Nation & World

'Troopergate' witnesses to testify Friday, but who'll show?

The political storm swirling around the "troopergate" investigation of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin could reach new intensity Friday morning when legislators are scheduled to hear from witnesses hit with subpoenas to testify.

The big question is, who will show up?

Of the 13 people receiving subpoenas, the biggest name is Todd Palin, the governor’s husband. He is a central figure in the legislative investigation into whether the governor or her staff abused their powers in a quest to force the firing of Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten, who was involved in a nasty divorce from Sarah Palin’s sister.

Tom Van Flein, an Anchorage attorney representing the Palins, said a decision could be made by early this afternoon on whether Todd Palin will testify.

The already pitched partisan battle over Troopergate heated up further Wednesday with more testy exchanges plus a couple of surprises.

Among the developments:

-- State Sen. Kim Elton, the Juneau Democrat heading the legislative panel that launched the Troopergate investigation on July 28, well before John McCain picked Palin as his running mate, accused Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg of breaking a deal.

In a Wednesday letter to Colberg, Elton said he agreed with Colberg’s staff on certain points of law as a precondition for the attorney general agreeing to allow several state employees to honor the legislative subpoenas to testify.

But on Tuesday, Elton said, Colberg reneged on the deal.

"Bluntly, I feel like Charlie Brown after Lucy moved the football," Elton wrote to Colberg. Colberg’s office said he was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

-- Colberg himself on Sept. 11 submitted to questioning from the Legislature's troopergate investigator, Steve Branchflower, Van Flein said.

At least one legislator, Fairbanks Republican Rep. Jay Ramras, has questioned whether Colberg has a conflict of interest and should stay clear of the Troopergate matter, as Colberg admitted he once — at the behest of Todd Palin — called former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan about Trooper Wooten.

Monegan has said he believes the governor sacked him as the state’s top cop after he failed to yield to pressure from the Palins to fire Wooten for an assortment of alleged misdeeds.

It’s the circumstances surrounding Monegan’s firing this summer that legislators and Branchflower are investigating.

Van Flein early this month was quoted as saying one reason the state hired his firm to represent the governor’s office was because of Colberg’s potential conflict of interest.

But Van Flein said Wednesday that after listening in on Colberg’s interview with Branchflower, he believes Colberg is not a “material witness.”

-- New details emerged about the nature of Gov. Palin’s Troopergate defense.

Van Flein said his firm last Friday terminated its state contract, worth up to $95,000, to represent the governor’s office.

Now, Van Flein said, his firm is representing Todd and Sarah Palin personally and no bills will be sent to the state.

The reason for the change is because Gov. Palin is now part of a national political campaign, and there is a need to avoid any appearance that the state is paying for anything that might benefit a political candidate, Van Flein said.

Asked whether the McCain campaign will help defray legal bills for the Palins, Van Flein replied: "I don’t know the answer to that."

A related bit of news Wednesday was that a new face who has appeared at McCain-Palin press conferences recently in Anchorage is more than a campaign spokesman.

Newsweek reported that Ed O'Callaghan is a lawyer who joined the campaign six weeks ago, leaving a job as co-chief of the terrorism and national security unit of the U.S. attorney’' office in New York.

Van Flein confirmed Wednesday that he and O'Callaghan are "coordinating" efforts on troopergate.

"Ed’s not directing. But we do coordinate," Van Flein said. "We have to."

But it's the clients, the Palins, who are really calling the shots, Van Flein added.