Nick Baumann

Nick Baumann

Senior Editor

Nick is based in our DC bureau, where he covers national politics and civil liberties issues. Nick has also written for The Economist, The Atlantic, The Washington Monthly, and Commonweal. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

Get my RSS |

Sarah Palin's Emails Revealed

| Fri Jun. 10, 2011 5:06 PM EDT
Over 24,000 of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's emails were released to the media on Friday, June 10.

Friday, at 9 a.m. local time in Juneau, the state of Alaska released 24,199 pages of emails Sarah Palin sent and received during her half-term as governor of the Last Frontier. State officials distributed six-box sets to representatives of a dozen or so media outfits, including Mother Jones. Now the mad dash is on, with journalists reviewing (and scanning) these thousands of emails, searching for illuminating or entertaining information regarding the GOP’s number-one political celebrity, who remains a possible 2012 presidential contender. (Shortly after the release, Mother Jones,, and ProPublica posted a searchable archive of the emails online. You can search the Palin emails here. And here as well.) This saga began with a request David Corn, Mother Jones Washington bureau chief, made almost three years ago. (Read about the full history of the Sarah Palin email saga.)

Here are the highlights of what we've found so far (click the links for more):

We'll be posting the latest news here in reverse chronological order. (The older updates are towards the bottom.)

11:04 p.m. EST (David Corn): During the Republican presidential primary contest in 2008, Sarah Palin told a top aide that she wanted to play tough with John McCain—noting that she would pressure the nominee-to-be on certain policy issues before endorsing him.

In a confidential memo sent to Palin before she was about to meet McCain with other GOP governors at a conference in Washington, DC, in February 2008, John Katz, Palin's top rep in the nation's capital, spelled out the bad news:

It looks as if Senator McCain will be the presidential candidate of our party, but I can't think of many Alaska issues where he has been supportive over the years.

We have made a concerted effort to reach him on ANWR but to no avail. While I understand his concern about the congressional earmarking process, it sometimes appears that he is singling out Alaska for special treatment.

Katz added:

I agree with your premise that there needs to be some dialog between you and him before he can expect public support. I don't know that we will change his mind, but at least  you may be able to develop a relationship that will inure to Alaska's benefit later on.

There are no emails indicating whether Palin actually tried to muscle McCain and what transpired—if anything.


10:47 p.m. EST (Kate Sheppard): On February 21, 2008—well before she was tapped to serve as John McCain's running mate—Palin's staff was hoping to influence the Arizona senator's position on climate change. (McCain had championed cap and trade policy at the federal level to deal with climate change, which Palin opposed.) John Katz, her point person in DC, wrote a memo for Palin ahead of a meeting with the senator about how to approach the subject. "I doubt that Senator McCain will alter his position on climate change," wrote Katz. "However, you might get him to agree that Alaska presents certain unique circumstances that should be addressed in federal policy."

"Among other things, we are not on the national electricity grid, and we don't have as much flexibility as many other states to switch to alternative energy generation," he continued. "Yet, through the climate change sub-cabinet, we are seeking to address climate change and greenhouse gas emissions."

Palin would, of course, later depart from a reasonable, if moderate, stance on climate change to full-on denial. But at that time her office was still happy to tout what work they were doing on the matter.

10:38 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy): With rumors circulating that the governor's 18-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant in early April of 2008, Governor Palin goes into full-scale Mama Grizzly mode. The rumors, she says, are "pretty pathetic"—and she knows who started them: state senate president Lyda Green and her staff: "Flippin unbelievable. Wouldn't you think they'd be afraid of being proved wrong when they rumor around the building like that?…hopefully it'll be another reason why reporters and the public can't trust that odd group of strange people." Staffer Ivy Frye shared that sentiment: "I'm callin them on the flipping carpet!"

Bristol gave birth to son Tripp on December 29, 2008.

10:12 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy): We don't profess to draw any sort of insight from this. But it did make us laugh. Here's an email sent to the Governor from her oldest daughter Bristol:

"Hello Mother,
Um, I'm sitting in library and I really thing you need to get Piper a cell phone!! Wouldn't that be so adorable! She could text me while she was in class!! It's a done deal right?! Perfect! Ok, I will talk to you later and I need some cash flow! Love ya!"

8:44 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy):
Irony of ironies: Locked in the middle of Troopergate and facing an onslaught of what she considered misinformation from the Department of Public Safety, Palin called for her staff to file a Freedom of Information Act Request to obtain internal communications from the agency: "It is so concerning, the damage that is being done and the public trust that is eroding, we need to gather as much information as possible, including FOIA-ing emails, tapes, communications in all forms, regarding the untruthful information being spread to the public." We hope she didn't have to wait three years to hear back.


8:25 p.m. EST (Kate Sheppard):
Basically everything in an email exchange under the subject line "same sex" has been redacted. The January 6, 2007 exchange between Palin and aide John Bitney is considered "privileged or personal" save for the line, "Good morning boss…welcome back."

