From Wesley Loy in Anchorage –
Tomorrow morning we’ll see a big event in the ongoing Troopergate investigation and the growing clash between the governor’s office and the Legislature.
The House and Senate judiciary committees are meeting in Anchorage, and members might vote to issue subpoenas to compel members of Gov. Sarah Palin’s administration – but not the governor herself – to go for interviews with the Legislature’s investigator, Steve Branchflower.
But this week, the state Department of Law – representing Department of Administration employees – threatens in this seven-page letter to go to court to block the subpoenas, thus widening the conflict to all three branches of government.
The letter is signed by Michael Barnhill, senior assistant to Attorney General Talis Colberg, and is addressed to state Sen. Kim Elton, the Juneau Democrat who heads the legislative panel that initiated the Troopergate investigation.
Among its points:
• The governor is basically the boss over all executive branch employees, and she and her staff can legally look at confidential employee personnel files “in the course and scope of their official duties.”
A central question in the Troopergate case, of course, is whether the governor or her staff improperly perused personnel and other files of state Trooper Mike Wooten, who was involved in a rough divorce from Palin’s sister.
“At this point, the Department of Law knows of no evidence that suggests that any Department of Administration employees violated the State Personnel Act in handling Trooper Wooten’s personnel file,” the letter says.
• The letter accuses Anchorage Democratic Sen. Hollis French, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and “project director” for the Legislature’s Troopergate investigation, of making biased media remarks and suggesting state employees might even face criminal prosecution.
• The letter says that, even though legislators have said Branchflower’s investigation will wrap up by Oct. 10 rather than the end of October as originally planned, that’s still suspiciously close to the Nov. 4 election, in which Palin is standing for vice president.
The letter, which drops references to McCarthyism, “secret depositions” and “unchecked investigative enthusiasm,” ends on a note of questioning the legitimacy of the Legislature’s investigation.
“Bluntly and to the point, we think there is a legitimate concern that this investigation is no longer being conducted in a fair manner – and therefore is potentially violative of Alaska’s constitutional due process safeguards,” Barnhill’s letter says, adding:
“The eyes of the nation have now turned upon us.”