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Several MSM headlines suggest that Palin abused her power but did not break the law.  That's wrong:  The Investigator's first finding is that Palin abused her power in a way that DID break Alaska's ethics law.  It's important to make this clear.  More below.

Update below too:  Why it's important to focus on Palin's breaking of the ethics law.

Confusion in the MSM headlines has arisen because the commission investigated several possible sources of wrongdoing by Palin:  One was that she had pressured state employees to fire Wooten, the other was that she fired Monegan because he wouldn't fire Wooten.  The investigator found Palin guilty of the former.  This was both an abuse of discretion and a legal violation.  Here is the relevant paragraph of Branchflower's findings (from pp. 65-66):

"Governor Palin, at the least, engaged in 'official action' by her inaction if not active participation or assistance to her husband in attempting to get Trooper Wooten fired [and there is evidence of direct participation].  She knowingly, as that term is defined in the statutes, permitted Todd Palin to use the Governor's office and the resources of the Governor's office, including access to state employees, to continue to contact subordinate state employees in an effort to find some way to get Trooper Wooten fired.  Her conduct violated AS 39.52.110(a) of the Ethics Act."

All of the above--including the bracketed material--is a direct quote from the report.  In other words, it is Branchflower (not me) who is saying that there is evidence of Sarah Palin's direct participation in pressuring state employees to fire Wooten.  His somewhat legalistic language is also saying that, even if Sarah Palin didn't pressure employees directly (although he acknowledges that there is evidence she did), she clearly knew that Todd Palin was doing so, she acquiesced in that, and she gave him the resources of the governor's office to do it.

On this first charge, in sum, the report clearly finds that Palin abused her power and, in so doing, violated the law.

The "no violation of law" headlines arise from a different part of the report.  The investigator found that, although Palin probably fired Monegan in part because he wouldn't succumb to pressure from her and Todd on the Wooten issue, this wasn't a legal violation.  That firing didn't violate the law because, under Alaska law, a governor can fire a cabinet member for just about any reason at all--even failure to comply with unethical requests.

But it's the first part of the report that's important, and the MSM seem to be missing that.  The commission found that Palin knowingly abused her power and violated Alaska law.

UPDATE:  One of the reasons this point may have confused the MSM (to be charitable) is that there are two firings at issue here:  (1) Sarah Palin wanted the Alaska Troopers to fire Wooten (her former brother-in-law) and then (2) Palin fired Monegan, partly because he wouldn't do the first.

The first media reports were focusing on the second charge, particularly the fact that Palin didn't break any law when she fired Monegan.  But that's old news:  Monegan sued Palin for firing him and a court found that the governor can fire any cabinet member for any reason whatsoever.  The commission simply repeated that finding.

The more important news here is that the commission found that Palin and her husband clearly, knowingly, and repeatedly pressured Monegan and others to fire their former brother in law.  That type of pressure was an abuse of power and, the investigator found, clearly broke state law.  There's nothing at all gray about that area of law.  It was a clear violation of law.  

It was conduct, moreover, that lies at the heart of the ethics laws.  We don't elect governors (or vice presidents) to pursue their personal vendettas; we elect them to do the public's business.  Two things stand out from reading the chronicle of what Sarah and Todd Palin did to pressure Monegan and others:  (1) it was incredibly petty and abusive, and (2) it's unbelievable how much time they devoted to this goal.  What about focusing on state business?  What kind of judgment does that reveal?

Originally posted to Civitas on Fri Oct 10, 2008 at 06:20 PM PDT.

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