Troopergate: Analysis of Branchflower Report, Part II

Part I is here.

Quick summary and link to documents is here.

The Branchflower report highlights several specific moments where the Palins (Sarah and/or Todd) seek to have ex-brother-in-law Mike Wooten fired. Former public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, met with Todd Palin as early as January 4, 2007 in Sarah Palin’s governor’s office to discuss the Palins’ dissatisfaction with Wooten. Though in his testimony Monegan states that he was never asked explicitly to “fire” Wooten, he states repeatedly that he attempted to diffuse and terminate discussions clearly aimed at firing Wooten so as to not expose himself and the state to liability should Wooten decide to sue for wrongful termination. Monegan additionally reviewed specific, new complaints raised about Wooten, and found them, to the dismay of the Palins, not to require disciplinary action. After repeated attempts through Monegan and Monegan’s office to terminate Wooten fail, the Palins go further afield in an attempt to fire Wooten. Specifically the Palins use Frank Bailey, a trusted friend and aide, to get Wooten fired.

In February 2007, Mike Tibbles, Sarah Palin’s chief of staff, phones Walt Monegan to talk about trooper Mike Wooten. After explaining that the administrative investigation is closed (It was initiated in April 2005, results issued in March 2006, and the appeal settled in September 2006) and that Todd Palin’s request to review the findings (January 2007) had been concluded, Monegan tells Tibbles that the matter is concluded. When Tibbes persists, Monegan raises the point that should Wooten file a lawsuit that their conversation is discoverable under state law. He asks Tibbles, “You don’t want Wooten to own your house, do you?” At that point, Tibbles drops the conversation.

But the contacts about Wooten to Monegan and his office continue.

  • Annette Kreitzer, department of administration commissioner, calls Monegan about Wooten sometime after February 2007. Monegan does “like I did with Mike Tibbles” and cautions against having the conversation. Monegan finds is particularly astounding that the person whose department oversees personnel decision would so blatantly violate departmental rules and regulations around employment.
  • In the fall of 2007, Talis Colberg, Attorney General, contacts Monegan about Wooten. Monegan tells Colberg what he’s told Tibbles and Kreitzer: That the conversation is inappropriate and should Wooten litigate against the state then their conversation would be discoverable. And as a civil attorney Colberg should understand that the the liability would apply both to the state and to themselves. Colberg agrees with Monegan’s statements. At that point Monegan states, “Well, then would you tell the boss — it’s only going to spill out. The more people get involved in this, the more people are going to — the more the chance this is going to come out in the public.” Colberg responds that “he will talk to them”. Yes, “them” in the plural. Neither Colberg nor Monegan explicitly say who “they” are, but Monegan states that it was assumed to be Todd and Sarah Palin.  In Monegan’s mind, it would be incredulous that the chief of staff and two commissioners would act on their own without the Palins’ urging to speak to him about a specific employee, Mike Wooten.
  • Todd Palins contacts Walt Monegan with a new complaint: In the winter of 2007 Todd sees Mike Wooten snowmobiling with one of his children. Wooten was at the time on light duty with the state troopers after filing a worker’s compensation claim for an on the job injury. Todd raises the possibility of worker’s compensation fraud. Monegan agrees to look into it. On review, the complaint is dismissed since Wooten had discussed the snowmobiling trip with his doctor and the doctor had approved it. It should also be noted that Mike Wooten was not on full disability at the time, but had been placed on light duty due to a job-related injury.
  • Kim Peterson, Monegan’s assistant who handles personnel matters, receives multiple calls regarding Wooten. These calls occur after Kreitzer is unable to persuade Monegan to act directly against Wooten. The calls come from Anette Kreitzer, Dianne Kiesel (who works under Annette Kreitzer as director of division of personnel), and Todd Palin (two calls).

Frank Bailey:

Frank Bailey is a friend of Sarah Palin’s from junior high and high school. He was one of Sarah Palin’s earliest full-time volunteers for her gubernatorial campaign and is considered the Palins’ “go-to-guy” to handle what they need to get done. On February 29, 2008, Frank Bailey makes the mistake of placing a phone call to the Ketchikan Alaskan State Trooper’s office that is on a recorded line. He contacts Trooper Rodney Dial to get Dial to take action to get Wooten fired. He states among other things:

  • “But you know, Todd and Sarah are scratching their heads. You know, why on Earth hasn’t — why is this guy still representing the department? He’s a horrible recruiting tool, you know.”
  • “So just — I mean, from their perspective, everybody’s protecting him.”
  • “And I’m telling you honestly, I mean, she — you know, she really likes Walt a lot. But on this issue, she feels like it’s — she doesn’t know why there is absolutely no action for — for a year on this issue. It’s very, very troubling to her and the family, you know. I can — I can definitely relay that.”

