The 2007 state fair was days away when Alaska’s public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, took another call about one of his troopers, Michael Wooten. This time, the director of Gov. Sarah Palin’s Anchorage office was on the line.
As Monegan recalls it, the aide said the governor had heard that Wooten was assigned to work the kickoff to the fair in late August. If so, Monegan should do something about it, because Palin was also planning to attend and did not want the trooper nearby.
Somewhat bewildered, Monegan soon determined that Wooten had indeed volunteered for duty at the fairgrounds — in full costume as “Safety Bear,” the troopers’ child-friendly mascot.
Two years earlier, the trooper and the governor’s sister had been embroiled in a nasty divorce and child-custody battle that had hardened the Palin family against him. To Monegan and several top aides, the state fair episode was yet another example of a fixation that the governor and her husband, Todd, had with Wooten and the most granular details of his life.
“I thought to myself, ‘Man, do they have a heavy-duty network and focus on this guy,’” Monegan said. “You’d call that an obsession.”
On July 11, Palin fired Monegan, setting off a politically charged scandal that has become vastly more charged since Palin became the Republican vice-presidential nominee.
The outlines of the matter have been widely reported. Monegan believes he was ousted because he would not bow to pressure to dismiss Wooten. The Alaska Legislature is investigating the firing and whether the governor abused the powers of her office to pursue a personal vendetta. Its report is due Friday.
Palin has denied that anyone told Monegan to dismiss Wooten, or that the commissioner’s ouster had anything to do with the trooper. But an examination of the case, based on interviews with Monegan and several top aides, indicates that, to a far greater degree than was previously known, the governor, her husband and her administration pressed the commissioner and his staff to get Wooten off the force, though without directly ordering it.
In all, the commissioner and his aides were contacted about Wooten three dozen times over 19 months by the governor, her husband and seven administration officials, interviews and documents show.