By Donald Craig Mitchell
Contributing writer to The Mudflats
Last July in Fairbanks, with Todd smiling at her side and Piper sitting in her lap, Sarah Palin watched Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell take the oath to fill out her term in office as Governor of Alaska. Then she vanished. For the past four months the Forty-Ninth State has seen neither hide nor hair of the woman. No speeches at chambers of commerce luncheons. No sightings on the street. No Sarah cheering on the sideline at Wasilla Warriors girls basketball games. No Sarah sitting in the pew on Sunday worshiping at the ChangePoint and Anchorage Baptist Temple evangelical mega churches. She's been gone. Disappeared.
It now turns out that while Alaskans were hunkering down for winter Sarah was in San Diego working for a woman named Lynn Vincent, the ghostwriter HarperCollins hired to cobble together Going Rogue: An American Life, Sarah's first person account of her it-only-would-happen-in-America rise from small town mayor to small state governor to Republican Vice Presidential candidate to popular culture icon.
Since Tuesday when Going Rogue was released nationwide copies of the book have been flying off the shelves at Barnes & Noble in Boise and Grand Rapids and not flying off the shelves in San Francisco and Seattle.
Since I already have enough to read, I had intended to give Going Rogue a pass until I had time this weekend to motor over to the Anchorage Barnes & Noble and give Ms. Vincent's word-smithing a skim. But on Monday I learned that I'm in the book. Not surprisingly, that piqued my interest. And then yesterday a friend lent me a copy.
I've now read it. Here's the review.
I usually begin reading a book that purports to be nonfiction by reading the index. But Going Rogue doesn't have one. So I started with the acknowledgments section at the back of the book. In the first paragraph Sarah explains to her readers: "I'm very glad this writing exercise is over. I love to write, but not about myself. I'm thankful now to have kept journals about Alaska and my friends and family ever since I was a little girl. That practice allowed an orderly compilation over the past weeks and let me summarily wrap up at least some of my life so far."
Sarah then thanks thirty-seven people (all but four only by his or her first name so that none of the rest of us have a clue who they are) before she thanks Lynn Vincent "for her indispensable help in getting the words on paper."
If all that is read quickly, it leaves the veneer impression that Sarah wrote her book. But if read carefully that's not what it says. "Help in getting the words on paper?" Too coy by half.
Decide for yourself when you do your own skim at your own local Barnes & Noble. But start to finish Going Rogue reads to me like Sarah sitting on the sofa in Lynn Vincent's condo in San Diego, school girl diaries in her lap, talking hour after hour in her you-betcha patois into a computerized tape recorder like the ones court reporters use to record depositions. Then each afternoon when Sarah went off on her jog, Ms. Vincent would begin her real workday sitting at her computer editing and cut and pasting that day's transcript of Sarah's ramblings into a narrative.
I can't prove that. But someone should ask Sarah if that's how she "wrote" Going Rogue. Lynn Vincent would be a more reliable source. But, no surprise, her contract with HarperCollins contains a non-disclosure provision. Adam Bellow, Sarah's editor at HarperCollins, also would know. But he for sure is not telling. At least until he has too much red wine during dinner at Elaine's some night and lets the secret slip.
The book itself is a prosaic hagiography divided into three parts. Part one is Sarah's autobiography from her birth in Sandpoint, Idaho, to her selection by John McCain as his running mate. Part two is Sarah's story of her life on the road during the 2008 presidential campaign. Part three is a sanguinolent settling of accounts for the torment to which she was subjected in Alaska after the election - a torment so awful that it brought the operation of the entire executive branch of the government of the State of Alaska to a gridlocked halt and left Sarah no choice but to abandon her governorship in order to earn $5 million in four months talking into Lynn Vincent's tape recorder.
If that three-part narrative has a unifying theme, the theme is that everything - and I mean everything - that has ever gone wrong for Sarah Palin was someone else's fault.
