TrooperGate: Count the Conflicts of Interest

Wow. In addition to the McPalin campaign’s decision to have a terrorism prosecutor cover up their corruption problem in Alaska, they’ve been shuffling the legal talent in some mighty confusing–and conflicted–ways.

As a reminder, a few days ago we thought the following was the state of the lawyering: Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg, who had spoken to Monegan at Todd Palin’s request before she fired him, had recused himself from the issue. Since Colberg couldn’t represent the Governor, she asked Tom Van Flein to represent her, at state expense. There were reports that Todd Palin had a separate lawyer, which made sense since he and Sarah were involved individually in the case. 

But that’s not how things curently stand. Here’s an update.

First, it appears that Van Flein is still representing both the Palins–though he is no longer employed by the state. Someone else (perhaps McCain’s Sugar Momma?) is paying his fees.

Tom Van Flein, an Anchorage attorney representing the Palins, said a decision could be made by early this afternoon on whether Todd Palin will testify.


Van Flein said his firm last Friday terminated its state contract, worth up to $95,000, to represent the governor’s office.

Now, Van Flein said, his firm is representing Todd and Sarah Palin personally and no bills will be sent to the state.

The reason for the change is because Gov. Palin is now part of a national political campaign, and there is a need to avoid any appearance that the state is paying for anything that might benefit a political candidate, Van Flein said.

Asked whether the McCain campaign will help defray legal bills for the Palins, Van Flein replied: "I don’t know the answer to that." [my emphasis]

Now, having the Palins pay Van Flein for their apparent joint defense makes some sense. But it appears that the whole point of having Van Flein there has now been mooted, since Colberg–after having been interviewed in the case–has reinserted himself into the legal decisions here and then reneged on common understanding about who had to testify in response to the subpoenas.

In a Wednesday letter to Colberg, [Kim] Elton said he agreed with Colberg’s staff on certain points of law as a precondition for the attorney general agreeing to allow several state employees to honor the legislative subpoenas to testify.

But on Tuesday, Elton said, Colberg reneged on the deal.

"Bluntly, I feel like Charlie Brown after Lucy moved the football," Elton wrote to Colberg.

Colberg’s office said he was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

Colberg himself on Sept. 11 submitted to questioning from the Legislature’s Troopergate investigator, Steve Branchflower, Van Flein said.


Van Flein early this month was quoted as saying one reason the state hired his firm to represent the governor’s office was because of Colberg’s potential conflict of interest. [my emphasis]

Note, it appears that Colberg un-recused himself substantially after he was questioned by Branchflower.

And get this: Van Flein–formerly but no longer employed by the state–was not only conducting his own interviews of witnesses back when he was still being paid by the state, but he was also sitting in on Branchflower’s interviews of them.

But Van Flein said Wednesday that after listening in on Colberg’s interview with Branchflower, he believes Colberg is not a "material witness." [my emphasis]

I’m beginning to think Ed O’Callaghan’s relevant experience for managing this cover-up doesn’t have as much to do with his terrorism prosecutor background, or his oil corruption prosecutor background, but his mob prosecutor background. Because it sure looks like he has made sure the lawyers involved are playing both sides of the fence.

  1. BayStateLibrul says:

    OT but fits in with corruption/cover-up

    Food for Insurance:

    On 9/22/08, Kraft Food will pinch hit for AIG on the Dow Industrial Avg.

    Instata-bounce, pixie dust?

  2. DefendOurConstitution says:

    Someone probably told McShame that there was a little problem with an ethics investigation but it would be a slam dunk to get rid of it. Now not so much. I have no doubts that GOP operatives/lawyeers will succeed in shelving the investigation until at least November 5, but they sure are facing a conundrum:

    Which makes them look worse? To have an investigation that is likely to find an ethics breach report before the election or to have everyone know that the McCain campaign will stop at nothing (like meddling in a state investigation, injecting lawyers into Alaskan politics, and suing as much as needed) to have his poor vetting covered up?

    vet much?

