David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.

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Palin Report: The Mavericky Governor "Abused Her Power"

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 10:22 PM EDT

Were Sarah "I can see Russia" Palin not already having a tough time on the campaign trail, the report released on Friday by a special prosecutor in Alaska finding that she "abused her power" might be more of a blow to the McCain-Palin campaign. But even though she has already fallen in the polls, there is room for more of a drop. And now the mavericky reformer who is part of a campaign attacking Barack Obama as old-style Chicago pol looks like a lying, vengeful pol herself.

The report was commissioned by a bipartisan group of Alaskan legislators after Palin was accused of firing her public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, after Monegan did not dismiss Mike Wooten, a state trooper who had gone through an ugly divorce with Palin's sister. Though Palin--pre-veep campaign--had pledged to cooperate fully, once she became part of the Republican ticket, she reneged on that promise, as the McCain camp tried to shut down the investigation. But the Alaskan courts refused to short-circuit the investigation, and Stephen Branchflower, a former prosecutor retained by the Alaskan legislators, managed to finish his inquiry, after getting reluctant witnesses--including Todd Palin, the governor's husband--to answer written questions.

The report is blunt:

I find that, although Walt Monegan's refusal to fire Trooper Michael Wooten was not the sole reason he was fired by Governor Sarah Palin, it was likely a contributing factor to his termination as Commissioner of Public Safety.

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Calendars Show Gov. Palin's Foreign Policy Experience: About 20 Meetings for About 12 Hours

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 11:17 AM EDT

In her first interview after John McCain picked her to be the GOP's vice presidential nominee, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin claimed that her foreign policy credentials were enhanced because "you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska." She also pointed out that she had experience dealing with trade delegations. Later, asked by CBS News' Katie Couric if she had ever participated in negotiations with Russia, Palin said, "We have trade missions back and forth. We—we do—it's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia ."

But the calendars tracking Palin's official meetings during her tenure as governor contain not one listing indicating she ever met with a Russian official. In fact, the 562 pages of her daily schedules—obtained by Mother Jones under Alaska's Open Records Act—indicate that Palin had few meetings at all with any foreign representatives and rarely dealt with any topic related to foreign policy. The schedules include about 20 meetings, events, or phone calls in which Palin interacted with foreign officials. And in many instances, these interactions were cursory or ceremonial and did not involve policy details. According to the schedules released, Palin spent roughly 12 hours over the course of 19 months on these meetings. (This doesn't count what happened during a four-day trip she took to Kuwait to visit members of the Alaska National Guard. The schedules for those days do not detail whom she met.) The calendars show no meetings between her and a trade delegation from any nation.

It's possible that the calendars are not fully accurate reflections of what happened—perhaps some meetings ran longer (or shorter) than scheduled. And it's possible that in her off hours, Palin pored over Foreign Affairs, held unofficial chats with foreign officials, and sought out foreign policy experts. Also, there is a six-week gap in her calendars—from mid May through the end of June 2007—due to what her office calls a "computer failure." But according to the schedules, throughout her stint as governor, Palin has devoted merely a few hours to anything of a foreign relations nature, and most of her contact with foreign officials came through discussions with Canadian officials about a natural gas pipeline involving a Canadian company.

Here is a complete list of all of Palin's official calendar entries for events or meetings in which she had to interact with a foreign representative. The missing weeks aside, this list represents the sum of the foreign policy experience she obtained while serving as governor.

Debate II - McCain Offers a Man; Obama Offers More

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 1:32 AM EDT

Last Thursday, during a McCain campaign town hall meeting in Denver, one participant stood up and challenged the GOP presidential candidate: "When are you going to take the gloves off?" His fellow McCain supporters in the downtown hotel roared with approval. "How about Tuesday night?" John McCain replied, referring to his second debate with Obama.

How about not? The McCain campaign in recent days has pumped up its effort to delegitimize Barack Obama, with its top strategist apparently calculating that McCain cannot vanquish Obama if the election is about issues. At a recent rally in a California suburb, GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin declared, "Our opponent...is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." (This was a reference to Obama's past association with Bill Ayers, the former Weather Underground radical who became an education expert). And on Monday, McCain delivered a blistering attack on Obama that was loaded with inaccuracies and distortions. So one expectation among the politerati was that McCain would continue swinging--or thrashing--at the second debate. Work in Bill Ayers. Refer to Jeremiah Wright. Depict Obama as shifty and untrustworthy.

