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Tilting at Windmills

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October 11, 2008
By: Hilzoy

The Troopergate Report

Following up on Steve's comments: I have read through the first 81 pages of the Troopergate report (pdf). (If you want to cut to the chase, read the findings, p. 8, and the explanation of the first finding, pp. 48-68.) To my mind, what's interesting about the report is completely independent of what one thinks of Trooper Wooten.

If Wooten did something wrong, there are legal remedies for that fact. It would, to my mind, be OK for Palin to ask someone to make sure that the investigation into his conduct had been thorough and fair, but it is not at all OK to try to use her power to strip him of his livelihood. If Sarah Palin and her husband thought he was a threat to their family, the right response to that would be to make sure that the people Wooten had threatened had security. (In fact, the report finds that she cut back her security detail.) It is not to try to take away his job, which would, if anything, make him more likely to hurt people, not less. And it is certainly not to fire Walt Monegan.

***

The Palins really seem to have had it in for Wooten. This was obvious before -- most people don't try to get someone fired just for kicks -- but reading all the details makes it really clear. The report lists nine people whom Todd Palin contacted about Wooten; two say that he had "numerous conversations" and "10-20x", respectively, and the report lists nine contacts with the other seven. Sarah Palin contacted Monegan three times and another person twice; and her Chief of Staff, Commissioner of Administration, Attorney General, and Director of Boards and Commissions all contacted people about Wooten.

That's a whole lot of contacts. Enough to make this claim by Governor Palin seem not just false, but absurd:

"Governor Palin says, "All I know what the facts are and what the truth is. And the truth is never was there any pressure put on Commissioner Monegan to hire or fire anybody.""

It also makes it very hard to believe Palin's claim that she only became aware in mid-August that people in her administration had contacted Monegan and others about Wooten. That might be true if all the contacts had come from Todd Palin. But the idea that she was unaware not just that her husband was calling people, but that her Chief of Staff, Commissioner of Administration, Attorney General, and Director of Boards and Commissions were doing so, defies belief.

Moreover, the Palins seem to have had access to a private investigator's report on Wooten (p. 18). And Todd Palin called people on several occasions to inform them of something Wooten seems to have done wrong that, absent a whole lot of coincidences, he could only have known if he was having Wooten followed, or if he was himself stalking Wooten. Once he called to say that Wooten, who had been injured, was riding his snowmobile, that he (Palin) had pictures, and that he "thought there might be some workers' compensation fraud issues." (p. 29.) It turned out that Wooten had consulted with his doctor before going snowmobiling. Another time, Todd Palin called to say that Wooten had been seen dropping his kids off at school in a marked police vehicle. It turned out that Wooten had his supervisor's permission to do so. (p. 32.) It's pretty strange.

Generally, the report makes it sound as though the Palins, especially Todd Palin, were just obsessed with Wooten, in a truly peculiar and creepy way.

In addition, both Palins treated their subordinates terribly. As I said above, I can understand wanting to make sure that the initial investigation of Wooten had been fair and thorough. If Sarah Palin had those concerns, it would have been fine for her to ask about them, provided she made it clear that she did not mean to pressure anyone. Both the Colonel in charge of the investigation and Monegan took the Palins' initial inquiries in this way: as attempts to make sure that everything had been done right. And had the Palins stopped there, there would be no problem.

But they didn't. And it is absolutely not OK to go on calling people about it even after those people have made it clear that they cannot do anything else, and that the Palins' continued contacts were inappropriate.

Walt Monegan warned Palin about further contact several times. ("Monegan: And I said ma'am, I need you to keep an arm's length at this -- on this issue." (p. 28)) When her various subordinates called him about Wooten, he told them that if Wooten ever sued, their attempts to talk to him would be discoverable as evidence, and might make both the State of Alaska and them personally liable in court. He was very, very clear about the need to back off, and the consequences of not doing so.

To my mind, you should not ask your subordinates to do something that violates the rules in the first place. But if, for some reason, you do, and your subordinates tell you, correctly, that they cannot do it without violating the rules, and moreover that your continued efforts are exposing both you and them to legal liability, you back off. Leaving aside any unfairness to Wooten, this is just completely unfair to your subordinates.

