Skip to comments.Branchflower report on Tasergate: Just one guy's opinion that contradicts itself
Posted on 10/10/2008 8:20:36 PM PDT by Chet 99
(Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar)
Democratic state senator and staunch Barack Obama supporter Hollis French of Alaska boasted in early September that he would provide an "October Surprise" which would upset the McCain-Palin campaign. Indeed, he originally planned to time it for October 31, four days before the election, for maximum impact, until other legislators forced him to abandon that particular strategy.
Today, however, in an episode of political theater that would make Josef Stalin blush, French gave it his very best shot: The investigator he hired and directed, Steve Branchflower, has labored mightily and given birth to a bloated and redundant 263-page report which boils down, for purposes of the ongoing presidential campaign, to two paragraphs that completely contradict one another. And the one of them that's unfavorable ignores the most important indeed conclusive evidence on point, but goes on to provide Branchflower's guess as to whether Gov. Palin has done anything improper.
Please understand this, if you take nothing else away from reading this post: The Branchflower Report is a series of guess and insupportable conclusions drawn by exactly one guy, and it hasn't been approved or adopted or endorsed by so much as a single sub-committee of the Alaska Legislature, much less any kind of commission, court, jury, or other proper adjudicatory body. It contains no new bombshells in terms of factual revelations. Rather, it's just Steve Branchflower's opinion after being hired and directed by one of Gov. Palin's most vocal opponents and one of Alaska's staunchest Obama supporters that he thinks Gov. Palin had, at worst, mixed motives for an action that even Branchflower admits she unquestionably had both (a) the complete right to perform and (b) other very good reasons to perform.
Here are the two key "findings," however (from page 8 of the .pdf file; boldface mine):
Finding Number One
For the reasons explained in section IV of this report, I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) provides
The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust."
Finding Number Two
I find that, although Walt Monegan's refusal to fire Trooper Michael Wooten was not the sole reason he was fired by Governor Sarah Palin, it was likely a contributing factor to his termination as Commissioner of Public Safety. In spite of that, Governor Palin's firing of Commissioner Monegan was a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority to hire and fire executive branch department heads.
Here's a note to Mr. Branchflower, who clearly is verbose, but obviously none too keen a scholar of logic: Gov. Palin's so-called "firing" of Monegan (it wasn't a firing, it was a re-assignment to other government duties that he resigned rather than accept) can't simultaneously be a violation of the Ethics Act and "a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority." This, gentle readers, is a 263-page piece of political circus that actually explicitly refutes itself on its single most key page!
What's more incredible is that Branchflower utterly ignores the public admission made by Walt Monegan himself that ought to have ended this entire inquiry (boldface mine):
"For the record, no one ever said fire Wooten. Not the governor. Not Todd. Not any of the other staff," Monegan said Friday from Portland. "What they said directly was more along the lines of 'This isn't a person that we would want to be representing our state troopers.'"
That explains, of course, why it took a couple of weeks for Monegan to be persuaded that he'd been improperly "fired" (for supposedly refusing to fire Wooten) by a windbag Alaska blogger, Andrew Halcro a bitter loser whom Gov. Palin crushed in the 2006 Alaska gubernatorial race (he got less than 10% of the vote, proving that most Alaskans have long since figured out he's an untrustworthy windbag).
Instead, Branchfire has piled a guess (that the Palins wanted Wooten fired, rather than, for example, counseled, disciplined, or reassigned) on top of an inference (that when the Palins expressed concern to Monegan about Wooten, they were really threatening to fire Monegan if he didn't fire Wooten) on top of an innuendo (that Gov. Palin "fired" Monegan at least in part because of his failure to fire Wooten) from which Branchflower then leaps to a legal conclusion: "abuse of authority." Branchflower reads the Ethics Act to prohibit any governmental action or decision made for justifiable reasons benefiting the State if that action or decision might also make a public official happy for any other reason. That would mean, of course, that governors must never act or decide in a way that makes them personally happy as a citizen, or as a wife or mother or daughter, and that they could only take actions or make decisions which left them feeling neutral or upset. This an incredibly shoddy tower of supposition, and a ridiculous misreading of the law.
