Palin's Troubling Trooper Gate

Palin's Troubling Trooper Gate

By Clarence Page - September 21, 2008

Enough about Sarah Palin. What about John McCain? What does McCain think of Palin?

There's no question that the Alaska governor has been a huge energizing asset to McCain's presidential bid. Conservatives, in particular, who sounded pretty ho-hum about McCain until she came along, now sound willing to stroll over hot coals to help send the Arizona senator to the White House -- as long as he has Palin with him.

But, I wonder, how well does McCain know his running mate? Does he really think she is the open-government, let-the-sunshine-in reformer that he says she is? If so, does that delight him and his campaign advisors, or does it make them nervous?

These questions are provoked by the way his campaign has been helping her to throw a cloak of silence over the Alaska investigation now known to the world as "Troopergate."

The probe, initiated with Palin's blessing and a unanimous vote by Alaska lawmakers, is trying to find out whether the governor abused her power in trying to remove Mike Wooten, who divorced Palin's sister, as a state trooper.

The details are about as sordid as any other messy divorce case, although enriched with a dramatic blend of "Northern Exposure" and "Smokey and the Bandit." Palin's former brother-in-law is alleged to have threatened her father, used a Taser on his stepson, drank alcohol in his patrol car and illegally shot a moose. Palin, herself a famous moose hunter, is alleged to have wanted Wooten fired so badly that she dismissed Walt Monegan, the state's public safety commissioner, after he refused to do it. Both Palin and Wooten, as the old saying goes, deny the allegations and the alligators.

Without raking any deeper into the personal muck, what's most important to the rest of us are two questions:

1.) Did Palin force out the public safety commissioner because he would not fire her ex-brother-in-law?

2.) Did the governor, her husband, Todd Palin, or her staff improperly obtain confidential information about Trooper Wooten along the way?

To her credit, Palin welcomed the inquiry, at first. But things changed after she became McCain's running mate.

At first Palin told reporters, "We have absolutely nothing to hide" and "we would never prohibit or be less than enthusiastic about any kind of investigation." But, after McCain's campaign took over her damage control, the probe suddenly bore the "taint" of political motivation, even though Alaska lawmakers had voted unanimously to investigate Monegan's dismissal.

Haven't we heard this soap opera before? Suddenly Troopergate is taking on echoes of stonewalling by the current White House. Suddenly we are reminded of President Bush's unexplained dismissal and replacement of seven U. S. attorneys in late 2006 -- and repeated refusals by Bush political advisor Karl Rove and others to honor congressional subpoenas.

McCain's campaign last week announced that Palin similarly was "unlikely" to cooperate with the Troopergate investigation. Her husband, Todd Palin, announced that he would refuse to honor his subpoena to testify. The matter appears to be headed for a court fight that will push it well past Election Day. That's a break for the McCain campaign, which fears a self-inflicted October-surprise wound. But it leaves the rest of us in the dark.

As the Anchorage Daily News editorialized about Palin, "Whatever happened to the 'open and transparent' administration she promised Alaskans?" Similarly we in the lower 49 states might ask what this sudden stonewalling tells us about the reform-minded, house cleaning "mavericks" that the McCain-Palin team vows to bring to Washington?

Yes, campaign 2008 needs to be about McCain versus his Democratic opponent Barack Obama, not their running mates. That means these questions about Palin are really questions about McCain and his judgment. Either way, McCain's campaign is not answering the questions.

We can only wonder what the McCain campaign would be saying if Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, were ignoring subpoenas in either of their home states.

Or how much more Republicans would want to know about Obama's wife if she was as deeply involved in his decision-making as Governor Palin's "First Dude" Todd is involved with hers.

For those of us who live outside Alaska, the Troopergate saga is less about the scandal than about what appears to be a convenient cover-up by the McCain-Palin campaign. It makes me wonder what kind of "change" we can expect from a candidate whose campaign is offering us so much of what's wrong with Washington now.

Page is a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist specializing in urban issues. He is based in Washington, D.C. E-mail:

Copyright 2008, Tribune Media Services Inc.

Clarence Page

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