Talk about an Abuse of Power

An Alaska ethics probe concluded today that Governor Sarah Palin did abuse her power in the ordeal surrounding the dismissal of state official Walt Monegan. Monegan had refused to fire state trooper, Mike Wooten, who had been married to Palin’s sister until that marriage ended some years ago. Wooten had, Palin alleged, tasered his 10-year-old stepson and threated to kill Palin’s father. This before Monegan’s departure from his job.

Inquiries into Gov. Palin’s possible conduct in the matter had already begun prior to her nomination to be John McCain’s running-mate. There is evidence, however, that the probe was managed by Obama supporters and was speeded up to result in a decision soon enough to have a bearing on the presidential election.

I don’t know the facts, but if this suspicion is true, or even if the suspicion is well-founded without being demonstrably true, then there ought to be a very speedy inquiry into the ethics of the ethics probe and the possibility that those who conducted the probe are themselves guilty of an abuse of power.

* * *

It’s not surprising that Alan Colmes (of Hannity & Colmes) was pleased with this result. He interviewed Dick Morris, who noted that trooper Wooten had made a death threat on Palin’s father and tasered his stepson. Colmes’s response was interesting. He said that Wooten denies making any death threat. Apparently, Colmes had done his homework and knew that this did not apply to the allegation that Wooten had tasered the young boy.

A few weeks ago, during a televised interview, the officer in question acknowledged that he had tasered his 10-year-old stepson. He said he did it because the boy was curious about tasers and asked to be tasered. He agreed in the interview that it was a dumb thing to do.

I mention this because of the example it provides of the deterioration of public discourse. Morris’s statement was a conjunction: Wooten made a death threat against the father-in-law and Wooten tasered the stepson. To defeat this statement, Colmes challenged the second conjunct and ignored the first. In challenging the second conjunct, Colmes offered as evidence Wooten’s denial of the allegation. This is hardly compelling evidence, especially if the first conjunct is true. And the first conjunct is true. The evidence for that is that Wooten confesses to that.

Now, logically, if the second conjunct of Morris’s statement is false, then the entire conjunction is false. But it doesn’t follow that the first conjunt is false. That part of the conjunction is true. And Morris’s comments clearly indicated that he believed its truth is a sufficient condition for Sarah Palin to have fired Monegan if he refused to fire Wooten.

If the trooper had been anyone else than a former brother-in-law, then an ethics probe might never have been started. Who can say? But the grounds for questioning her ethics would certainly have been different, since the findings in the actual probe are tied to the investigators’ judgment that Palin’s behavior was, in some sense, payback. Again, I don’t know the facts, or the evidence that was produced during the probe. But I wouldn’t imagine that Palin’s previous relationship with Wooten would count as sufficient evidence that this was her motive.

What is of interest—because we are in a position to judge based on observation—is the conduct of the press in this matter and the jockeying that will go on among chieftains of the two presidential campaigns. Barack Obama is under closer scrutiny than ever before because of his financial support of ACORN and his relationship with sundry scoundrels. Treatment of the Palin news will be an illuminating test of the objectivity of the “mainstream media.” I make no predictions about what will transpire over the weekend, but if the several prominent news and commentary shows direct more attention to the Palin issue than the Obama probe they themselves should be conducting, it will be very telling.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

5 Responses to Talk about an Abuse of Power

  1. JP says:

    I think we’re talking at cross purposes. I understand the motivation was necessary, or none of this would have arisen, but the question is purely whether Palin acted ethically when faced with that motivation. An extensive investigation concluded that she did not.

    The investigation was started independently of the election campaign, and will no doubt run its course regardless of the fact that the election is now concluded. The Alaskan Legislature commissioned the report, the findings have been made, but the Legislature is yet to sit again since publication. When they do, I imagine they will act on those findings, one way or another.

    As far as ethics is concerned, the most glaring lapse in this whole affair seems to be Attorney-General Talis Colberg’s rather extraordinary advice to state employees that they defy Legislative subpoenas to testify before the inquiry. Currently, Alaska’s Attorney General is appointed by the Governor, and Colberg was appointed by Palin. I suspect that a change to public election of the AG may be on the cards, just as Alaskans voted to require special elections to fill casual US Senate vacancies after the previous Republican Governor appointed his daughter to the US Senate.

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  2. Doug Geivett says:

    JP,

    I don’t think your motivation claim is plausible. At any rate, more details will come to light (perhaps), leaving room for adjustments in public opinion. But it’s much water under the bridge, as far as the election is concerned. I suspect the McCain campaign did get involved to muck things up, and that the Obama people did their part to fan the flames. Alas.

    At any rate, I did not and I do not now think that the probe was managed unethically. I think that’s something we’ll never know for sure, one way or the other.

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  3. JP says:

    Yes, I am suggesting that possible motivation had no bearing on the findings.

    The possible motive (that Wooten was involved in a messy divorce from Palin’s sister) is just a fact, and no basis for findings one way or the other on Palin’s ethics.

    What was under investigation was Palin’s behavior in executing her duties as Governor once presented with that motivation. That behavior was found to be unethical.

    The report date chosen before Palin’s VP nomination was October 27, and the inquiry and it’s timeline were welcomed by Palin. After Palin’s VP nomination, the McCain campaign dispatched Ed O’Callahan to attempt to frustrate and delay the investigation until after November 4. The Alaskan Attorney-General (a Republican) also sought to disrupt or delay the investigation by recommending that state employees defy subpoenas to testify before the investigation, a recommendation for which he may still face censure. The net effect of these witnesses withholding their testimony was to allow the investigation to be concluded sooner (on October 10) – a date much farther removed from the national election.

    So what we have after Palin got the nod for VP is:

    1) Republicans both in Alaska and the McCain campaign seeking to delay the report date from just before the election to after the election.

    2) The investigator being left, against his will, with fewer co-operative witnesses, and able to complete his report before the election, as originally planned, but in fact further from election day than originally timetabled.

    And you think that this constitutes unethical conduct on the part of the investigator?

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  4. Doug Geivett says:

    JP,

    I think you misunderstand me. Since Wooten is her former brother-in-law it can hardly be said that Governor Palin wasn’t being investigated for abuse of power given possible motivation. Are you suggesting that possible or likely motivation had no bearing on the findings in the probe? How could abuse of power be established without a consideration of motive?

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  5. JP says:

    Doug, you write:

    “If the trooper had been anyone else than a former brother-in-law, then an ethics probe might never have been started. Who can say? But the grounds for questioning her ethics would certainly have been different, since the findings in the actual probe are tied to the investigators’ judgment that Palin’s behavior was, in some sense, payback. Again, I don’t know the facts, or the evidence that was produced during the probe. But I wouldn’t imagine that Palin’s previous relationship with Wooten would count as sufficient evidence that this was her motive.”

    This is what a committee of 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats hired Branchflower to investigate. If you “don’t know the facts, or the evidence” then you should read the report, which has been made public. Indeed it was not merely Palin’s previous relationship with Wooten that caused Branchflower to find that Palin breached the Alaskan Executive Branch Ethics Act, but her behaviour in executing her duties as Governor.

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