Many of us have either been asked by a superior to do something illegal or wrong, or know someone who was. It's a horrible position to be in: to be asked to choose between your job and morality or the law. A good boss will not put his subordinates in this position in the first place. But no boss who had a shred of decency, or who saw her subordinates as people and not as mere underlings, would keep pressing after her subordinates had made it clear that they did not want to do it, or that they were uncomfortable doing something that was morally or legally wrong.

People who do this are just petty tyrants. That's especially true in this case, when the Palins went on pressing after their subordinates had made it clear that they were not just uncomfortable being asked to do this, but were being exposed to legal liability. Moreover, while I suppose there might be cases in which the stakes were high enough to justify this sort of behavior -- in which, say, I had to ask a subordinate to do something illegal in order to save the planet from annihilation -- doing it just to get your ex-brother-in-law fired is inexcusable.

***

This is, at bottom, a story about the rule of law, and the rules governing the exercise of political power. If you accept those rules, then you think that people should be hired or fired based on their job performance, not on whether or not you personally have it in for them. If they do something that actually merits firing, then they should be fired; if not, not.

If you don't accept the rule of law, you might think that taking political power allows you to take any kind of vengeance you want on anyone who crosses you. This includes not just your ex-brother-in-law, but perfectly good Public Safety Commissioners who do not do your bidding.

Not accepting those rules is wrong in its own right. The state has enormous power, and one of the things that keeps it in check is that public officials are expected not to use it to advance personal vendettas. Sarah and Todd Palin obviously disagree. This fact alone should disqualify them from high office.

But it's also wrong because it prevents people from doing their actual jobs. Firing Monegan because he wouldn't fire Wooten obviously deprived Alaska of a perfectly good Public Safety Commissioner. But besides that, every minute that Sarah Palin's staff spent talking to someone about Wooten, and every minute that Monegan and his subordinates had to spend listening to them, was a minute that they were not spending advancing the interests of the people of Alaska, who paid their salaries.

We pay public servants to advance our interests, not theirs. When we discover that someone has put their interests above ours, we should punish them, at least if we want to give them any incentive to do their jobs right. We should not reward bullies who try to use their power over their subordinates to advance their own agendas. And if this report is at all accurate, Sarah and Todd Palin are bullies.

Hilzoy 11:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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Comments

Would President Palin create a new offices in the Justice Dept. -- Witchsmeller General and the Office of the Holy Inquisition?

Seriously, the thought of President Palin (and the First Dude) having control over the vast power of the Justice Dept., the IRS, the FBI and the NSA absolutely boggles the mind. As does the concept of a vice president more dangerous than Dick Cheney.

Posted by: SteveT on October 11, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

The number of "inquiries" made by the Palins and virtually every level of her staff about the investigation into Wooten's conduct and demands for a re-evaluation of it is so obviously excessive there is no doubt in my mind that there was a vendetta (bordering on obsession) against him by the Palins. I mean, it is truly and amazingly obvious. The report makes these people look small minded and, in the worst sense of the phrase, "small town".

Posted by: TNeedle on October 11, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Two small points:

1) Everything you have said about Governor Palin's administrative practices is, from the conservative standpoint, a feature rather than a bug.

2) Monegan, wrongly though he was treated, is a fool, because he consented to sit down and meet with Todd Palin, to whom he should only have said, "Sir, you have no standing and I cannot discuss with you any such matters as these."

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on October 11, 2008 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Don't you get it?? Rule of Law is pre-9/11 mindset! All that matters is that Obama met a terrorist!!!

Posted by: John McCain: Worse than Bush on October 11, 2008 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

Excellent analysis, thank you. I do wonder how many voters care about this - like William Ayers, it is not about the economy.

Posted by: BJC on October 11, 2008 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

What's clear is that both of the Palins have a complete disregard for the appropriate exercise of power when put in a position of authority.

We've been experiencing that for the past 8 years. We can't take a mutant strain of this attitude for another 4 years.

Posted by: bdop4 on October 11, 2008 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

This story is HUGE. I'm shocked so many bloggers aren't obsessing over it.

John McCain picked a VP who ABUSED HER POWER! Normally this is grounds for dropping her ass from the ticket. I mean this is just completely unacceptable.

