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Palin defends role despite report

From NBC/NJ's Matthew Berger and NBC's Domenico Montanaro
PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- Palin
implied this morning the Alaska legislative panel found she had done
nothing wrong despite an independent investigator's report that she had
"abused" her authority in seeking the
firing of her ex-brother-in-law as a state trooper.

"No, and if you read the report you'll see that there was nothing
unlawful or unethical about replacing a cabinet member," she said, when asked about the report while
boarding the Straight Talk Express bus with
the engines roaring behind her. "You gotta read the report, sir."

Palin's answer, carefully parsed, is accurate in and of itself. She
broke no laws and she is within her rights as governor to dismiss state
officials, as she did with former Public Safety Commissioner Walt
Monegan. But the report also found that she abused her authority and "knowingly
permitted a situation to continue where
impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to
advance a personal agenda, to wit: to get Trooper Michael Wooten
fired."

Additionally it found that her actions were "a violation of the Alaska
Executive Branch Ethics Act," which, as the New York Times writes
today, "was established to 'discourage executive branch employees from
acting upon personal interest in the performance of their public
responsibilities and to avoid conflicts of interest in the performance
of duty.'"

Palin's husband, Todd, acknowledged earlier this week that he spoke with state officials, to seek Wooten's dismissal. The Palin family and staff maintain their actions were warranted because Wooten had committed several crimes, including tasering his stepson. Independent investigator Steve "Branchflower, however, wrote that he doesn't believe the Palins were truly afraid of Wooten," the Alaska Daily News reported today. "I conclude that such claims of fear were not bona fide and were offered to provide cover for the Palins' real motivation: to get Trooper Wooten fired for personal family related reasons."

Before an audio recording surfaced in August that showed "an aide pressuring the Public Safety Department to fire a state trooper embroiled in a custody battle with her sister," the Alaska Daily News reported at the time, Palin had "previously said her administration didn't exert pressure to get rid of trooper Mike Wooten" or that "her staff had made about two dozen contacts with public safety officials about the trooper."

"I do now have to tell Alaskans that such pressure could have been
perceived to exist although I have only now become aware of it," Palin
said at the time and called the evidence a "smoking gun." And when the investigation opened, she declared, "Hold me accountable."

In a statement Friday, the campaign said the report came from a "partisan-led inquiry run by Obama supporters."

The panel, however, which was led by a Democrat and Obama supporter, was bipartisan with eight Republicans to four Democrats all voting yesterday to publicly release Branchflower's report -- though not all agreed with the findings, the Alaska Daily News reported.

Republican Senate President Lyda Green, who is from Wasilla -- Palin's home town -- and has clashed with governor in the past, told the Alaska Daily News, "The problem with power is that people pay attention to it. And it's very easy to get beside yourself and use it in the wrong way. And we do have to leave personal business at home."

But two other Republicans said they understood Todd Palin's reactions.

"Who is going to blame Todd Palin for protecting his family?" said Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole. "Not me."

"She and Todd Palin were trying to defend their family," Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage said. "I think any normal person would do the same."

Palin has backed the actions of a second investigation, run by the state's Personnel Board, whose members are appointed by the governor.