  3. DefendOurConstitution says:

    Regardless, John McCain has cemented his place in history with the unprecedented selection of a VP candidate under an active ethics investigation. (All the while, running on reform! Nobody can say that McCain campaign doesn’t have a great sense of irony humor love for Jon Stewart hipocrisy.)

  4. WilliamOckham says:


    Is Isikoff keeping up with all this? This is his chance to prove that he really does investigate Dem. and Rep. scandals equally. He’s actually doing a decent job so far, but he’s gotta keep up.

    • emptywheel says:

      Yes, he is. At first I thought he was falling into typical ditziness by getting played by our side–he has been one of the few people representing Wooten’s transgressions fairly, and seems to understand that this is all about a nasty divorce, but I was worried he was going to push too hard on Wooten, which would help us but wasn’t really good journalism.

      But he did the obvious thing when he saw the press conference the other day–ask who the fuck O’Callaghan was (he may have remembered him from things like Oil for Food. So, credit to Isikoff, he’s providing necessary outside edge to this story.

  5. ThePug says:

    Recognizing that Alaskans think that things are different when bathed in the midnight sun, it’s a little hard to see how the AG believes he can excuse his own conflict and render opinions on a matter where he has direct involvement. If I we’re the target of a subpeona in this, I’d be tempted to get my own lawyer rather than rely on opinion that might be a) tainted by conflict, and b) less than forthcoming with respect to my own interests.

    The fact that the outside counsel hired by the state to represent the governor no longer is employed by the state is telling as well. Does that suggest that the state is no longer a party or has any interest in the matter, or is it just that the State of Alaska is no longer represented? Frankly, that all works with coming back later to ask for time to run out the clock appoint new independent counsel to adequately represent the state.

    Frankly, I’m also a bit puzzled that Branchflower allowed Van Flein in the Colberg interview. Had it been me, I’d have told him to get lost and do his own interviewing, particularly since he’s no longer representing the state.

    • emptywheel says:

      Ah, but that’s the trick. If I understand the chronology correctly, on SEptember 11, Van Flein was still representing the state. The termination of that relationship came after.

      So one thing they’re doing is changing the relationships to squeeze as much info they can out of one position, then change that position to be able to use it.

  6. scribe says:

    Um, EW: You missed a couple of conflicts or potential conflicts. Go read.

    And, since the former AUSA from NY (O’Callaghan) is almost certainly licensed in NY (their server listing who is and is not a NY attorney is not working presently), he’s subject to NY ethics rules rather than what-I’d-presume-to-be less stringent(ly applied) Alaska ethics rules.

    It’s a really interesting mess they’ve all got themselves in.

    And, sliding a little OT: Why would the Rethugs have their knickers in a twist over a little e-mail account hacking, when they set all that “reading other peoples’ mail and listening to their telphone calls without a warrant” thing in motion? Sauce for the goose….

      • Arbusto says:

        I’m not a lawyer, but Van Flein had access to documents & evidence that a defense attorney might not have any right to see. But that still serves the purpose of the GOP ploy to twist the investigation into knots.

      • bmaz says:

        It depends on the situation (yes, legal conflicts are situational ethics), but no, that does not necessarily resolve the conflict issue. Just because the State is no longer his client, doesn’t mean that the State is irrelevant in this discussion. Palin’s interests are very arguably adverse to the State; who knows what he learned while representing the State? He still owes a duty to a client, even a former one. Now, I have certainly seen argued, and have argued, that the government owes a higher duty to avoid conflict situations; but I have never seen it stated as black letter law here. If Scribe is correct that there is any such provision up there, then that even cements the conflict appearance even more. Bottom line is this is goofball land. It is up in the anything goes rugged tundra where ethics are not a concern (See: politicians, any from Alaska), AND this is not even in a formal court to oversee the process so these concerns are not likely to have much impact. Doesn’t make it right, just makes it so.

  7. BoxTurtle says:

    EW, thanks for staying on this. I think you and a few others like you are the only reason this hasn’t been swept out of the news entirely.

