Palin under fire

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A panel of Alaska legislators voted Friday to authorize subpoenas to the husband of Gov. Sarah Palin and a group of her aides to determine whether Palin improperly pressured a top state official to fire her former brother-in-law, an Alaska state trooper.

The decision by the Alaska Senate's Judiciary Committee gives an independent investigator, Stephen Branchflower, the Legislature's legal backing to seek testimony from Todd Palin and 11 aides to Sarah Palin.

Branchflower said he had already amassed evidence showing that Palin's husband was a "principal critic" of trooper Michael Wooten, who was married to Sarah Palin's sister before a bitter divorce.

The state attorney general and a private lawyer representing the governor have warned they would go to court to quash the subpoenas — raising the possibility of a constitutional clash that could simmer until after the November election.

"It seems like we're getting into a pitched battle here over subpoena powers," said state Senate Minority Leader Gene Therriault, one of two Republicans who opposed the authorization.

But a third Republican, state Sen. Charlie Huggins, joined two Democrats in approving the legal move.

"Let's get the facts on the table," Huggins said.

In July, Gov. Palin fired Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan, who had refused to sack Wooten. The trooper had already been disciplined with a five-day suspension for several infractions. In 2005, Palin had accused Wooten of threatening her father's life, demanding that state officials take action to remove him from the agency.

Branchflower said Friday that he had amassed evidence showing that Todd Palin had pressed Monegan earlier this year to revisit Wooten's case. After studying Wooten's record, Monegan told Todd Palin that he saw no reason to reconsider the case. Branchflower said "so far I have not received any evidence showing Mr. Palin posed the question directly that 'I want this guy fired.'"

He added that he needed subpoenas for Todd Palin and the other aides to determine how hard the governor's office pushed for Monegan's firing and whether state officials acted improperly.

The legislators also want Gov. Palin to testify, but Branchflower and Democrats on the committee agreed not to force her testimony, and instead will seek her cooperation.

Branchflower also said that he is in talks with the state attorney general's office, which earlier this week raised concerns about the investigation's use of confidential employee records and threatened to go to court to oppose the subpoenas.

In effect agreeing with the state's concerns, Branchflower said he had no intention of seeking criminal charges based on any evidence that state officials may have passed around Wooten's files. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a non-issue," Branchflower said. Branchflower also said he wanted a subpoena to compel testimony from the owner of an Anchorage firm that handles Alaska's workman's compensation cases. Branchflower said he had received evidence that a state official called the firm seeking to have Wooten's request for state compensation terminated.

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