The Troopergate Report

The Troopergate Report

Following up on Steve’s comments: I have read through the first 81 pages of the Troopergate report (pdf). (If you want to cut to the chase, read the findings, p. 8, and the explanation of the first finding, pp. 48-68.) To my mind, what’s interesting about the report is completely independent of what one thinks of Trooper Wooten.

If Wooten did something wrong, there are legal remedies for that fact. It would, to my mind, be OK for Palin to ask someone to make sure that the investigation into his conduct had been thorough and fair, but it is not at all OK to try to use her power to strip him of his livelihood. If Sarah Palin and her husband thought he was a threat to their family, the right response to that would be to make sure that the people Wooten had threatened had security. (In fact, the report finds that she cut back her security detail.) It is not to try to take away his job, which would, if anything, make him more likely to hurt people, not less. And it is certainly not to fire Walt Monegan.

***

The Palins really seem to have had it in for Wooten. This was obvious before — most people don’t try to get someone fired just for kicks — but reading all the details makes it really clear. The report lists nine people whom Todd Palin contacted about Wooten; two say that he had “numerous conversations” and “10-20x”, respectively, and the report lists nine contacts with the other seven. Sarah Palin contacted Monegan three times and another person twice; and her Chief of Staff, Commissioner of Administration, Attorney General, and Director of Boards and Commissions all contacted people about Wooten.

That’s a whole lot of contacts. Enough to make this claim by Governor Palin seem not just false, but absurd:

“Governor Palin says, “All I know what the facts are and what the truth is. And the truth is never was there any pressure put on Commissioner Monegan to hire or fire anybody.””

It also makes it very hard to believe Palin’s claim that she only became aware in mid-August that people in her administration had contacted Monegan and others about Wooten. That might be true if all the contacts had come from Todd Palin. But the idea that she was unaware not just that her husband was calling people, but that her Chief of Staff, Commissioner of Administration, Attorney General, and Director of Boards and Commissions were doing so, defies belief.

Moreover, the Palins seem to have had access to a private investigator’s report on Wooten (p. 18). And Todd Palin called people on several occasions to inform them of something Wooten seems to have done wrong that, absent a whole lot of coincidences, he could only have known if he was having Wooten followed, or if he was himself stalking Wooten. Once he called to say that Wooten, who had been injured, was riding his snowmobile, that he (Palin) had pictures, and that he “thought there might be some workers’ compensation fraud issues.” (p. 29.) It turned out that Wooten had consulted with his doctor before going snowmobiling. Another time, Todd Palin called to say that Wooten had been seen dropping his kids off at school in a marked police vehicle. It turned out that Wooten had his supervisor’s permission to do so. (p. 32.) It’s pretty strange.

Generally, the report makes it sound as though the Palins, especially Todd Palin, were just obsessed with Wooten, in a truly peculiar and creepy way.

In addition, both Palins treated their subordinates terribly. As I said above, I can understand wanting to make sure that the initial investigation of Wooten had been fair and thorough. If Sarah Palin had those concerns, it would have been fine for her to ask about them, provided she made it clear that she did not mean to pressure anyone. Both the Colonel in charge of the investigation and Monegan took the Palins’ initial inquiries in this way: as attempts to make sure that everything had been done right. And had the Palins stopped there, there would be no problem.

But they didn’t. And it is absolutely not OK to go on calling people about it even after those people have made it clear that they cannot do anything else, and that the Palins’ continued contacts were inappropriate.

Walt Monegan warned Palin about further contact several times. (“Monegan: And I said ma’am, I need you to keep an arm’s length at this — on this issue.” (p. 28)) When her various subordinates called him about Wooten, he told them that if Wooten ever sued, their attempts to talk to him would be discoverable as evidence, and might make both the State of Alaska and them personally liable in court. He was very, very clear about the need to back off, and the consequences of not doing so.

To my mind, you should not ask your subordinates to do something that violates the rules in the first place. But if, for some reason, you do, and your subordinates tell you, correctly, that they cannot do it without violating the rules, and moreover that your continued efforts are exposing both you and them to legal liability, you back off. Leaving aside any unfairness to Wooten, this is just completely unfair to your subordinates.

Many of us have either been asked by a superior to do something illegal or wrong, or know someone who was. It’s a horrible position to be in: to be asked to choose between your job and morality or the law. A good boss will not put his subordinates in this position in the first place. But no boss who had a shred of decency, or who saw her subordinates as people and not as mere underlings, would keep pressing after her subordinates had made it clear that they did not want to do it, or that they were uncomfortable doing something that was morally or legally wrong.

People who do this are just petty tyrants. That’s especially true in this case, when the Palins went on pressing after their subordinates had made it clear that they were not just uncomfortable being asked to do this, but were being exposed to legal liability. Moreover, while I suppose there might be cases in which the stakes were high enough to justify this sort of behavior — in which, say, I had to ask a subordinate to do something illegal in order to save the planet from annihilation — doing it just to get your ex-brother-in-law fired is inexcusable.

***

This is, at bottom, a story about the rule of law, and the rules governing the exercise of political power. If you accept those rules, then you think that people should be hired or fired based on their job performance, not on whether or not you personally have it in for them. If they do something that actually merits firing, then they should be fired; if not, not.

If you don’t accept the rule of law, you might think that taking political power allows you to take any kind of vengeance you want on anyone who crosses you. This includes not just your ex-brother-in-law, but perfectly good Public Safety Commissioners who do not do your bidding.

Not accepting those rules is wrong in its own right. The state has enormous power, and one of the things that keeps it in check is that public officials are expected not to use it to advance personal vendettas. Sarah and Todd Palin obviously disagree. This fact alone should disqualify them from high office.

But it’s also wrong because it prevents people from doing their actual jobs. Firing Monegan because he wouldn’t fire Wooten obviously deprived Alaska of a perfectly good Public Safety Commissioner. But besides that, every minute that Sarah Palin’s staff spent talking to someone about Wooten, and every minute that Monegan and his subordinates had to spend listening to them, was a minute that they were not spending advancing the interests of the people of Alaska, who paid their salaries.

We pay public servants to advance our interests, not theirs. When we discover that someone has put their interests above ours, we should punish them, at least if we want to give them any incentive to do their jobs right. We should not reward bullies who try to use their power over their subordinates to advance their own agendas. And if this report is at all accurate, Sarah and Todd Palin are bullies.