ANCHORAGE, Alaska The Alaska Legislature is hastening its ethics investigation into Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of her public safety commissioner, making it far more likely it will be completed before November's election.
State Sen. Hollis French said Friday that seven witnesses told the Legislature's investigator they will refuse depositions and canceled their meetings. French, who is overseeing the investigation into whether Palin abused her power, said the Legislature will subpoena these witnesses, who do not include the governor.
Lawmakers say they have put the investigation on a fast track now that Palin is Republican John McCain's running mate. The investigation previously was expected to end on Oct. 31. French said the new target date for investigator Stephen Branchflower to complete the report is Oct. 10.
"It's just basic fairness to the governor," said French, an Anchorage Democrat who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee. "We started to focus on Oct. 31 because that's the end of Mr. Branchflower's contract, but our motion says prepare a report in a timely manner."
In July, a state oversight committee approved $100,000 for an investigation into whether Palin fired public safety commissioner Walt Monegan because he would not dismiss a trooper who went through a messy divorce with her sister before Palin's election as governor.
French and Branchflower, both former Anchorage prosecutors, said the state's Legislative Council has the right to authorize the investigation.
But Palin's state-hired attorney, Thomas Van Flein, said the matter should be taken up by the state's personnel board, made up of three people appointed by former Gov. Frank Murkowski. Van Flein and Palin have asked the three members to resolve the dispute over the firing.
In the meantime, several state employees working for the governor or her administration and deemed crucial witnesses by Branchflower have canceled appointments to give depositions. All potentially could be subpoenaed.
The state's two judiciary committees will meet Sept. 12 to call for the subpoenas, but Palin will not be among those targeted.
"I'm pleased that Gov. Palin will not be subpoenaed," said Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "I don't think it's appropriate that we attach a tinkerbell to her sweater. That would be a bad show on our behalf."
One of the employees is Frank Bailey, the governor's director of boards and commissions. He was recorded on tape questioning why trooper Mike Wooten was still employed.
Wooten divorced Palin's sister and served a five-day suspension after the Palins filed a complaint against him for threatening Palin's father.
The Palins also accused Wooten of using a Taser on his stepson, drinking in his patrol car and illegally shooting a moose.
In the recorded conversation, Bailey is heard telling a lieutenant with the state trooper's office: "Todd and Sarah are scratching their heads, why on earth hasn't, why is this guy still representing the department? He's a horrible recruiting tool. ... You know, I mean from their perspective, everyone's protecting him."
Bailey is on paid leave. Last week he gave a sworn statement to Van Flein, telling the attorney he acted on his own.
But Bailey's lawyer, Greg Grebe, had kept Bailey from meeting Branchflower because, like Van Flein, he questioned Branchflower's jurisdiction.