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This Week's Palin Primer From Alaska: Bristol and Levi, Earmarks, Troopergate, More


It has been forty-eight hours since I have had a call from any agent of any national news organization. So the fun that those of us on the outer ring of the commotion have been having since the announcement of the Palin ascendancy may be about over.

Assuming so, here in the subarctic there have been several new developments in which those of you who aren't here in the subarctic may be interested.

Anchorage Pep Rally

As is my habit, last Saturday morning I biked over to Sagaya to have a cup of coffee and read the Anchorage Daily News. When I opened the paper, on the front page was an article which reported that at 9:30 am Sarah would be appearing at a pep rally at the Anchorage convention center.

When I walked into the convention center the Wasilla High School Warriors pep band was playing and five hundred or so Palinistas holding "Welcome Home" signs were chanting "Sarah, Sarah, Sarah."

Because the convention center holds 5,000 people, the McCain advance team cleverly sandwiched the small crowd between twenty-foot-tall movie screens and then blackened the rest of the room. So on TV the crowd may have looked larger that it was. In TV view behind the podium the advance team also erected a bleacher on which a hundred or so people were sitting, most waving "McCain-Palin" signs.

Sarah arrived and spoke for half an hour (mixing Alaska material with a rote repeat of "best of" snippets from her acceptance speech at the Republican Convention). Then for another half hour she signed autographs while surrounded by seven or eight watchful-looking forty-year-old guys (and one girl) in black suits with phone wires running out of their collars and into their ears.

Because none of that was particularly surprising, I wouldn't waste time reporting on it except for two reasons.

First, sitting on the bleacher clapping enthusiastically whenever Sarah delivered one of her applause lines was Randy Ruedrich, the chairman of the Alaska Republican Party whose misbehavior on the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission gave Sarah her start. Since until she became McCain's running mate Randy had less than no use for Sarah Palin, watching him pretend in front of the television cameras that he is a Palinista was fabulously entertaining.

Second, sitting three-quarters of the way up the bleacher was Bristol Palin and her eighteen-year-old impregnator, Levi Johnston. Once I noticed them, I kept my eye on Bristol and Levi. What I learned provoked an odd empathy for the awful pickle Wasilla High School's hockey stick wielding homeboy now finds himself in.

Bristol and Levi sat shoulder-to-shoulder. But not once did they look at each other, speak to each other, or in any way acknowledge each other's physical presence. Not once. For an entire hour. Instead, Bristol stared straight ahead and Levi had the glazed look of a trapped feral animal.

Then when Sarah wound up her autograph signing and the people sitting in front of him on the bleacher began climbing down, Levi stood up and, without looking at or speaking to his betrothed, turned in the opposite direction and walked away.

What I took away from that is that the People Magazine spin about how excited the happy couple is about their upcoming nuptials and Levi's "Bristol" finger tattoo is the Karl Rovian nonsense that anyone who thinks about it for a scintilla of a second intuitively knows that it is. If McCain-Palin lose, my easy bet is that there will be no nuptials. But if they win, the hand Levi dealt himself by having had the poor luck to knock up the daughter of the Vice President of the United States (at the time who could have known?) will have to be played out.

Pader Johnston has disconnected the Johnston family's land line. So I can't call him to ask what kind of deal he cut. But if Levi was my kid, the deal I would have cut would, at an absolute minimum, have been: $500,000 for from now to the November election. If McCain-Palin win, a $ 1 million signing bonus to take the trip down the aisle. Then, for the duration of the McCain-Palin administration, $100,000 a month for every month Mr. and Mrs. Johnston live under the same roof, and $50,000 a month for every month that they remain married but do not.

That's chump change for the RNC. And if, in the best case for the nation, it turns out to be only a $500,000 payday for sixty days of work, that's a life changing grubstake for an eighteen-year-old kid and more than enough to enable Levi to make his child support payments.

 

Andree McLeod Public Records Request

There is a very nice woman in Anchorage named Andree McLeod who for a number of years was a personal friend of Sarah Palin's (and has copies of email traffic which document their relationship). A year or so ago Andree decided that Sarah had politicized the Office of the Governor in exactly the same way that Randy Ruedrich, the chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, had politicized the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission on which Sarah and Randy had served as patronage appointees during Frank the Bank Murkowski's tenure as governor. (Sarah outing Randy and then quitting the Commission is the event that gave Alaska's governor-girl the name recognition and clean-government bona fides that allowed her to beat Frank in the 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary election.)