I hope Obama's surrogates bring this up every time Sarah Palin is discussed. I hope it comes up at the Pres. debate. I hope we stomp Sarah Palin and McCain into the ground over this.

Posted by: Existenz on October 11, 2008 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Moreover, while I suppose there might be cases in which the stakes were high enough to justify this sort of behavior -- in which, say, I had to ask a subordinate to do something illegal in order to save the planet from annihilation

In short What Would Jack Bauer do?

This is just a petty example of the 24 mentality permeating the Right Wing

Posted by: martin on October 11, 2008 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Nice work, Hilzoy!

Posted by: beep52 on October 11, 2008 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Just to make it clear: the abuse of power charge has nothing to do with firing Monegan. Apparently she could do that for any reason or for no reason.

So when Palin/McCain points to this "finding", it is just avoiding the truth.

Posted by: tomj on October 11, 2008 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

How can we assist Moneghan and Wooten with excellent legal representation, as they file suit against the Palins for wrongful termination, harassment and character assassination?

Posted by: SteinL on October 11, 2008 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

This week on "My Name Is Earl": Governor Palin tries to get Trooper Wooten fired for Tasering her step-nephew. Meanwhile, there's some trouble in the Heath household over just who's moose-hunting license is valid .With guest stars Tina Fey and David Arquette.

Posted by: TNeedle on October 11, 2008 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

They are bullies with state power. That would make them more than petty tyrants. That does not even begin to take into account their attitude towards right to privacy, freedom of the press, habeas corpus, separation of church and state.

Posted by: John Henry on October 11, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

The personal is the political. How is what Palin did in Alaska different from Gonzales and Goodling in DC, firing US Attorneys for insufficient political purity? Gov. Palin's "news flash" that she's going to reform Washington might be better called "tornado alert." She's warned us. We'll have no one to blame but ourselves if we had over power to her and her secessionist husband.

Posted by: mle detroit on October 11, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

A very thoughtful and perceptive analysis, Hilzoy. Thanks.

Posted by: shortstop on October 11, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Hilzoy wrote: "People who do this are just petty tyrants."

Sarah Palin is lookin' to strike the qualifier "petty" from that sentence. You betcha.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on October 11, 2008 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Fantastic Analysis.

And we need to shout:

ABUSE OF POWER

from the roof-tops now.

Posted by: iseerussiafromyhouse on October 11, 2008 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

The two points that you touch upon that I think Dems and the campaign should focus most on are:

1) Her ongoing lies and cover up that were exposed in early August with the revelation of the taped phone call. Anchorage Daily news story here. As mentioned, her story does not even pass the laugh test.
2) Given the timing of that, what does it say about the recklessness, desperation and lack of judgment of McCain to select here mere days later?

The finding itself will involve a lot of arguing legal language with wingnut prevaricators. Won't get traction*. If it was appropriate, why did she lie? and Since he knew, why did he select?

*I'm not dismissing the impact of the report and finding and the continuing revelations of the amateur thuggishness of the Palins, rather am focusing on what Dems/Obama (and us) should do next with this.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow on October 11, 2008 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Coming from Texas, I have had lots of contacts with the rightwing christianists. My observations have been that this type of behavior is perfectly coherent with their beliefs in that the rule of man, i.e. the law, is subordinate to the rule of God and the majority of them are very liberal with their definition of what the rule of God means. To them the rule of God is whatever they want it to be, and since they are the chosen, they can do nothing morally wrong. In the same way that for Nixon, "If the President does it, it is not illegal." so for them if they do it, it is not immoral or wrong.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on October 11, 2008 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, I had a boss myself like this in Texas. He was sort of a closet gay version of Bush and he abused everything: people, power, credit, connections in the military.

One day, I was informed by someone else that a computer disc from the Air Force was infected with a virus. A little while later, my boss came in and handed me the disc and asked that I take it to one of his competitors to see if he could read it.

I drove over and told the competitor, "Jay" sent me over with this disc. I held it up for him to see it, then returned it to my pocket and said, "but you couldn't read it."

