Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg, a major figure in the abuse-of-power investigation of Gov. Sarah Palin, resigned Tuesday amid what Palin called a "harsh political climate."
Colberg, a Republican who was appointed to the post in 2006 after Palin was elected, represented seven of nine state employees who initially refused to testify before a legislative panel investigating Palin's firing of her public safety commissioner in what became known as Troopergate. Colberg said he advised the seven of their options, and he unsuccessfully challenged the subpoenas in court.
"I determined that it was in the best interest of the State of Alaska to move on and pursue other opportunities," Colberg said in a statement issued Tuesday by Palin's office.
Palin's spokesman, Bill McAllister, said the resignation was a personal decision for Colberg, and Palin neither fired nor pressured him to quit.
Palin wondered whether the current political climate factored in Colberg's decision.
"In not wanting to speculate on his personal decision, I would hope this harsh political climate we are in right now won't deter others who want to help this great state," Palin told The Associated Press.
While lawmakers continue to blame John McCain and Palin's campaign operatives for lingering hard feelings in Alaska, Palin blamed the climate on lawmakers positioning themselves for the upcoming campaign season.
"Those are the issues that created the harsh political environment that Talis was thrust into," Palin said.
The Troopergate investigation looked into whether Palin, assisted by aides and her husband, who was also subpoenaed, pressured public safety commissioner Walt Monegan to fire a state trooper involved in a contentious divorce with Palin's sister and then fired Monegan when he wouldn't dismiss the trooper. Palin said Monegan was ousted over budget disagreements.
The state Senate last week found Todd Palin and nine state employees in contempt for at first ignoring the subpoenas, but handed down no penalties.
The House Judiciary Committee last month raked Colberg over the coals for his role in the employees' initial decision not to honor the subpoenas.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, said at the time: "My own interest is in examination of the process and the relationship of the Attorney General: whether he works for the citizens of Alaska, the governor or the people whom he advised to ignore subpoenas issued by the Legislature."
The governor's husband, Todd Palin, was not represented by Colberg in the process.
Ramras on Tuesday called the soft-spoken, affable attorney general a "smart, decent and honorable man," and suggested that he may not have had the appetite for the rough and tumble of Alaska politics.
Despite his searing criticism in committee, Ramras said he appreciated Colberg's response to the committee's concerns and did not seek his resignation.
"We were quite satisfied with the professionalism with which he approached the dialogue and aftermath and had no intentions to pursue the matter other than making the statutory changes (to state laws on legislative subpoenas)."
Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said Colberg was a "very nice guy and a very smart guy but on Troopergate, he lost his independence."
Gara said he blames outsiders, not Colberg, for the employees' decisions not to testify, but he faulted Colberg for not launching an investigation later into possible witness tampering.
"You can't decide not to investigate a crime because it involves members of your own party or a presidential campaign that you support," Gara said.
Colberg did not return messages left at his home on Tuesday.
Rick Svobodny, the head of the state's criminal division, has been named acting attorney general.
A self-described small-town lawyer, Colberg had practiced law for 22 years in the sister community to Palin's hometown of Wasilla in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough north of Anchorage before he was appointed in December 2006. His practice had focused on workers' compensation.
He earned his law degree at Pepperdine University and served two terms on the Mat-Su Borough Assembly.
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