Branchflower puts under a microscope every direct and indirect contact that can possibly be claimed to to come, directly or indirectly, from Gov. Palin or her husband, Todd. In none of them did either Sarah or Todd Palin demand or request that Wooten be fired. Some of them date back to before Gov. Palin was even a candidate for governor. All of them are equally well explained by legitimate concerns that Wooten was a potential threat to the Palin family (having already made death threats against Gov. Palin's father) and/or an embarrassment to the Alaska Department of Public Safety and the entire state law enforcement community. That the Palins also had strong and entirely understandable! negative feelings about Trooper Wooten does not make any of these communications remotely improper, much less illegal.
Nevertheless, Branchflower leaps to the personal conclusion (page 67 of the .pdf file) that "such claims of fear were not bona fide and were offered to provide cover for the Palins' real motivation: to get Trooper Wooten fired for personal family related reasons." Well, here's another memo to Mr. Branchflower: When the family is question is the family of the Governor of Alaska, and when her security detail is charged with protecting her from threats, and in the process of that, the security detail actively seeks out information as to who may have previously made death threats against the family, that's no longer solely a "personal family related reason." And when someone like Trooper Wooten threatens to bring ridicule and shame to the entire state of Alaska, that's no longer solely a "personal family related reason" either.
Branchflower, I'm told, is an attorney and a former prosecutor. If he thinks this kind of nonsense could support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt, or even a finding of proof by a preponderance of the evidence, then he may be the worst lawyer I've ever encountered and I've met a lot of awful ones in almost three decades before the bar.
More likely, however, Branchflower knows that his imaginary case will never be tested before any judge or jury and instead, Branchflower's audience, and the audience of his political patron Sen. French, is a purely political one. They do not want you to read the 263 pages of his report, but I invite you to do so: By the end of it, you'll be thoroughly convinced that both Wooten and Monegan ought to have been fired! And if you're a person, as I am, who admires husbands and fathers who stand up for their families, you'll definitely want to shake First Dude Todd Palin's hand, and maybe even give him a (manly) bear-hug.
No, indeed, Sen. French and Mr. Branchflower dearly hope most Americans won't look past the headlines generated by this ridiculous farce of a report. French and Branchflower hope that Americans will be misled into thinking this report is from someone whose judgment or opinions actually count for something instead of being from a hitman hired to complete a political hatchet job, as it actually is.
This report changes absolutely nothing, except that it will be manipulated politically by Obama supporters and Palin haters in an attempt to drive more potential voters into taking sides with Trooper Mike Wooten a proven child abuser (Tasered his own 10-year-old stepson on a lark) who's been conclusively determined by his own department to have also engaged in drinking and driving in his squad car and to have used a deadly firearm to violate the very fish-and-game laws he himself was assigned to enforce. "It is nearly certain," wrote Col. Julia Grimes, then then Director of the Alaska State Troopers Division of the Alaska Department of Public Safety, "that a civilian investigated under similar circumstances would have received criminal sanctions." The only real question in Tasergate remains why Trooper Mike Wooten is still not only uncharged for his confessed crimes, but carrying a badge and gun to the continuing shame of the good and decent people of Alaska.
He’s got a bright future as a special prosecutor in an Obama administration.
Do Acorns grow in Anchorage?
‘Nuff said. What a great summary of the situation.
Of course, to the MSM, Beldar’s post reads:
“BLAH BLAH BLAH Abuse of Power BLAH BLAH BLAH Violation of Ethics Laws BLAH BLAH BLAH...”
They see what they want to see and there’s almost no point getting indignant about it.
Sarah goes about her business tomorrow as scheduled. No worries.
Monegan’s firing was lawful, the report found, but Palin let the family grudge influence her decision-making even if it was not the sole reason Monegan was dismissed.
Branchflower said Palin violated a statute of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Lawmakers don’t have the authority to sanction her for such a violation, and they gave no indication they would take any action against her.
Under Alaska law, it is up to the state’s Personnel Board which is conducting its own investigation into the matter to decide whether Palin violated state law and, if so, must refer it to the Senate president for disciplinary action. Violations also carry a possible fine of up to $5,000.
