From David Hulen in Anchorage --
Here's what Gov. Palin said in her news conference this afternoon about the recording. The transcript here ends when she starts taking questions. We'll be posting video clips of the news conference separately, and we hope to show show the whole thing.
Palin: ...Regarding the Dept. of Law inquiry that some of you have begun to cover. I’ve called you here today to announce the release of materials from an inquiry conducted by our Alaska Department of Law on the changeout of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, and the allegations that that changeout involved the commissioner’s refusal to fire state trooper Mike Wooten, who is my former brother in law.
We want to set the record straight here and allow you to ask some questions after I make this statement.
After the Legislative Council approved the hiring of an independent investigator to look into these matters, the attorney general and his staff did an information lockdown to make certain that all documents related to these matters were preserved for the investigation. That was the right thing to do.
Informal interviews were also conducted with about 14 people to determine whether there was any perceived connection between Monegan’s termination and Wooten’s continued employment. This was a fact-finding mission that the independent investigator requested after it had already begun. Today we’re making available to the independent investigator the information that has been collected so far.
First of all, as I’ve always said, commissioner Monegan was NOT terminated because of concerns about Trooper Wooten and I stand by that. The Alaska Constitution gives the governor the right, and it is my responsibility, to dismiss any member of the cabinet for any reason whatsoever. Having said that, given the rampant speculation about my motives, I will make clear why I felt Walt Monegan was not serving the state adequately. And by the way, we do have copies of Article 3, Section 25 of our Alaska Constitution that does explain the governor’s right to dismiss any Cabinet member.
First, though, I want to address the concerns that undue pressure could be perceived as having been placed on members of the Department of Public Safety regarding Wooten. As a result of the inquiry by the Department of Law, I do now have to tell Alaskans that such pressure could have been perceived to exist, although I have only now become aware of it. It’s apparent that over the course of my term, members of my administration did contact the Department of Public Safety to discuss concerns regarding Trooper Wooten. About two dozen times contacts were made. The individual inquiries taken by themselves are one thing. Many of these inquiries were completely appropriate. However, the serial nature of the contacts understandably could be perceived as some kind of pressure, presumably at my direction.
Because, namely, specifically, most disturbing, is a telephone recording apparently made and preserved by the troopers in February documenting a call that was placed to a Department of Public Safety manager by my boards and commissioners director Frank Bailey. The CD of this conversation is obviously problematic because Mr. Bailey seemed to be speaking on my behalf and because he complained in this conversation that Trooper Wooten had not been terminated.
But Mr. Bailey was not speaking for me. His comments were unauthorized as well as just wrong and I’m not surprised that the Department of Public Safety made a copy of this conversation in February. It is unclear, though, why it has only recently surfaced. Although it’s embarrassing for me to have to disclose at this time that such a conversation occurred, again unbeknownst to me, but I’m releasing that recording today to the media, to the public, and to the Legislature’s investigator.
I’ve repeatedly said Trooper Wooten played no part in the dismissal of Walt Monegan and I stand by that. Mr. Bailey was aware of my family’s personal concerns about Trooper Wooten. It appears that he, though, tried to apply some pressure on my behalf and this was without ever discussing it with me and I apologize to Alaskans for this distraction.
Fortunately, we’ve been able to achieve major policy objectives in the recently concluded special session despite the heat that has been generated over this matter.
And now I want to talk about Walt Monegan. I appointed Monegan as commissioner of public safety because of his grasp of both urban and rural law enforcement issues. Unfortunately as my term progressed, Commissioner Monegan was not making headway on key goals, such as filling numerous trooper vacancies. Alaskans deserve a fully staffed trooper force. They’re entitled to hold me accountable to see that that happens. I was concerned also that we were not doing enough on continuing alcohol abuse issues that I wanted to see tackled, including the bootlegging issues out in rural Alaska. Also, Commissioner Monegan just didn’t turn out to be a team player on budgeting issues. While I attempted to rein in state spending, he was making statements about the need to increase funding. In Cabinet meetings, I do expect my commissioners to make their case but then to support decisions that are made so we can all move forward together to serve the state. This is something that Mr. Monegan just did not choose to do in moving forward together.
Even though he now says that he was placed under inappropriate pressure regarding Trooper Wooten, that’s a concern he never expressed to me during his time in the administration. The fact that Mr. Monegan did not resign over this alleged issue that apparently was not out of a need to keep working as he had turned down our offer for him to head up the Alcohol Control Board, where I believed his talents could be more fully utilized. He could have more fully concentrated on the bootlegging issues in rural Alaska. I did offer him that job and he turned that down.
So let me repeat that the governor of Alaska is constitutionally authorized and has the responsibility to make such judgment calls, to put the right people in the right places at the right time. The constitution doesn’t require reasons to be given for removing a commissioner. It’s customary for commissioners who no longer see eye to eye with the governor to move on.
Walt Monegan, after initially saying he couldn’t discuss the Wooten situation because it’s a personnel matter, he then flip-flopped, he started talking about it publicly and as a result, even though I’m not compelled to do so by the constitution, in this era that we want to usher in, open, honest, transparent government, I have laid out the main reasons for Mr. Monegan’s dismissal.
The independent investigator hired by the Legislative Council – remember the lawmakers approved a $100,000 investigation into this matter – that investigator is expected in our office later today to begin his work. We don’t have anything to hide. We will turn over the Frank Bailey CD and the various interview notes to him, as well as some additional information that remains confidential until the Department of Law deems otherwise. And as we have said all along, we will fully cooperate with the Legislature’s investigation.
Now I’ll take questions from you all.