That did not happen. McCain, trailing Obama in the polls, mainly trained his fire on policy matters. He did continue to hurl misrepresentations at Obama. (As the debate proceeded, I received 40 emails from the Obama campaign making this point.) For instance, McCain once again claimed that Obama has voted 94 times to raise taxes, a charge that has been widely debunked by various factchecking outfits. But there was no frontal assault on Obama's character--and only one or two slight digs on his qualifications. The debate was more high-minded than anticipated. But it demonstrated a tough reality for McCain: he is out of sync with his own campaign. He cannot pull the trigger, when his advisers seem to believe a machine gun blast is needed.

Obama and his campaign are fully integrated. He calls for a break from the past eight years on both domestic and foreign fronts and famously urges fundamental change. As a new face--and a black man--he sure does represent change. He is his message. And his campaign for over a year and a half has not had to go through any strategic lurches or had to reconfigure either its candidate or its core pitch. That's not true on the McCain side. His campaign has been nothing but lurches. And the most recent one--a turn toward even more negative campaigning--undercuts his old and now practically worn-out reputation as a straight-talking maverick. So come Debate II, McCain was confronting a tough choice: damned if he does (go negative) and stalled if he doesn't.

Deciding to forego the nasty stuff, McCain relied on policy differences to hammer Obama. The problem: Obama's policy prescriptions are not unpopular.

Palin's (Functional Equivalent of an) Email Cover-up

| Tue Oct. 7, 2008 5:00 PM EDT

no-email250x200.jpg By using at least one private email account for state business, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has virtually guaranteed that most of the emails she sent as governor--which are subject to the state's Open Records Act--will not be publicly released before Election Day.

After Senator John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee, picked Palin to be his running mate, a number of news organizations, including Mother Jones filed Open Records Act requests for copies of emails Palin had received or sent. (For a comprehensive list of all the requests received by Palin's office, see here.)On September 22, in response to the Mother Jones request, Palin's office replied that it would cost $2,249.46 to conduct a search of her official email account. This did not include copying fees. The fee was later reduced to $590.06. But money was not the issue.

Palin has used at least two private email accounts in addition to her state account. That posed a serious challenge to the record-keepers in her office: how to find the emails to and from these accounts. The information managers had easy access to the emails she generated and received with her official account. But they did not have access to a Yahoo account she used for official communications and another private account she might have used for state business.

A McCain Flip-Flop on Osama bin Laden?

| Sun Oct. 5, 2008 11:38 PM EDT

On August 7, 1998, hundreds of people were killed when terrorists detonated car bombs at the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Almost immediately, the United States had evidence that a little-known group called al Qaeda was complicit in the attacks. Though al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden had been plotting against the United States for years, this act of mass-murder won the band of Islamic terrorists and its leaders worldwide infamy. Weeks after the attack, President Clinton fired scores of Tomahawk missiles at a suspected al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, and he also attacked a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan his administration claimed was a chemical weapons plant.

Ten years later, this past August 7, John McCain released a statement on the anniversary of the embassy bombings. It was a harsh indictment of the Clinton administration and others who in McCain's estimation had not regarded the threat of al Qaeda with sufficient seriousness back then:

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 225 people, including 12 Americans, and injured thousands others. The attacks made it painfully clear that al Qaeda's terrorist call to arms to attack Americans anywhere in the world was not an empty threat. The attacks proved the vulnerability of U.S. installations overseas, and demonstrated -- to any that needed further evidence -- that al Qaeda was a well-funded, organized and treacherous terrorist organization determined to kill Americans. Tragically, the U.S. response to the 1998 embassy bombings was wholly inadequate in addressing the threat posed by Al Qaeda despite the horrific toll of the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Too many Clinton Administration officials refused to act effectively to counter the dangers posed by al Qaeda. Three years later, al Qaeda's commitment to kill was devastatingly brought to our soil.

But at the time--even after the embassy bombings--McCain, too, was slow to recognize the nature of the threat posed by al Qaeda and bin Laden. Weeks after these attacks, he even came across as dismissive of bin Laden as a danger and showed no enthusiasm for hunting down this terrorist and his al Qaeda allies. And he did so in a Mother Jones interview.

In mid-September 1998, journalist Jason Vest, on assignment for the magazine, conducted an hour-long interview with McCain. At the time, McCain's efforts to pass campaign finance reform and anti-tobacco legislation had made him, as Vest put it, "the darling of political reporters." Much of the interview covered issues of money and politics. But with the embassy bombings still in the news, Vest asked McCain about bin Laden and how to deal with terrorism. The following exchange ensued:

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