Today, Alaska legislators will release the results of their "Troopergate" investigation into whether or not Governor Sarah Palin abused the power of her office. Palin is accused of pressuring her Commissioner of Public Safety, Walt Monegan to fire her brother-in-law, a state trooper who was undergoing a bitter divorce with her sister.
But while much attention has focused on Monegan's firing, some point to how she handled his replacement as a real test of judgment.
Late on the afternoon of Friday, July 11, 2008 Palin's office announced Monegan would step down and be replaced by Kenai Police Chief Charles Kopp. Kenai is about 160 miles from Anchorage and has less than 8,000 residents. Palin said she brought in Kopp to usher in a "new direction."
Kopp was no stranger to Palin, nor Juneau. He served on transition teams for both Governors Frank Murkowski and Palin. But he was not given the role of top cop in her administration. That only came after Palin fired Monegan.
Almost as soon as Kopp was named to the job, John Cyr of the Public Safety Employees Association says he began receiving complaints, about 10 in all, about Kopp. Even before his first day, news broke about a sexual harassment claim that was filed against him a few years earlier by a former employee.
A letter of reprimand was placed in Kopp's file for the incident that he referred to as a series of "friendly hugs." Since no further complaints were made, the letter was removed from his file after two years and Kopp said there were never any other complaints. Kopp also told reporters that Palin knew about the complaint before she appointed him.
The harassment allegations became the awkward focus of his first press conference, forcing a stammering Kopp at one point to declare, "There's no skeletons in my closet."
During the press conference a press secretary interrupted reporters' questions saying, "The point of this press conference is to discuss our [department's] future." And yet when reporters asked Kopp to define the new direction he deferred to the governor's office saying, "It's not the role of me to comment on new directions."
"She didn't understand how important it is to truly vet anyone who would be in a position of that authority," says the trooper union's John Cyr who says Kopp's qualifications were nowhere near as strong as Monegan's.
Less than eight days after the press conference, Kopp sat down with reporters again to divulge explicit details of the sexual harassment claim, indicating the complainant was someone he had known socially since high school.
Within days, the governor went from supporting Kopp to saying she was disturbed by the allegations. According to the Anchorage Daily News, Palin said when she appointed Kopp she knew about the complaint but did not know it was substantiated.
By Laura Strickler