Sarah's lackluster performance during her interview with Frank Murkowski when she somehow made the short-list of candidates to succeed Frank in the U.S. Senate? That was Frank and his Attorney General, my friend Gregg Renkes's, fault. The Troopergate scandal? Walt Monegan and the Democratic members of the Alaska Senate pulled that mean-spirited prank on a blameless Sarah. The nationally televised interview with Katie Couric that branded Sarah Palin as an ignorant and uneducated laughingstock? Katie sandbagged her. The fabulously disastrous Thanksgiving television interview when Governor Palin pardoned a turkey while in the background unpardoned turkeys were having their heads shoved down a funnel and their throats slit? Sandbagged again. That time by a local TV news cameraman.
Don't take my word for it. Thumb through Going Rogue on your own. Page after page after page. It's always someone else's fault.
When discussing George Herbert Walker and Barbara Bush, Richard Nixon is reported to have said that George was a nice guy. "But his wife. That woman knows how to hate." Since Dick meant that as a compliment, he would be impressed with Sarah's penchant for settling scores. Because scattered throughout its content Going Rogue contains an enemies list as long as the list the nation's Thirty-Seventh President and his henchmen compiled during the run-up to Watergate.
Sarah trashes Nick Carney (the Wasilla city councilman who recruited Sarah into politics), John Stein (Sarah's predecessor as mayor of Wasilla), Anne Kilkenny (a Wasilla resident whose viral email educated the nation to Sarah's lackluster record as mayor), an unnamed City of Wasilla librarian, Frank Murkowski (Sarah's predecessor as Governor of Alaska), Gregg Renkes (Frank's Attorney General), Lyda Green (the former President of the Alaska Senate), Hollis French (the chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the Alaska Senate), Steve Schmidt (John McCain's campaign manager), an unnamed KTUU television cameraman, Walt Monegan (Sarah's Commissioner of Public Safety), Randy Ruedrich (the chairman of the Alaska Republican Party with whom Sarah worked at the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission), Bill Allen (the corpulent head of the oil field services company VECO, a odious scum bag whose reputation as the bag man for Big Oil in the state capitol had been a matter of common knowledge in Alaska for a generation when Sarah went with her hand out to Bill for the campaign contributions she used to launch her statewide political career), Mike Wooten (Sarah's ex-brother-in-law), unnamed executives of the Exxon-Mobil, British Petroleum, and Conoco-Phillips oil companies, Pete Rouse (a former Alaskan who was Senator Barack Obama's chief of staff), Rahm Emanuel (President Barack Obama's chief of staff), Kim Elton (a former member of the Alaska Senate who is Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's Special Assistant for Alaska), unnamed members of the McCain campaign staff who prepped Sarah for her television debate with Joe Biden, John Bitney (Governor Palin's liaison to the Alaska Legislature), Levi Johnston (the hockey-playing, Playgirl modeling impregnator of Bristol Palin).
That's not the complete list. There's no index and I'm tired of typing.
Of all the individuals on the Going Rogue enemies list, the two firsts among equals are Andrew Halcro and Andree McLeod.
Halcro is a former Republican member of the Alaska House of Representatives who ran as an independent candidate against Sarah Palin in the 2006 Alaska gubernatorial election. After the election he started a website that he used to become one of Governor Palin's most articulate and factually well-informed critics.
It was Andrew Halcro who broke the story that Governor Palin had fired Walt Monegan, her Commissioner of Public Safety, because Walt had refused to fire Mike Wooten, Sarah's ex-brother-in-law, from his union job as an Alaska State Trooper. That news led to the Troopergate investigation of Sarah (and Todd) Palin's misuse of the Office of the Governor. In the Troopergate report that Sarah touts as clearing her of wrong-doing, the investigator, a former prosecutor with whom (unlike the Legislature's investigator) Sarah cooperated, implies that during his investigation either Walt Monegan committed criminal perjury or Sarah Palin committed criminal perjury. But the Legislature had no stomach during the remainder of Sarah's tenure as Governor to determine whether she was the felon.
In Going Rogue Sarah describes Andrew Halcro as "a wealthy, effete young chap who had taken over his father's local Avis Rent A Car, and he starred in his own car commercial. He would go on to host a short-lived local radio show while blogging throughout the day, all of which were major steps up from a previous job as our limo driver at Todd's cousin's wedding."