So, they spent 100k to possibly fine her 5k. And they don’t have the authority to sanction her.
THAT’S IT???? THAT’S BLOODY FRIGGEN IT???? WHAT A WASTE OF TIME!!!!!
“Beldar” wasted a lot of his time writing this, as he seems not to have read the report.
He confuses the findings, thinking that Finding One and Finding Two are addressing the same “charge” against Gov. Palin, when they are two separate issues.
Finding One had nothing to do with the firing of Commissioner Monegan. Finding One had the Abuse of Power part.
I’m guessing “Beldar” found the report redundant and skipped a bunch, failing to realize that these were separate issues.
Ping for later reading
And Sen. French and Mr. Branchflower will be happy to find that indeed, there are very few Americans who are going to try to dig a little deeper than the blaring wall-to-wall headlines.
For someone who claims to have read the report so carefully, you’ve seemed to miss that this entire thing was written in the first person “I find...”, not the “bipartisan committee finds”.
Why are the media outlets saying “the bipartisan Legislative Council, which commissioned the probe, unanimously adopted the 263-page public report,” if it was just the opinion of one guy?
I fail to see that I indicated anywhere in my post which way it was written.
But to address your point, although it was written in first-person singular, the report was unanimously adopted by the legislative panel.
“All of them are equally well explained by legitimate concerns that Wooten was a potential threat to the Palin family (having already made death threats against Gov. Palin’s father) and/or an embarrassment to the Alaska Department of Public Safety and the entire state law enforcement community.”
Getting rid of this trooper would benefit the state anyway, so this is perfectly in line with serving the public interest.
This report is an outrage. The investigation was a partisan witchhunt of the most egregious kind.
Let’s get it right. The report’s release was approved 12-0. The findings of the report, the merits of the thing, haven’t been adopted by anyone.
I just spent an hour with the report. You’re right, Beldar’s a little off, but I still have a major problem with Branchflower’s findings. Let me see if I can hit these in short bullet points after a long day:
First of all, I’m not convinced that the statute requires Sarah, a covered individual under the statute, to police the actions of Todd, an uncovered individual, as admitted by Branchflower in the report.
In theory, Todd could never contact an employee of state government about anything because given Branchflower’s interpretation of the statute, it would be by definition a conflict of interest vicariously attributable to Sarah. See any Constitutional issues here? Todd gives up his right to contact the government in his own right by virtue of his marriage to Sarah? How does that make sense?
Also, what is Sarah expected to do in order to comply with the statute? Say, “Honey, I really, really, really don’t want you to call Mr. Monaghan any more. Really, I mean it.”
Second, I’m not sure that anyone ever suggested that Sarah’s primary reason (key phrase in the statute) for her continued interest in Wooten was her sister’s divorce and not the fact that Wooten was a lousy trooper. All of the complaints about Wooten were couched in terms of him being a danger to the public or a drag on recruiting.
Branchflower did not produce a single shred of evidence that the Palin’s stated motivations were a pretext for a personal vendetta. It’s somewhat intertwined because Sarah had a personal relationship with Wooten, but bottom line, the guy was a bad cop and Sarah had legitimate public reasons for wanting the guy off the force. The fact that the legitimate public reasons for wanting Wooten fired came to light through personal experience should hardly matter. What if Sarah wasn’t related to Wooten and had read about his exploits in the paper? Is Branchflower seriously suggesting that Sarah would have been OK with a state trooper tazering kids, drinking on duty, poaching moose, and making death threats but for the connection to her family?
Finally, I’m not sure if wanting someone fired out of a misplaced sense of revenge is a “benefit” under the statute. The term benefit is fairly broadly defined, but I don’t think the term is so broad as to include intangible states of mind. The statute refers mainly to money and money substitutes.
This is just a quick sketch of some questions I had. To my eye, it looks like the kind of junk lawyering you see when you want to arrive at a certain conclusion and work backwards from there.
Branchflower and French promised an October Surprise and were going to deliver one to Obama regardless of what the actual investigation revealed.
**Democratic state senator and staunch Barack Obama supporter Hollis French of Alaska**
Stopped reading right there.