Then on March 6, 2008 Frank Bailey phones Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Frank Glass. He reports that Wooten has been observed driving his children to school while in his marked patrol car and that it should be investigated. Glass then advises Bailey that while he will have it looked into and that this action is not a “fireable offense”; that a single incident like this will not get Wooten fired.  It is later discovered that Wooten had received permission from his supervisor to drive his child to school and the complaint is dismissed.

In Spring 2008, Todd Palin and Deputy Commissioner Glass discuss Wooten while running into each other at the state capitol in Juneau. It is Glass who raises the issue of Wooten. Glass testifies that Todd is adamant that Wooten is a poor example of a trooper and needs to be fired. Glass states that he repeated what he had told Bailey in their previous conversation: Wooten had already been penalized based on complaints now two to three years old. Glass tells Todd that there was no cause for firing Wooten and furthermore there were concerns regarding “wrongful discharge” and “binding arbitration to consider if Todd kept pushing the issue. Glass additionally warns Todd that it would cause extreme embarrassment to Sarah if their complaints against Wooten are pursued and it becomes public. Todd continues to insist that Wooten be fired.

The Branchflower report also notes that Sarah Palin’s actions regarding her security do not correspond to the concerns she raised about Mike Wooten threatening her family. Gary Wheeler, a member of the Alaskan State Troopers and in charge of the security detail for Sarah Palin and her predecessor, states that at an initial meeting with the Palins in November or December 2006  he explicitly asks if there are threats against or concerns about their physical health and that the Palins said there are none. It is later in December 2006 the Palins ask Wheeler to be aware of a possible threat from trooper Mike Wooten, a name he had been previously unaware of. Subsequent to that date, the Palins raise Wooten’s name again as a concern. However, during this time Sarah Palin also requests a reduced security detail presence both for transporting her home and for accompanying her to official functions. The original security detail of six full-time positions is eventually reduced to three positions, two full-time and one part-time. [Note: Holloway and Monegan’s testimony states that the security detail was 1.5 personnel. The full-time position was filled by 70-year old Bill Cockrell.)

Did the poster get Monegan fired?

I find particularly telling about Sarah and Todd Palin’s temperament that the final straw that led to Monegan’s firing was probably a dispute over a publicity poster. In early May 2008, Monegan drops off an Alaskan State Trooper poster for Sarah to sign. It will be used for Police Memorial Day on May 15, 2008. Wooten is the trooper featured in the poster. After dropping off the poster, Monegan receives a call from Kris Perry, the director of Sarah’s Anchorage office, to ask him, “Why did you send a poster over here that  has a picture of Mike Wooten on it?” Until then, Monegan testitifies, he did not know what Wooten looked like. Sarah subsequently cancels her appearance at the event and sends her lieutenant governor in her place. In July 2008 Monegan is fired and Charles Kopp is appointed his replacement. Kopp testifies that he received a call in mid-June that indicated that the governor’s office wanted a change in leadership in the Department of Public Safety and to see if Kopp was interested in the position. The next month, Frank Bailey contacts Kopp to tell him that Sarah Palin is extremely displeased with Monegan’s work and wants a change at the DPS. Bailey highlights two instances of Sarah’s displeasure with Monegan: the poster signing and the lack of action to terminate Wooten’s employment. And while Monegan had spoken to Sarah about the poster incident and explained that he did not recognize Wooten, Sarah and her office felt that it was incomprehensible that Monegan did not know what Wooten looked like and that it was certainly an intentional act on his part.

In Todd Palin’s interrogatory statement, he similarly states that he found it impossible that Monegan did not know what Wooten looked like. So he apparently did feel that the request for Sarah to to sign a poster featuring Wooten was a slight against her.

Todd’s Access to Government Documents and a Pitbull Mentality

In his interrogatory statement, Todd claims to have no knowledge of the Grimes Report on the administrative investigation of complaints against Mike Wooten until July 2008. And that no one had told either himself or Sarah that Wooten had been disciplined. However in the Branchflower Report, Monegan indicates that in January 2007 Todd Palin provided him three stacks of documentation that Todd had collected about Wooten with the request that the documentation be used to revisit the original administrative investigation. In that stack of documents was an official statement from Colonel Julia Grimes dated either 2005 or 2006 regarding the disciplinary investigation and actions taken against Wooten. In their discussions, Todd reiterates that the actions against Wooten were not enough; that they were “a slap on the wrist”.

It is unconvincing for Todd Palin to claim that “The DPS never informed me or my wife that Wooten had been disciplined.” when repeated testimony from various individuals shows how displeased the Palins were with discipline that DPS imposed on Wooten. The Palins repeatedly indicate that more should be done, that Wooten received a “slap on the wrist”, and that nothing less than Wooten’s termination was acceptable. With this stubborn mentality, the Palins also appear to have used their authority in government to access confidential files about Wooten to use to bolster their case against him.

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