Andree McLeod is where I come in.
I am an attorney by trade and an historian of modest reputation by avocation. In 1987 I briefly convinced an Alaska Superior Court that it was a violation of the U.S. and Alaska Constitutions for the State of Alaska to have a campaign finance system that allows individuals who are not eligible to vote for a candidate to influence the candidate's election by making campaign contributions. In 1998 I came within one vote of convincing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to uphold the constitutionality of an amendment to the Oregon Constitution that would have mandated a similar result. Over the years since, I have frequently represented individuals for a reduced fee or no fee in cases in which I think the public policy benefits merit my effort.
For that reason, I was not surprised in September 2008 when a friend called to ask if I would have a cup of coffee with a woman named Andree McLeod. By that date, I had been active in Alaska's (small state) political life for thirty years. But my answer to that query was, "Who's Andree McLeod?" But I went for coffee and discovered that Andree McLeod is a quite amazing woman.
Short, smart, politically committed, and tenaciously energetic, Andree McLeod is a Republican political activist of Armenian heritage who had once been a personal friend of Sarah Palin's, who Sarah had endorsed when Andree ran in the Republican primary for a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives.
When I went to her home in east Anchorage to have my cup of coffee I found Andree sitting at her dining room table surrounded by two-foot-high stacks of paper print-outs of several thousand emails that the Office of the Governor had given to her in July in response to a request she had filed in June pursuant to the Alaska Public Records Act. The request had asked for emails that had been sent to or received by employees of the Office of the Governor who Andree suspected had been engaging in partisan - i.e., Alaska Republican Party - political activities during their public employee workdays. Andree submitted her public records request three months before anyone other than those of us in Alaska had ever heard of Sarah Palin.
The reason I had been invited to meet with Andree was that one of the things she had discovered by reading the emails was that when Governor Palin assumed office she had set up a private back-channel email system so that she and her senior staff could communicate with each other about state business without the content of their communications being "captured" by State of Alaska computer servers, and hence being available for public inspection pursuant to the Alaska Public Records Act. The Washington Post, The New York Times, and other national media would later report that story.
After researching the Alaska Public Records Act I concluded that, for reasons not worth detailing here, the private back-channel email system that Sarah had created was a violation of the Alaska Public Records Act. As a consequence, representing Andree McLeod, on October 1, 2008 I filed a lawsuit against Governor Palin in the Alaska Superior Court, the purpose of which is to obtain an order prohibiting state officials from using private email accounts to conduct state business.
The month after the McCain-Palin ticket lost the presidential election, again representing Andree McLeod, on December 8, 2008 I filed a second lawsuit against Governor Palin when a further review of the emails that Andree had been given revealed that the Office of the Governor had given to Todd Palin, a private citizen who was an employee of British Petroleum, copies of emails that it was withholding from public inspection on the ground of deliberative process privilege.
That litigation is ongoing. The legal questions of first impression that they present for decision are important enough that my expectation is that both lawsuits will end up in the Alaska Supreme Court.
What does any of that have to do with me and Going Rogue?
Prior to me agreeing to represent her in the two lawsuits above-described, Andree McLeod had begun filing what became a series of complaints against Sarah Palin with the State Personnel Board that alleged ethical transgressions unrelated to the lawsuits. Other Alaskans did the same thing. According to Going Rogue, those ethics complaints have driven Sarah Palin flat-out full-crank nuts.
After trashing Andree McLeod at page 354 of Going Rogue Lynn Vincent aka Sarah Palin moves on to me. Here's what Lynn and Sarah say:
We always suspected that someone was funding and directing
Andree's efforts. During the spring of 2009, she was actually still
begging my administration for a job and led others to believe she
hadn't worked for a couple of years. Yet somehow she had enough
time or money to turn harassment of the governor's office into a
full-time vocation. Over time, the wording of her ethics complaints
became more and more sophisticated, and we later found out why:
prominent liberal attorney Don Mitchell was advising her. As early as September 2008, weeks before the presidential election, Mitchell had already detailed the ethics attack strategy in an article in the Huffington Post. Later he sat with Andree as her counsel at one of her hearings.
