Alaska Lawmakers Vote to Subpoena Todd Palin

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Published: September 12, 2008

ANCHORAGE — Alaska lawmakers voted Friday to issue a subpoena to Todd Palin, the husband of Gov. Sarah Palin, in an escalation of the inquiry into whether Ms. Palin improperly tried to have her former brother-in-law dismissed from his job as a state trooper.

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Matt Hage/Associated Press

Stephen E. Branchflower, who is leading the inquiry into whether Gov. Sarah Palin improperly tried to have her former brother-in-law dismissed


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Matt Hage/Associated Press

State Senator Gene Therriault, a Republican who voted against issuing subpoenas in the case

The subpoena was one of 14 approved by the Judiciary Committee of the State Senate in a vote of 3 to 2 in a joint hearing with the House Judiciary Committee, which served in an advisory role during the proceeding. The subpoenas were requested by the legislative investigator conducting the inquiry, Stephen E. Branchflower, a former Anchorage prosecutor who now lives in South Carolina.

The vote set the stage for a possible legal clash between the Legislature and the Palin administration, which threatened this week to go to court to quash the subpoenas for state workers. Ms. Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president, has hired a lawyer, who did not return calls seeking comment about the subpoena for Mr. Palin.

"It seems that we are heading for a branch-against-branch smack-down," said Senator Gene Therriault, a Republican who voted against approving the subpoenas and instead advocated that the investigation be handled by the state Personnel Board. "This is a nuclear route that should be avoided at all costs."

But Senator Charlie Huggins, a Republican from Ms. Palin's hometown, Wasilla, took a break from moose hunting to vote with the Democrats on the subpoenas. "I want to hear the truth," Mr. Huggins said.

At the hearing, which lasted two and a half hours, Mr. Branchflower said he wanted to talk with Mr. Palin because he had been a "chief critic" of the trooper, Mike Wooten, and was "such a central figure" in the push to have him dismissed. Mr. Branchflower also told the legislators that he wanted to interview Ms. Palin but had not requested a subpoena for her.

Another subpoena, according to testimony by Mr. Branchflower, is for the owner of a company that has a contract with the state to handle workers' compensation claims. Mr. Branchflower said that based on information he had received on a tip line from an employee at the company, Harbor Adjustment Service, the owner might not have been truthful when she initially denied to him that someone from the governor's office had put pressure on her to turn down a claim submitted by Mr. Wooten.

Eleven of the subpoenas are mostly for state workers, including one for Ms. Palin's scheduler and executive secretary. The final subpoena is for cellphone records from February and March for Frank Bailey, who in February was recorded while telephoning a trooper commander to convey the displeasure of Ms. Palin and her husband that Mr. Wooten was still on the force.

The ethics case, which has been the subject of national scrutiny since Ms. Palin was named to the Republican ticket by Senator John McCain, has its roots in her decision this summer to dismiss Alaska's public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan. He has contended that he was dismissed for refusing to fire Mr. Wooten. Ms. Palin has accused Mr. Wooten of threatening her family and drank while operating his trooper car. But she has denied that Mr. Monegan's dismissal was related to the Wooten matter.

State Republicans have argued that the investigation, which is being overseen by Senator Hollis French, a Democrat, is politically biased. Lawmakers have said that a final report on the inquiry by Mr. Branchflower is due by Oct. 10, to allow both sides sufficient time to respond before the presidential election.

The McCain-Palin campaign released a written statement from Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell in which he expressed indignation over the handling of the investigation, which he called a "complete farce."

"I'm disappointed by the complete hijacking of what should be a fair and objective process," Mr. Parnell said. "It is troubling to see partisan Democrats and Obama supporters abuse their power, the legal system and trust of Alaskans to smear Governor Palin to score political points."

Mr. French, the Democrat leading the inquiry, did not return calls seeking comment.

Taylor Griffin, a spokesman for the McCain-Palin campaign, said that Ms. Palin's private lawyer was reviewing the subpoena for her husband to decide how to handle it.

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