AP Interview: Alaska Troopergate official rebounds

By Rachel D'oro

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, May 28 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — If Walt Monegan ever writes an autobiography, the fallout from being fired as Alaska's public safety commissioner by former Gov. Sarah Palin would be reduced to one short, stormy chapter about the controversy that became known nationally as Troopergate.

Monegan has since moved on to sunnier chapters. He is enjoying his new job heading the nonprofit organization that serves as a bridge between Alaska Natives and the state's judicial system.

"I'm still doing the things that I loved doing before, but in a different capacity," he told The Associated Press in a recent interview, in which he recalled his sudden termination by the potential presidential candidate.

Monegan, who turned 60 on Monday, was ousted as safety commissioner in July 2008 after, he claims, he refused to fire Palin's former brother-in-law, a state trooper who had gone through a contentious divorce with her sister. Soon after Monegan lost his job, Palin burst into prominence as the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee.

"I think there for a while I was probably the most famous fired guy," he said, laughing, in his office at the Anchorage-based Alaska Native Justice Center, where Monegan, who is part Native, serves as president and CEO.

Palin's attorney, John Tiemessen, declined to comment.

To this day, Monegan maintains he felt pressured by Palin, her husband Todd and members of the Palin administration to fire trooper Mike Wooten starting soon after Palin took office in December 2006. But, he acknowledged, they never directly asked for that.

The Palins said Wooten had driven drunk, hunted illegally and committed child abuse, among other accusations. Todd Palin has said the family was concerned about the governor's safety.

Monegan said he told Todd Palin he would review the allegations. But he concluded the matter was properly resolved with a 2005 internal trooper investigation that led to Wooten being disciplined for illegally killing a moose and using a Taser stun gun on an 11-year-old family member. Wooten still works as a trooper.

Sarah Palin initially said no one in her administration put any pressure on Monegan, that she simply wanted the department to head in a new direction. She then she cited budgetary disagreements. She also said Monegan wasn't doing enough about alcohol abuse in rural Alaska, even though Monegan, at his firing, was offered the directorship of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which he declined.

Palin later said she had learned that at least two dozen calls were made from her staff members questioning Wooten's employment, but added none was done at her direction. A month after Monegan's dismissal, Palin released a recorded copy of a phone conversation between a trooper official and Palin staffer Frank Bailey, who is heard saying, "Todd and Sarah are scratching their heads, 'Why on earth hasn't this, why is this guy still representing the department?'"

Bailey, who at the time said he acted alone, has since co-authored a book critical of the ex-governor. The book, "Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin," was released Tuesday.

Just before Palin was named as John McCain's running mate, state lawmakers moved to launch an investigation into Monegan's firing that ultimately concluded the governor broke an ethics law prohibiting public officials from using their office for personal gain. The firing itself was considered lawful since Monegan was an employee who could be dismissed at will.

Palin initially said she would cooperate with the Legislature's probe. But after joining the GOP ticket, she said the investigation had become too political and initiated a separate investigation by the state personnel board. The day before the presidential election, that investigation concluded Palin violated no ethics laws.

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