To prove that, Andree filed a public records request under the Alaska Freedom of Information Act for a voluminous number of documents from the Office of the Governor, email, text messages, travel documents, etc.

In response to her public records request, in July the Office of the Governor gave Andree three or four thousand heavily redacted documents, plus a log describing 1,100 emails that the Office of the Governor was withholding from disclosure. Several weeks later when McCain selected Sarah as his running mate and the national press corps descended on Anchorage, Andree's document cache became a grab bag of low hanging fruit.

Two weeks ago I became involved because the Office of the Governor justified its redactions and its decision to withhold the 1,100 emails by invoking the "deliberative process executive privilege". For the non-lawyers, that's a legal privilege that allows the head of the executive branch of the government to protect documents from disclosure if they contain confidential advice that people who work in the executive branch have given regarding official executive branch business.

That's fair enough. But it turns out that Sarah's husband, Todd Palin - Alaska's "First Dude" - who is not a State employee and who has no role in the operation of State government - was given a copy of many of the redacted and withheld documents. It also turns out that for the past two years Sarah has been conducting official State business using her private yahoo.com email account.

Because of Todd Palin's presence on the distribution list and Sarah's use of her private email account, the Office of the Governor unintentionally (because Sarah doesn't understand how the day-to-day nuts-and-bolts process of governing is supposed to work) waived the deliberative process executive privilege. So on Andree McLeod's behalf, last Monday I filed an administrative appeal which demands that the Office of the Governor give Andree all of the documents that it has given to Todd Palin. (If you're interested in the legal rationale, the article about Todd and the emails that Mother Jones has posted its website - www.motherjones.com - has a link to a copy of the administrative appeal. Also, yesterday on www.juneauempire.com the Juneau Empire posted a pretty good article on the situation: Alan Suderman, "Palin Asked to Release Her Husband's Emails" (September 14, 2008).)

The evidence of Todd Palin's involvement in the day-to-day operations of the Office of the Governor that Andree McLeod uncovered is particularly timely because of Troopergate.


Troopergate

Troopergate is the local name for the scandal that the Judiciary Committee of the Alaska Senate, chaired by Hollis French, is investigating. The allegation is that Sarah fired Walt Monegan, her Commissioner of Public Safety, because, despite having been leaned on both hard and repeatedly by Todd and Sarah to do so, Walt refused to violate state civil service rules and fire Sarah's ex-brother-in-law, Mike Wooten, from his job as an Alaska State Trooper.

Sarah first agreed to cooperate with the Judiciary Committee's investigation, saying that she had nothing to hide and that the charges were untrue. Then when she became McCain's running mate, she reversed course and started stone-walling (and told her people to stone-wall) in an obvious attempt to run the clock out between now and the November election.

Faced with that, on Friday the Judiciary Committee voted to subpoena thirteen individuals, the most prominent of whom is Todd Palin. So Andree McCLeod's documentation of the extent to which Sarah has allowed Todd to wander around inside the Office of the Governor may play a role in Troopergate.

On Sunday's Meet the Press Rudy Giuliani trashed Hollis by calling the Judiciary Committee's Troopergate investigation a partisan witch hunt, for which reason, insofar as Rudy said he was concerned, Sarah has every good reason not to cooperate with it. Tom Brokaw let that pass because his producers apparently hadn't done their homework.

The actual fact of the matter is that the Judiciary Committee issued its subpoenas on a 3 to 2 vote.

The two no votes were cast by Lesil McGuire (whose husband, Tom Anderson, is residing in a federal prison in Oregon for having accepted a bribe or two or three when he was a member of the Alaska House of Representatives) and Gene Therriault (an extremely good guy who is a Republican from North Pole, a Fairbanks suburb whose political culture is as conservative as Wasilla's).

Of the three yes votes, two were cast by Democrats: Hollis French and Bill Wielechowski. The third (and deciding) vote was cast by Charlie Huggins. Not only is Charlie a conservative Republican (when he cast his vote Charlie did so clad head to toe in a camouflage jump suit because he was heading out to go moose hunting), but he represents Wasilla in the Alaska Senate. So if Republican Charlie Huggins had voted the other way the investigation would have shut down and Sarah (and Todd) would have been home free of Troopergate at least through the election.


