to subpoena Palin as a gesture to calm what has become a tense standoff between the Legislature and the newly minted Republican vice presidential nominee.

"We're trying to de-escalate the situation. We just want the truth, clear the air," French said.

However, legislators still want their investigator to interview Palin.

Legislators also have decided to move up the date for completing their investigation into whether Palin abused her powers as governor by leaning on former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan to fire a state trooper involved in a messy divorce with Palin's sister.

The Legislature's independent investigator, retired state prosecutor Steve Branchflower, will complete his investigative report on Oct. 10 rather than at the end of October, which would be right on top of the Nov. 4 election.

The idea, said state Republican Rep. Jay Ramras of Fairbanks, is to avoid the appearance of a last-minute "October surprise."

Ramras chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which with its Senate counterpart has the power to issue subpoenas.

Another committee member, Eagle River Republican Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, said legislators talked and agreed not to issue a subpoena to Palin.

"She has told the public that she intends to cooperate with the investigation, indeed, she has told the public that she welcomes the investigation and I have every faith that she means it," Dahlstrom said. "If necessary we can send Mr. Branchflower to wherever the governor is, or she can give her statement to him over the telephone, whatever is most convenient for her. We recognize that her schedule is extremely busy, and we want to accommodate that."

Although Palin earlier this summer said she and members of her administration would gladly cooperate, in recent days she’s retained a lawyer and questioned the legitimacy of the legislative investigation.

The investigation began in July, well before it was known Palin would be running for vice president. Now that her political fortunes have skyrocketed, the troopergate matter is drawing intense international media scrutiny.

Palin's lawyer, Thomas Van Flein of Anchorage, said Friday legislators never had any need to subpoena Palin, that she's always been willing personally to work with the investigation. He said no effort had yet been made to bring Palin in to talk with Branchflower.

"She will provide a statement," Van Flein said. "We're willing to sit down and do this."

State legislators said Friday that seven "key witnesses," all Palin administration members, canceled appointments this week for interviews with Branchflower.

These seven could receive subpoenas compelling their cooperation, depending on decisions made at a joint hearing of the House and Senate judiciary committees Monday in Anchorage.

The seven people who cancelled deposition appointments include Frank Bailey, a Palin aide who has been suspended for calling a trooper supervisor to question why Palin's former brother-in-law, Mike Wooten, is still on the force.

Others include:

-- Annette Kreitzer, Palin's administration commissioner.

-- Kris Perry, a Palin confidant who managed her gubernatorial campaign and now manages her Anchorage office.

-- Nicki Neal, state personnel and labor relations director.

-- Karen Rehfeld, the governor's budget director.

-- Brad Thompson, state risk management director.

-- Dianne Kiesel, a state human resources manager.

Not all state legislators are happy with the direction of the troopergate investigation. Republican Rep. John Coghill of North Pole on Friday called on French to step down as manager of the Branchflower probe, saying he no longer had confidence in French's objectivity.

Coghill said he was concerned about media statements French had made, including that Branchflower's report could be a damaging "October surprise" for Palin and that she faces possible impeachment.

"These statements cause me to think that the report is already written even though the investigation is only just begun and the most important witnesses have not even been interviewed," Coghill wrote in a letter calling for French's replacement. "The investigation appears to be lacking in fairness, neutrality and due process."

French said whether he's replaced is up to the bipartisan legislative panel that installed him as manager of the investigation, which could cost the state up to $100,000.

"The key point here is, I'm not doing the investigation. Steve Branchflower is," French said, adding Branchflower is free to reach any conclusions the facts support.

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