Posted by: Capt Kirk on October 11, 2008 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

She's a product of Gingrich's and Rove's GOPAC. We already know her deal: "I can do anything I want until a court stops me.." And even then she need not stop, if she can appeal.

She's a dangerous, if insufficiently cooked, spawn of Gingrich and Tom Delay. And if she's stopped here, now, we'll count ourselves lucky.

But she's very far from their only spawn, and we'll be fighting this particular group of savage tadpoles for at least a generation.

Posted by: LL on October 11, 2008 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a whistle-blower (reluctant one, just trying to do the job legally and ethically), and I have been brutalized ever since.

Your analysis is correct and accurate, except that you didn't go into what happens to whistle-blowers and targets of tyrants.

They die.

Posted by: Annie on October 11, 2008 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Where did all of our GOP trolls go? It seems we've broken their spirits; they can't even put up lame, Al-like defenses anymore. It makes me kinda' sad, in a way.

Posted by: An Anonymous American Patriot on October 11, 2008 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

As I read / scanned the report, I was struck by a few thoughts:
> This is what happens when middle-school mentality is melded with serious state authority. The whole thing had a theme "clique-ish" running through it.
> I, too, had the feeling that the Palins were either "tag-teaming" the task of following Wooten around in the hope of finding him in compromising situations or they were paying a professional to keep tabs on him. Either way, I concluded they were actively trying to take him down.
> I get the feeling that Wooten is not a person in whom I would find much to admire. That said, it seems that the Palin's vendetta against him managed to create sympathy for him whenever there was an official, on-the-record clash (see the excerpt from the divorce proceeding where the judge basically tell's Palin's sister Molly that she is not entitled to have Wooten subsidize her desire not to work more. The judge also notes that this is especially true since Wooten is being subjected to the Palin's efforts to strip him of his livlihood. I thought that was a telling smack down.
> Finally, I laughed out loud when I read the part of the report describing the act that seals Monegan's fate. The dumb ass drops of an offical photograph for Govenor Palin's signature. The photo, which is of a "state trooper" is to be made into a poster that will be placed locations throughout Alaska. As I read the report about this I thought, "Oh no, it could not have been..." But, I was wrong. The "trooper" in the photo? Wooten! I am just sure that team T & S went balistic. And, I have to think that someone (Monegan maintained that he did not know what Trooper Wooten looked like and did not realize that it was Wooten in the photo) was deliberately jamming a thumb in the eyes of Team T & S with the photo. I am just sure they went absolutely off the rails with that little stunt.

If anyone ever had any doubt that the halls of power were any different than the halls of junior high, this report ought to eliminate all questions.

Posted by: TuiMel on October 11, 2008 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Did anyone catch that Monegan's replacement had to resign after 15 days cause the Palin's were too busy on moose patrol to notice the sex harrassin goin on in the new guy's file. Sarah met w/ him(15 minutes? 30?) and thought, now heeeere's a joe six peack that will help my sister's ex-husband get fired. so she cans Monegan. whoops.
that kinda vettin won't make you leader of the free world..............no wait.

Posted by: PGD on October 11, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

She has all the wrong characteristics for a 21st century governor (even of wild Alaska) but she sure as sure would have made one hell of a countess in the Middle Ages.

Posted by: exlibra on October 11, 2008 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

My mistake. Sarah Palin never talked to Mr. Kopp before she approved him as the replacement for Monegan. Kopp had to resign because during the GOP's post vetting vetting grace period it was discovered that he had a reprimand in his file for sexually harassing a subordinate. Perhaps the First Gentleman stumbled upon this obvious problem while accidentally rifling through the wrong crony's private files.

Posted by: PGD on October 11, 2008 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

As I commented upstream:
"That Walt Monegan is a million times more ethical that Sarah Palin shown brightly last night in his interview on Rachel Maddow's show. His strong ethics also came forth in his deposition that was a part of the report released by Branchflower (as Hilzoy mentions). No wonder Monegan is so well-respected in Alaska."

Abuse of power and bullying are the correct terms for this... esp. after having read Monegan's testimony and that of a few others.

