A former top Justice Department prosecutor now working for John McCain's presidential campaign has been helping to direct an aggressive legal strategy aimed at shutting down a pre-election ethics investigation into Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
The growing role of Edward O'Callaghan, who until six weeks ago served as co-chief of the terrorism and national security unit of the U.S. attorney's office in New York, illustrates just how seriously the McCain campaign is taking the so-called "troopergate" inquiry into Palin's firing last summer of Walt Monegan, Alaska's Public Safety Commissioner.
O'Callaghan emerged publicly for the first time this week when he told reporters at a McCain campaign press conference, in Anchorage, that Palin is "unlikely to cooperate" with an Alaskan legislative inquiry into Monegan's firing because it had been "tainted" by politics. That new stand appeared to directly contradict a previous vow, expressed by her official gubernatorial spokesman on July 28, that Palin "will fully cooperate" with an investigation into the matter.
But O'Callaghan (who resigned from the U.S. attorney's office at the end of July to join the McCain campaign) is doing more than just public relations when it comes to "troopergate." He told NEWSWEEK that he and another McCain campaign lawyer (whom he declined to identify) are serving as legal "consultants" to Thomas Van Flein, the Anchorage lawyer who at state expense is representing Palin and her office in the inquiry. "We are advising Thomas Van Flein on this matter to the extent that it impacts on the national campaign," he said. "I'm helping out on legal strategy." A McCain spokesman said Wednesday that, while Van Flein was originally hired last month by the Alaska Department of Law to represent Palin and her office, that arrangement has been changed over the past week and he is now being paid only by Palin and her husband — not state funds. He has not billed the state for his work, the spokesman said.
The investigation revolves around allegations that Palin fired Monegan, the state's top cop, because he rebuffed intense pressure from the governor and her aides to dismiss Mike Wooten, a state trooper involved in a messy custody battle with Palin's sister. Critics, including Monegan himself, have accused Palin of being obsessed over the Wooten matter—sending him repeated e-mails about it—in an attempt to use her public office to settle a private score.
But Palin, while acknowledging her chagrin that Wooten was still on the state police force (she told ABC's Charlie Gibson last week that the trooper was engaged in "dangerous and illegal activities" and had "threatened to kill my dad") has said she never directly told Monegan to fire the trooper. Palin and her lawyers have also said that she had other reasons for firing Monegan, including a dispute over the state public-safety budget and actions her lawyers have depicted as "insubordination." (Wooten has denied Palin's charges that he threatened her family and contended he has already been appropriately disciplined for his wrongdoings—including Tasering his 10-year old stepson—as a state trooper.)
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