    I’ve said from the beginning that troopergate would be the best way to hit Palin, looks like McBush agrees with me.

    It seems the goal is simply to delay things until after the election. Then a quiet settlement, likely funded by the Beer Goddess, with both sides under a no discussion clause. Van Flein is plenty good enough to tie Alaska in knots for 8 weeks and that’s more than he needs.

    [email protected]: I’m sure there will be a VP debate. Palin/Biden is going to be a much more even fight than a lot of the left seems to think. I am remeided of a film clip where a polar bear is eating a wolverine…while the wolverine eats the polar bear! I think the Obama/McBush debate is going to be, unh, what’s the next level worse than a massacre? I suspect in the VP debate, they’ll try to set ground rules like “Matters currently in litigation are off limits”. That sounds so reasonable…

    Boxturtle (They may have to issue some cheesecake photos to get troopergate off the news)

  8. radiofreewill says:

    Ianal, but honestly, Palin’s situation in Alaska cries out for a Federal Investigation – there is Strong Evidence of Governmental Malfeasance on the State Executive’s part – as well as Strong Evidence of Political Influence Over-riding the Just and Proper Legislative Over-sight of the Law.

    Palin’s behavior in Troopergate suggests an Executive dissatisfied with the frustrations of the Rule of Law with respect to Wooten. She then ‘mounted’ a ‘persuasion’ attack on Monegan through surrogates, while suggesting to Monegan that his talents might be better put to use in another part of the Government. And, so, when Monegan said he saw no reason for further action against Wooten – all the Evidence says she “pre-texted” his Firing.

    Fwiw, imvho, I believe she cooperated in the beginning because she’s certain God is on her side in the Wooten issue – and His Law trumps the Laws of Man. In her world-view, Wooten is Evil and Must Be Punished with Damnation: Why else would she have wanted Wooten hounded out of his job, thus reducing his ability to pay her sister’s child support? Where I come from, that’s called Spite.

    The issue here is Raw and Destructive Abuse of Power to settle a personal score.

    There is No Way the Ethics of This Situation can be left unresolved before the Election! We’re talking about the Vice-President of the United States of America – One 72 year old Heartbeat away from the Nuclear Football.

    If Troopergate can’t be resolved before the Election, she should Withdraw, but in any case, there really ought to be a Federal Investigation of the Strongly Alleged Abuse of Power by the Governor and the Very Apparent Political Manipulation of the Legislature to Subvert the Rule of Law.

    Voting for Palin without resolving Troopergate would be like Packaging Junk Mortgages into Securities and Saying: We won’t worry about it until after they’re Sold!

    Wake Up, America!

    • rxbusa says:

      Surely you don’t mean an investigation by our current federal government, the one whose Colorado prosecutor didn’t think an assassination plan on the Dem presidential candidate was sufficient to prosecute?

  9. AlbertFall says:

    The sheer volume of activity in trying to obstruct an investigation suggests to me that (a) there is enough information already generated to put the would-be obstructors on notice that there are lots of holes in the Palin story that they will want to close, and (b) they are more concerned with getting the obstruction in place than in trying to be subtle about it.

    It also make me think this thing is going to leak like a sieve, given how many Alaskan enemies Palin has already made.

  10. chetnolian says:

    I am seriously disgusted. I can only assume the Obama campaign is not majoring on this because they believe enough voters will think what Saraah Palin clarly did is really ok.

    I spend a lot of time over here in the UK trying to defend America.

    This woman wouldn’t pass the ethics rules of my Parish Council in a village of 300 people!!

    In the UK she’d be long gone. The easy acceptance of gross ethical failure by so many people in so many matters is one of the things which most distinguishes us from you. And I so wish it wasn’t.

  11. freepatriot says:

    yo, Albert Fall

    this coverup is not only gonna leak like a sieve …

    looks like the heavy handed tactics just might turn Alaska TOTALLY BLUE this year

    disaster accomplished kkkarl