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Palin didn't violate ethics law, 2nd probe finds

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  • NEW: First probe's legal analysis "completely wrong," second investigator says
  • Alaska Personnel Board's finding contradicts earlier legislative inquiry
  • Legislative investigation had found Gov. Sarah Palin violated ethics law
  • First probe: Palin violated law by trying to get ex-brother-in-law fired from state police
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From Tracy Sabo
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CNN) -- Alaska's Personnel Board concluded Monday that Gov. Sarah Palin did not violate ethics law by trying to get her ex-brother-in-law fired from the state police, contradicting an earlier investigation's findings.

"There is no probable cause to believe that the governor, or any other state official, violated the Alaska Executive Ethics Act in connection with these matters," Timothy Petumenos, the Anchorage lawyer hired to conduct the investigation, wrote in his final report.

The announcement comes a day before Palin and Republican presidential nominee John McCain face voters in Tuesday's presidential election.

Allegations that Palin fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan in July because he refused to fire her sister's ex-husband, Mike Wooten, have dogged her since before she became the GOP's vice presidential nominee in August.

An earlier investigation launched by the state Legislature concluded Palin violated state ethics law by trying to get Wooten fired. The law bars public officials from pursuing personal interest through official action.

That first inquiry -- led by legislative investigator Stephen Branchflower -- also concluded that Palin's firing of Monegan likely stemmed in part from his refusal to fire Wooten, but that Palin's firing of Monegan was within her authority as governor.

Despite the conclusions of Branchflower's October 10 report, Palin declared that she had been "cleared of any legal wrongdoing" in the matter. Her attorney, Thomas Van Flein, argued the Branchflower report had wrongly interpreted state ethics law.

Though the governor originally agreed to cooperate with the Legislature's inquiry, she tried to stop the investigation once she became McCain's running mate -- and campaign aides attacked the investigation as a partisan circus that was being manipulated by supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Instead, Palin asked the Personnel Board -- an executive branch agency whose members were appointed by her predecessor -- to handle the investigation, arguing it was the proper legal venue.

In a brief statement after Monday's decision by the Personnel Board, Van Flein said Palin was pleased with Monday's report.

"The governor is grateful that this investigation has provided a fair and impartial review of this matter and upholds the governor's ability to take measures when necessary to ensure that Alaskans have the best possible team working to serve them," Van Flein said.

Petumenos said he had been "working until midnight and beyond" to complete the report before the election and had hoped to deliver it to the Personnel Board last week.

"The Alaska Personnel Board has determined in this case, because there was already in some respect the sanction of public approbation and many conclusions and opinions reached with respect to this matter, that it was critical the report be issued now and in a timely fashion," Petumenos said.

But he said he faced no "artificial deadlines" and disputed any suggestion that he was trying to affect Tuesday's election with the report.

"If you think this was done to favor the governor politically, it would have been much more favorable for her to have received this days before now," Petumenos said.

Petumenos said Branchflower had done a good job of collecting facts for the legislative inquiry. But Petumenos said Branchflower did not have access to all the evidence that he did and that Branchflower's legal analysis was "completely wrong."

Petumenos questioned Palin and her husband, Todd Palin, on October 24 about Monegan's removal from the commissioner's post, which oversees the Alaska State Troopers.

Monegan told the earlier investigation that complaints about Wooten were the "central theme" of his 17-month tenure.

Wooten had already received a five-day suspension in 2006 for using a Taser on his 11-year-old stepson "in a training capacity," illegally shooting a moose on his wife's permit and driving his patrol car with an open beer -- complaints raised during his acrimonious divorce with Palin's sister.

Monegan's deputy, John Glass, told Branchflower that he warned Todd Palin that disciplinary action already had been taken against the trooper and that the governor risked "some extreme amount of discomfort and embarrassment" if she pushed the issue. In August, Palin disclosed that members of her administration contacted Department of Public Safety officials about two dozen times about Wooten -- including one top aide whose call to a state police lieutenant had been recorded.


But Petumenos found little evidence that Palin knew of those contacts herself, and he said e-mails and interviews with the governor's advisers corroborated Palin's contention that Monegan was fired over budget disputes.

He also found that Alaska's ethics laws are aimed at preventing officials from seeking financial advantage from their positions -- another break with Branchflower, who found Palin had violated state law by using her office to settle a family score.

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