I wish my late mother was still alive. Because I know how proud she would be that I made the Going Rogue enemies list and have been mentioned by name in a book whose first printing is 1.5 million copies. (Because he is not named, the mother of the KTUU cameraman who posed Sarah in front of the turkeys can take no such pride.)
But my number is listed in the Anchorage telephone book. If that failed, Lynn and Sarah could have googled "Donald Craig Mitchell." And if that had failed, since Meg Stapleton, the increasingly strange combination of Sancho Panza and Odd Job who works for Sarah, and I have mutual friends, Meg could have found me quite easily.
Had Lynn Vincent, Sarah, or Meg called me before Lynn had finished writing Going Rogue, I would have told her that in a single paragraph Lynn/Sarah got almost every one of their facts about me, other than that I am an attorney, wrong.
While I probably once was, I haven't been a "prominent" attorney in Alaska in years. While I am a registered Democrat, my personal politics are hardly "liberal." To the extent anyone cares, I am a social libertarian who is an Eisenhower era deficit hawk who agrees with Teddy and Frank Roosevelt that the principal responsibility of government is to save capitalism from itself. And while during the presidential campaign several of my 'Governor Girl Reports' were posted by individuals other than me on the Huffington Post and Atlantic Monthly web sites, none of those musings "detailed an ethics attack strategy."
But most importantly, not only have I never advised Andree regarding her ethics complaints, to the best of my recollection I have never read an Andree McLeod ethics complaint. Had Lynn, Sarah, or Meg called me, I also would have told them that neither Andree McLeod nor I have been paid a nickel by anyone for anything (although if I win either of my lawsuits I intend to send the Office of the Governor a bill for my attorneys fee, which under Alaska law I am permitted to do).
It is true, however, that, as Going Rogue reports, because she asked me to, I did accompany Andree to her interview with Tim Petumenos, the former prosecutor the State Personnel Board hired to investigate both the complaint Sarah filed against herself regarding the Troopergate affair and a complaint Andree filed against Sarah and Frank Bailey, Sarah's Director of Boards and Commissions, for violating state civil service rules in order to give one of Sarah's campaign supporters a job for which he was not qualified. Again to the best of my recollection, I have never read either complaint. And if he is asked, I think Tim will say that during his interview with Andree I pretty much just sat there.
It also is worth mentioning that the State Personnel Board found the ethics complaint that Andree McLeod filed against Frank Bailey meritorious.
Why should anyone care about any of that? The reason they should care is that if Lynn Vincent aka Sarah Palin got as many of the facts, asserted and implied, about me in Going Rogue as wrong as she did, what does that say about the validity of the many other, much more important, "facts" in Sarah's book?
It's fully fine by me that billions of federal tax dollars are being spent annually to invent an AIDS vaccine. But it is just as important to someday invent a Pinocchio serum.
If the world had one, before a faux celebrity like Sarah Palin writes a book, doctors from the CDC could roll up the celebrity's sleeve and inject him or her with a jolt of the serum. And a serum also would have other important uses.
For example, on page 214 of Going Rogue Lynn Vincent reports that when the McCain campaign vetted Sarah, she confessed to Steve Schmidt, the manager of the campaign, that "the one skeleton I'd kept hidden in my closet" (my emphasis) was that she had gotten a D in a college course.
Had Sarah been shot up with Pinocchio serum prior to the vetting, the immediate growth of the length of her nose would have tipped off Schmidt that the more truthful answer to the one skeleton in the closet question would have been, as The National Enquirer subsequently reported with no push back from Team Sarah, "cuckolding Todd when he was working on the North Slope by hooking up with Brad Hanson, Todd's business partner in the Polaris snow machine sales business Brad and Todd owned in Wasilla."
Once perfected, Pinocchio serum also would be useful to find out whether Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell really supports health care reform and, before the United States sends more troops there, whether Hamid Karsai really is committed to rooting out corruption in Afghanistan. But before a Pinocchio serum can be widely used, the FDA would need to conduct a clinical trial. Shooting up Sarah while she's still on her book tour would be a good first test of the potion's efficacy.
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