You know, if Palin isn’t elected VP it means she’ll be returning to Juneau as Governor. Paybacks can get messy.
If I was a member of that investigating committee, I’d be damned hopeful McCain/Palin makes it into the White House.
Gondring has posted the exact same comments over and over again on several different threads.
This is NOT about 2 separate issues as the Trooper was NEVER FIRED.
Wooten was NOT fired. She asked him to transfer to the same level position in a different department and he decided to resign.
This is the opinion of a SINGLE investigator hired by Hollis French a democrat and Obama supporter. The legistative branch who hired this investigator has NO jurisdiction or legal standing on the issue. ONLY the personnel board has any legal say on the issue and they are doing their own investigation. That is the ONLY one that matters.
Unfortunately, the American people will only hear Palin abused her power and committed an unlawful act. The damage will be done and it is not fair.
I do not agree with Branchflower’s findings at all. For one the definitions which he so boldly declare are broadly define in the law are rather very specific. For example he claims that the term personal interest as used in the Ethics Act means any interest held by the public officer or the public officer’s immediate family including a sibling....
However the actual definition reads a bit differently and does not use the term any to modify interest, but is quite specific as to what type of personal interest is the intended focus of the act the term personal interest means an interest held or involvement by a public officer, or the officer’s immediate family member or parent, including membership, in any organization, whether fraternal, nonprofit, for profit, charitable, or political, from which or as a result of which, person or organization receives a benefit
Regarding the term benefit the report states the term benefit is broadly defined and includes anything that is to the person’s advantage or personal self interest again the actual law does not say this rather it says ...benefit means anything that is to a person’s advantage or self-interest, or from which a person profits, regardless of financial gain, including any dividend, pension, salary, acquisition, agreement to purchase, transfer of money, deposit, loan or loan guarantee, promise to pay....
Now though it would seem the use of the word anything in the law means any and all regardless of subject the following clause shows it does not. The use of the term anything is modified by the referral to advantage and self interest We have already seen that self (personal) interest is defined by law as pertaining to ... an interest held or involvement by a public official....in any organization... from which or as a result the person or organization receives a benefit
The word advantage is not defined but the word gain is, which since it does appear in the definitions I will assume is synonymous for advantage. The law states ...gain includes actual or anticipated gain, benefit, profit, or compensation
The laws intent is obviously to make sure the Governor or her immediate family does not use their office for financial or personal advantage. The Governor or her sister can not for example tell a person seeking a State contract to make sure their brother is hired as
project foreman if they want to have their bid accepted. The Governor or her spouse can not tell the local power elite If you let us join I will lobby the legislature to give $$$$$ to your organization.
Was it advisable for Todd Palin to be permitted to use the Governor’s office to let people know he and Palin thought Wooten should be fired? No it was not. But it does not fall within the scope of the definition under the Ethics Law for being a violation. There was nothing to be gained, there was no personal self interest advanced, there was no benefit to be had. If Wooten had been fired that would have been the end result of those efforts.
It is disingenuous for Branchflower to give a broad definition when by law the definition is specific. Indeed his application of the law is so broad I can not help but wonder who else will be caught up in his net. What about Palins father did he violate the Ethics Act by filing a complaint against Wooten? The way Branchflower argues I think he could very well find in favor of that assertion.
Yes, because there are several threads on which people are confusing Finding One and Finding Two.
Wooten was NOT fired. She asked him to transfer to the same level position in a different department and he decided to resign.
Read the report and you might even be able to keep people straight.
Wooten was never asked to transfer and never resigned.
As do I.
In fact, I'd bet my thinking is largely in line with yours. However, remember the testimony about the cell-phone argument and Track listening in. Gov. Palin's reasons for that were not consistent, etc. It really did sound like there was personal interest that wasn't safety related.
In fact, I think that the original investigations are where the problems started. I get the feeling from the investigation reports that the investigators covered for Trooper Wooten.
Plus, I do think that "benefit" could possibly apply. And recall that we haven't seen all the documentation--this is the public version.
Can this clown Branchflower be disbarred a la Nifong?
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