AFP, JUNEAU, Alaska - Investigators found vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin abused her powers as Alaska governor, dealing another blow to Republican John McCain's struggling White House bid.
As McCain sought to restore control over his unruly rallies which have seen a stream of invective, including a death threat, targeted at Democratic rival Barack Obama, the "troopergate" scandal threatened to torpedo his campaign.
In a long-awaited 263-page report released on Friday by Alaska's Legislative Council, investigator Steve Branchflower said Palin was guilty of violating ethics rules for public officials.
He said Palin had allowed her husband Todd Palin to use the Alaska governor's office and its resources to pressure officials to fire her former brother-in-law, state trooper Mike Wooten.
"Governor Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda, to wit: to get Trooper Michael Wooten fired," the report said.
"She had the authority and power to require Mr Palin to cease contacting subordinates, but she failed to act," the report added.
Palin, the first woman to be selected on a Republican ticket, was plucked from political obscurity in Alaska by the Arizona senator in late August to be his running mate in the November 4 elections.
A devout Christian mother-of-five who is pro-life and a committed hunter, she fired up the party's conservative base, which had not fully embraced McCain.
But her lack of national and foreign experience raised doubts among observers about McCain's hasty judgment in assigning such a high office to a young unknown.
Palin, 44, has become McCain's chief attack dog against Obama, drawing thousands of people to her rallies, and accusing the Chicago senator at the weekend of "palling around with terrorists."
As Obama, 47, took a hefty lead in the polls even in battleground states, McCain's campaign sought to refocus its fight for the White House away from the economy, with relentless, searing attacks.
But a series of negatives ads casting doubt on Obama's character and his past associations backed by frequent pointed questions about who he is, whipped up anger at the Republican rallies, causing widespread concern.
After the US Secret Service said Thursday it was investigating an alleged death threat shouted at a Florida rally, McCain was forced to tone down the attacks.
"We want to fight, and I will fight, but we will be respectful. I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments and I will respect him," McCain, 72, told a Minnesota rally Friday.
"I want to be president ... but I have to tell you that he is a decent person and a person you don't have to be scared of as president of the United States."
Crowds at the rallies had become increasing inflammatory shouting out "terrorist" and "liar" when Obama was mentioned. At one Florida rally, someone even shouted "kill him."
Obama, who has kept his campaign focused on the country's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s, on Friday rebuked McCain for preaching a politics of "anger and division."
"In the last couple of days we have seen a barrage of nasty insinuations and attacks and I am sure we will see much more over the next 25 days," he told an Ohio rally.
"It's easy to rile up a crowd by stoking anger and division. But that is not what we need now in the United States, the times are too serious."
The economy is now voters' top concern, and for the first time in a Newsweek poll, Obama was Friday given a double digit lead, of 52 percent with 41 percent for McCain.
The last poll by the magazine a month ago, before the economic crisis began to bit, had the two men tied on 46 percent.
But with 25 days to go before Americans cast their ballots, McCain vowed to come up from behind.
"How many times, my friends, have the pundits written off the McCain campaign?" he told the cheering crowd. "We're going to fool 'em again, my friend!"