The Alaska Senate on Friday found Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin’s husband and nine state employees, including some of her top aides, in contempt for ignoring subpoenas to testify in the Legislature’s Troopergate investigation.
The Senate said it would seek no punishment for the witnesses’ failure to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee last fall in an investigation into the governor’s firing of her public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan.
“During the Monegan investigation, we were reminded that the legislative branch’s power of subpoena is an important one, and must be respected by the executive branch,” Senator Hollis French said. “With this resolution, the Senate is making it clear that we are a coequal branch of state government.”
The witnesses later provided sworn written statements after a lawsuit filed on behalf of seven of the state employees by state Attorney General Talis Colberg was dismissed in Superior Court. The case was appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The investigation was looking into whether Palin, assisted by aides and her husband, Todd, pressured Monegan to fire a state trooper — the former husband of Palin’s sister — and then fired Monegan when he refused. Palin said Monegan was ousted over budget disagreements.
Attorney Thomas Van Flein, who represented Todd Palin, said there was no contempt because his client initially provided the proper objection to the subpoena and later complied with a written statement.
Van Flein said the Senate should have allowed witnesses an opportunity to state their case before issuing the resolution.
“They didn’t allow any opportunity to present actual evidence and facts. It appears to be pure political grandstanding,” he said.
Colberg was not immediately available for comment on Friday. Palin’s spokesman Bill McAllister said the governor had no comment.
French said the witnesses’ decision to eventually provide written statements led to the Senate’s decision not to impose any penalties.
State statute provides for fines and a maximum of six months in jail for contempt of legislative subpoenas.
French said the resolution was meant to strike a balance and, in so doing, represented the Senate at its best. The lone dissenter in the 16-1 vote, Anchorage Republican Con Bunde, disagreed.
“We rehash an old issue and then decide to do nothing about it. I hope that’s not our best,” Bunde said.
Democrats and Republicans each have 10 seats in the state Senate, but it is led by a bipartisan coalition that includes all the Democrats and six of the Republicans.
Palin initially said she would cooperate fully in the legislative investigation but that changed after the matter became politically charged when she was named Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain’s running mate.
Two separate investigations looked into the matter of Monegan’s firing.
The legislative special counsel, Stephen Branchflower, found that Palin had abused her office but the firing was legal since Monegan was an at-will employee.
A subsequent investigation by the Alaska State Personnel Board found there was no probable cause to believe Palin or any other state official violated the Alaska Executive Ethics Act.