One bit that struck me while reading Branchflower's report: that of the Palin's pressing the illegal moose hunting by Wooten as a reason to fire him. Even after it was pointed out to the Palins (multiple times) that the wife (was this Molly, Sarah's sister? it doesn't say) who had the hunting permit was with Wooten when he shot the moose, and Palin's father, who helped butcher the moose, could be considered accessories to the crime, the Palins STILL wanted Monegan to persue this action. How stupid are they?

Posted by: Hannah on October 11, 2008 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Frankly, I still just do not understand why, exactly, the Palins would want the man fired. I know their judgment is really, really bad, but to me it would seem that they would want just the opposite--to keep him employed for the State and under the Governor's thumb. Hell, aren't the Palins the aunt and uncle of Wooten's kids? Aren't those children better off with Wooten employed? Paying child support? Alimony (don't know if that was an issue)? Just seems like more of the same very short term thinking (that is characteristic of Republicans) due to uncontrollable personal views that would end up doing harm to the Palins' own family members int he long run.

Posted by: bubba on October 11, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Sarah and Todd would make a great team if they make it to DC.

Can you imagine them trying to use Yahoo email accounts to disguise their doings?

Can you imagine them calling DC colored people "Ghetto Arabs?

I mean, they'd be such wonderful folks to have in the neighborhood.

Ah lik da way dey talk too! Kinda in a non-elitist way. Makes me feel lak dey be watching out for our backs! Yup nice folks, Todd an' Saree.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on October 11, 2008 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

C'mon, bubba, don't you understand anything about getting even? Small town justice? It's a Jerry Springer family running for high office. These people love the old nose-to-spite-face surgery, and nothing works better than a good ol' public humiliation. It's takin' shots and takin' hits, dishin' the dirt Maverick style.

This stuff should go great at the UN. Or whatever McCain's league of nations was called.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on October 11, 2008 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

All of the police reports that were made against Wooten, listing the alleged misbehavior are available online through the ADN website. Read through them, as they are very revealing. All of these allegations were made by Palin and her family long after they allegedly occured, and only after a divorce was underway. Having read them all I quickly came to the conclusion that this was nothing short of a vendetta to ruin Wooten simply because the Palins took the sister's side in the divorce, and even though the sister didn't even want it to go this way. The judge handling the divorce and custody suit told Sarah to back off trying to ruin Wooten and called it "child abuse", they way she was demonizing one of the parents obsessively, and in front of the children. Pretty sick family dysfunction going on there.

Posted by: Arishia on October 11, 2008 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Good Capt,

I understand it only too well! But I still think that there is one thing that is even better about getting even or revenge--continuous public emasculation--and what better way than to have Wooten figuratively and literally under your thumb. The dirtiest, nastiest pols in my home town would never have sought to fire the guy and would instead have him doing all sorts of tasks intended to emascualte him not just in this life but the next three.

Posted by: bubba on October 11, 2008 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, you're right, bubba. But these family values people have a tendency to descend to the Hatfield-McCoy precedent and with great volumes of self righteousness that seems to blind them to the fact they are hurting their children or their family in or to exact their stubborn vengeance.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on October 11, 2008 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

she sure as sure would have made one hell of a countess in the Middle Ages.

Erszebet Bathory, I presume?

Posted by: sara on October 11, 2008 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

You wrote:
But besides that, every minute that Sarah Palin's staff spent talking to someone about Wooten, and every minute that Monegan and his subordinates had to spend listening to them, was a minute that they were not spending advancing the interests of the people of Alaska, who paid their salaries.


But here's what you're missing: The worst kept secret in elected public service is that in most cases (and specifically in the case of governors and senators), these folks cram about 90 days of hard work into each calendar year. She had plenty of time for such shenanigans without getting in the way of the people's work, because the people's work takes about five minutes. Heck, she took trips back to Wasilla to make church appearances and billed the state for travel and lodging.

Put 'em on a time clock, I say.

Posted by: Hookers and Blow on October 11, 2008 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

Palin is not unlike the evil Delores Umbridge character from Harry Potter (the one who assumes complete and fascist control of the school).

Posted by: iseerussiafromyhouse on October 11, 2008 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

I still can't get beyond - "their subordinates..."

What? Todd Palin did not have subordinates, he was not employed by the state. WTF?

Posted by: Mac on October 12, 2008 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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