Troopergate Closed Meeting Ends in Anchorage
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Alaska lawmakers met behind closed doors Friday to discuss a politically charged ethics report into Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of her state public safety commissioner.
The Republican vice presidential nominee has been accused of firing a state commissioner to settle a family dispute. But the report, to be released Friday afternoon, is also expected to touch on whether Palin's husband meddled in state affairs and whether her administration inappropriately accessed employee medical records.
Sensitive to accusations of political bias, lawmakers ordered the report be held under the utmost secrecy. Members of a legislative committee were forced to sign a confidentiality agreement before reading it, and each page contained a special watermark and a unique number to trace it if it was leaked.
The inquiry, approved by a bipartisan vote, began before Republican presidential nominee John McCain named Palin his running mate.
Since then, however, the case has been dogged by accusations of political influence, particularly after the Democrat overseeing the case, Sen. Hollis French, predicted an "October surprise" for the McCain campaign.
As lawmakers filed into a meeting room in downtown Anchorage, they were greeted by Palin supporters wearing red clown noses and carrying balloons, cheering that the circus was in town.
Some Republicans have questioned why the committee has insisted on finishing the investigation Friday, which they said was an arbitrary date meant to damage the McCain-Palin campaign with less than a month to go before Election Day.
Before lawmakers broke for their closed session, Republican state Rep. Peggy Wilson questioned whether the committee was rushing to a conclusion without time to read the estimated 300-page report and 1,000 pages of supporting documents.
"This is a pretty serious thing and I don't feel comfortable even talking about it until I've got it all read," Wilson said. "I don't know if anyone else, maybe they're speed readers, but I spent hours on it yesterday and I didn't have time to read it all."
But the committee chairman, Democratic Sen. Kim Elton, offered no delay.
"I could have spent four days, but I do believe that within the first two to three hours, I had a good understanding of what the investigator's findings were," he said.
The legislative panel's investigation - one of two that are ongoing - focuses on Palin's firing in July of Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan. Monegan says Palin and her husband pressured him to fire Mike Wooten, a state trooper involved in a nasty divorce and custody dispute with the governor's sister. When Monegan resisted, he says, he was fired.