(CNN) – The manager of a state probe into the firing of Alaska's public safety commissioner won't be removed for suggesting the investigation could yield an "October surprise" for Gov. Sarah Palin, a key lawmaker announced Monday.
State Sen. Kim Elton, the chairman of the bipartisan Legislative Council that commissioned the probe, said the decisions made by Sen. Hollis French "have been appropriate, bipartisan ... and unchallenged" and that French has called the comments he made last week "regrettable."
"Comments about the investigation can be as incendiary as napalm," Elton, a Democrat, wrote to a Republican lawmaker who sought French's removal last week. But he added, "I'm sure that all of us can work in a non-partisan way to accomplish the charge given to the investigator by the Legislative Council."
Alaska's Legislature is looking into allegations that Palin - now the Republican nominee for vice president - fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan when he refused to sack her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper involved in a custody battle with the governor's sister. Palin has denied any wrongdoing, and her allies have said the investigation has become a "political circus."
There was no immediate reaction to Monday's decision either from the Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign or from state Rep. John Coghill, who asked lawmakers to remove French last week.
Palin originally pledged to cooperate with the investigation. But her lawyers have asked the state Personnel Board to start its own probe, arguing that Alaska law requires that agency to hear ethics complaints against the governor.
Critics accuse the governor of trying to delay the probe now that she is McCain's running mate. Lawmakers have scheduled a Friday vote on whether to subpoena several witnesses who have refused to sit for depositions in the case, and have moved their original October 31 deadline for completing the probe up three weeks to October 10.
"We all recognize that the attention focused on the exercise of this unanimously adopted Legislative Council charge has become far more intense in the last 10 days," Elton wrote. "Comments that suggest, purposefully or not or in context or not, that there is a pre-determined outcome are very harmful."
The Legislature hired former prosecutor Steve Branchflower as a special counsel to investigate Monegan's firing, with French overseeing the probe. In his Monday letter, Elton wrote that no one has questioned Branchflower's impartiality, and that French's decisions have been made after consulting with bipartisan leaders of the state House and Senate.
French told ABC News last week that the probe could turn out to be an "October surprise" for the McCain-Palin ticket, and that the findings were "likely to be damaging to the governor's administration." Friday, he told Anchorage television station KTUU that "I made some remarks I should not have made," and Elton wrote that Branchflower will not make any comments to news outlets regarding his findings.
Monegan told CNN earlier last week that no one directly demanded Wooten's dismissal. But he said the trooper was the subject of "constant" questions or comments from Palin's staff, and that Wooten "was an irritant to her."
In calling for a Personnel Board probe last week, Palin's lawyers called her sister's ex-husband a "rogue trooper" who threatened the governor's family during a bitter divorce and custody battle. Complaints from Palin's family led to a five-day suspension for the trooper in 2006 after his superiors found he
had illegally shot a moose using his wife's permit, drove his patrol car while drinking beer and used a Taser on his 10-year-old stepson "in a training capacity."
In an exclusive interview with CNN, Wooten said he was "punished appropriately" and was "moving on."