Sarah and Her Earmarks

The world would be a much improved place if, while inventing an Aids vaccine, the scientists who are trying to do so also would invent a Pinocchio serum. If they would, the brag Sarah keeps repeating that she said "No thanks" when Congress tried to give Alaska the "Bridge [in the singular] to Nowhere" would have been outed instantaneously - using no tool other than a tape measure - as the prevaricative nonsense that it is.

I mention that because during his interview with Sarah on ABC's 20-20, Charles Gibson called Sarah out for hiring a Washington, D.C., lobbyist when she was mayor of Wasilla in order to get as many earmarks stuffed into as many appropriations bills as her lobbyist's influence-pedaling could pedal.

Sarah responded to the charge by cheerfully admitting that on her watch the City of Wasilla had indeed hired a Washington, D.C., lobbyist. But, with an absolutely straight face, she then had the chutzpah to tell Gibson that if the city had not done so it would have had to have spent the same amount of money anyway flying city officials to and from Capitol Hill to do their own lobbying.

As Tom Brokaw did Rudy Giuliani, Charles Gibson let her get away with that.

The fact that Mayor Palin hired a Washington, D.C., lobbyist to obtain earmarks has been widely reported. But the identity of the lobbyist has been reported considerably less widely. The lobbyist was an attorney named Steve Silver who has been a friend of mine for thirty years. Steve began life on the Hill working for Ted Stevens and rose inside the Stevens organization to be chief of staff. Sarah hired Steve when Ted Stevens became chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

To the best of my knowledge, not one of the earmarks Steve got Ted to give Sarah was a project in the President's budget. Instead, Lisa Sutherland, Ted's bag-girl inside the Appropriations Committee for Alaska projects, simply stuffed items off the City of Wasilla's wish list into this or that appropriations bill.

From the Alaska point of view, there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's how we all did business during the Ted Stevens Raj at the Appropriations Committee. But listening to Sarah's newly-invented doe-eyed sanctimony about earmarks - and watching Charles Gibson let her get away with it - was excruciating.

Before leaving earmarks, it's worth relating that the winter of 2001-2002 I flew from Anchorage into Washington National sitting next to a wonderful woman named Judy Patrick. When I chatted her up, Judy turned out to be a member of the Wasilla City Council who was flying east to be chaperoned into the Appropriations Committee by her lobbyist - Steve Silver - to pitch Ted Stevens aka Lisa Sutherland to fund the projects on the City of Wasilla's earmark list. (If you're curious, go to www.nytimes.com, scroll down to "Politics", then click on the article "Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes." What will pop up is a photograph of Mayor Palin and the Wasilla City Council. The blond woman dressed in black is Judy.)

Later that week I bumped into Judy and Steve at the Appropriations Committee when I was making my own rounds on the Hill. So contrary to the thoroughly ridiculous lie Sarah told Charles Gibson, hiring Steve did not reduce the City of Wasilla's travel budget.

In any case, that spring I stopped in at Sagaya's, the coffee joint and ersatz Whole Foods Market three blocks from my house where thirty different brands of olive oil and designer mustard are at all times on sale and on Saturday mornings those of us in the neighborhood who have graduate degrees and those of us who do not sit around reading the morning papers, being seen, and being cool.

When I walked in, there was Judy Patrick drinking coffee and reading a book. When I asked Judy what she was reading it turned out to be a book on how to run an election campaign. When I then asked her what she was going to run for, Judy said that one of her best girl friends, a woman named Sarah Palin, who was finishing up as mayor of Wasilla, was going to run for Lieutenant Governor. Before Sarah did so, Judy thought that she and Sarah should try to learn something about how to run a statewide election campaign. So she had checked out a book on the subject from the Library. Let history record that that was the first time the name Sarah Palin was uttered in my presence.)


Palin Ethics Reports

Since her ascendancy as McCain's running mate Sarah has been newly dressed to the nines. And as I sit here typing she's flying around in a private jet, and being put up by the McCain campaign in four star hotels. Since it's reasonable to assume that she's not paying for any of that, it's all a gift. If that's correct, then each of those gifts should be listed on the next ethics report that Alaska law requires governors and legislators to file periodically. That will be terrifically interesting reading. But I doubt that a report has to be filed prior to the election.

Read more at AlaskaDispatch where this piece originally appeared.