Walt Monegan and the Other Ex-Commissioner of Public Safety.

13 10 2008

In the media circus, and legislative frenzy of the Troopergate investigation, and the release of the Branchflower Report, it’s good to hear from former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan himself.

“I’ve never contested my firing. My firing was completely lawful,” Monegan said in a nationally broadcast interview. “It wasn’t that I was fired that I asked any questions. It was, what were the reasons for the firing.”

Monegan declined to say in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show what legal options, if any, he might be exploring in the wake of the findings announced late Friday in Alaska by investigator Stephen Branchflower.

Monegan did say that he and his family were pleased with the report’s conclusions.

“Actually, I feel relieved,” he said. “My wife and I have been through a lot. It’s not a matter of being revenged. It’s just strictly a matter of being relieved.” Monegan was interviewed by telephone from Alaska.

In his report Friday to a bipartisan panel that looked into the matter, Branchflower found Palin in violation of a state ethics law that prohibits public officials from using their office for personal gain. Palin has said that Monegan’s tenure as the state’s lead law enforcement officer ended because of policy differences.

The inquiry looked into the dismissal of Monegan, who said he lost his job because he resisted pressure to fire a state trooper involved in a bitter divorce and custody battle with the governor’s sister.

“I feel vindicated,” Monegan had said late Friday. “It sounds like they’ve validated my belief and opinions. And that tells me I’m not totally out in left field.”

On Monday, Monegan said the controversy “really isn’t about me.”

“I think that we’re more concerned about our governor,” he added, “and I think she took a big blow to her credibility and more significantly to her promises of being open and transparent.”

Asked how he planned to vote in the November elections, Monegan said he didn’t want to say, telling his interviewer that’s why they “put those little curtains around” the polling booth.

Most would agree that Monegan is truly a class act. And the story of who Sarah Palin chose to replace him is one I covered quite a bit before Sarah’s VP nod. Chuck Kopp stepped into the very big shoes of Walt Monegan, and remained there for two whole weeks before slinking away with a $10,000 severance check, embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal. He wasn’t properly vetted. Is anyone surprised?

Aside from what it says about Sarah and Todd Palin, the Trooper-Gate report also appears to paint Mike Tibbles — the governor’s former chief of staff, who’s now running Ted Stevens’ Senate re-election campaign — as shockingly incompetent. And that’s the best case scenario for Sarah Palin.

To explain: Steve Branchflower writes on page 113 of the report that Walt Monegan told him about a conversation between Monegan and Tibbles, shortly after Palin was inaugurated as governor in January 2007. According to Monegan, Tibbles asked Monegan to consider hiring Chuck Kopp, formerly the police chief of Kenai, for a job in the public safety department.

As a result, said Monegan, he met with Kopp. When Monegan asked Kopp whether there was anything in Kopp’s background that Monegan should be aware of before hiring him, Kopp revealed that, as Kenai police chief, he had been reprimanded over a sexual harassment allegation, though he maintained that it was bogus.

Monegan told Branchflower that the next day, he talked to Tibbles. “I disclosed what Chuck had told me,” said Monegan. Tibbles responded that, in that case, they had “better steer clear from [Kopp] for a while.”

If by “steer clear,” Tibbles meant “Hire him to be the head of the Department of Public Safety for the State of Alaska, then they stuck to the plan.

Just two weeks later, Branchflower writes, Kopp resigned the post, when the sexual harrassment reprimand surfaced. Adds Branchflower: “Apparently, that was a fact that the governor’s office did not know about when Mr. Kopp was offered the commissioner’s job.”

Indeed, at the time, the governor’s office said publicly that at the time Kopp was hired, the governor knew of the allegation but understood it to be baseless, and was unaware of the letter of reprimand.

But the report suggests that Tibbles — who, just four days before Kopp’s hiring, was announced as Stevens’ campaign manager — did know about the reprimand, because Monegan had told him about it back in January 2007.

In other words, if Branchflower is correct, Tibbles failed to pass on to his colleagues in the governor’s office his knowledge of Kopp’s reprimand, setting them up to hire, for a high-profile position, a man with a significant black mark on his record.

It’s also possible, of course, that Branchflower has erred in writing that the governor’s office didn’t know about Kopp’s reprimand when it hired him. Perhaps Tibbles did pass along the information, but Palin and her aides, in their haste to find a replacement for Monegan, decided to overlook it and hire Kopp anyway, trusting that the issue would not resurface.

So either Palin’s chief of staff was jaw-droppingly incompetent, or she knowingly hired as the state’s top law enforcement official a man who had been reprimanded for sexual harassment, then lied to the press about it.

And when Chuck Kopp resigned his post, what did he have to say for himself? How did he apologize to the people of Alaska? “The recent media firestorm has been detrimental to the Department of Public Safety mission, the citizens of Alaska and my family,” Kopp said. “While I have been portrayed in a negative light, my personal worth is now in the person of Jesus Christ.”

A big slab of “blame the media” with a side helping of Jesus Christ. All because of a vetting problem.

So, was it:

a) incompetence

b) bad judgment followed by a cover-up

c) a and b

Have we taken this quiz before?