8:08 p.m. EST (David Corn):
When Stephen Branchflower, the former prosecutor was hired by the state legislature to investigate Palin's roll in the Troopergate scandal, he tried to reach out to the governor. On August 3, 2008, he sent her an email asking for a "Meet and Greet." He noted, "Since we've never met, I would like to come by your office for a couple of minutes to say hi. What I have in mind is just a quick meet and greet, not a big deal, and not to talk about the case. I just want to introduce myself and meet some of your staff….I appreciate your willingness to cooperate with me, and this informal meeting can serve as a good ice breaker for both of us."

Branchflower sent the note to Palin's scheduler, who forwarded it to the governor. Palin responded to the scheduler with a one-line remark of just a few words. As you can see below, that reply is redacted. Now why would that be?


8:02 p.m. EST (Andy Kroll): In the early days of her stint as Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, according to her emails, was reluctant to be a social conservative crusader. As a gubernatorial candidate, Palin reportedly had supported a statewide ballot question outlawing benefits for same-sex couples in Alaska. But after winning the governor's seat, Palin distanced herself from such a ballot initiative offered by the socially conservative Alaska Family Coalition (AFC).

In an March 16, 2007, email to two aides, she wrote, "I'm torn on this one b/c i purposefully asked that I not be a focus here - my belief is administration should NOT attempt to sway the outcome of ballot props." She added, "Remember we did NOT participate in writing the language of the voting pamphlet for the aforementioned reason - my belief that we weren't supposed to try to sway the vote once it's in the hands of the people." Palin staffers told the AFC they were free to use any of her statements from the campaign trail, but that Palin, as governor, wouldn't be taking a stance on the initiative.

Several weeks later, 53 percent of voters approved the non-binding initiative. But the AFC's chief, Jim Minnery, hailed the vote as an example that Alaska voters strongly believed "that the institution of marriage should be distinctly privileged in public policy and that the union of one man and one woman is honored in our communities as it should be."

7:50 p.m. EST (Kate Sheppard):
In July 2008—the height of a heated national debate over offshore drilling—Newt Gingrich dropped a note to Sarah Palin asking for her thoughts on how to take Alaska's oil revenue sharing program to other states. His note on July 22 asked her for insight on how the program worked and inquiring whether she would be interested in writing or talking about the program to garner interest elsewhere.

For context, this was the summer where gasoline hit $4 a gallon and then-President George Bush ended the moratorium on offshore drilling. Gingrich—in one of the early "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less" campaign. Alaska has a statewide program that shares a portion of oil revenues with state residents. They basically get a check in the mail for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars every year, so the program certainly raises the appeal of drilling for average citizens. It's a model that some drilling fans—apparently Gingrich—have suggested to encourage drilling elsewhere.

7:20 p.m. EST (Kate Sheppard):
Sarah Palin wasn't too busy as governor to ghostwrite a letter to the editor to defend herself against complaints that she'd skipped out on the 2008 Miss Alaska Pageant.

In a July 26 email from her Yahoo account to three staffers, Palin asks them to find someone to pen a response to a letter to the editor that appeared in the Anchorage Daily News regarding her absence. "I'm looking for someone to correct the letter writer's goofy comments, but don't want the letter to ADN in response to come from me," the governor wrote.

She goes on to draft a sample letter on her Blackberry, referring to herself in the third person, making up a quote from "Gov. Palin" that references her own turn as "Miss Congeniality" and notes that "First Gentleman" Todd spent two days judging the pageant:

7:16 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy):
Palin and her closest aides weren't fans of Andrew Halcro, the Anchorage blogger who had run against Palin as a third-party candidate in 2006. After suggesting that the governor's staffers were responsible for taking her children to school, the governor and her close aide Ivy Frye exploded.

"Anybody who knows anything knows the governor takes her kids to school by herself or with security every flipping' day," Frye wrote. "Anytime I hang out with you and your family it's because I want to! This guy is a LIAR! I am ticked! I'm calling him on the flipping' carpet. I'm glad he's given me a reason to take the gloves off!"

Palin was equally blunt: "He is a sinful liar. He's got to be called on this."

6:44 p.m. EST (Andy Kroll):
Even before then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain first met Palin, at a National Governors Association meeting in February 2008, Palin had her eyes on the Arizona senator, and was angling to meet the presidential front-runner. In a January 29, 2008, e-mail, Palin wrote to a pair of staffers asking, "Is it possible to get hooked up (maybe by Nick Ayers?) with someone from the McCain campaign?" Palin said that her frayed relationship with the state GOP was akin to McCain's with the national Republican Party. Palin said she wanted to talk with McCain about the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve and his positions on natural resource extraction, and told her staffers to remind McCain's team that Alaska's primary was February 5—Super Tuesday, the biggest voting day in the 2008 primary season. She added, "I should talk to Huck's people too."

6:35 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy):
Palinisms, continued: "Holy flippin A."


5:38 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy): Life imitates art: With the Governor turning into a late-night punchline, revenue commissioner Patrick Galvin proposes a quick fix: "My suggestion is you offer to go on SNL and play Tina Fey, and you interview her as she plays you." Meta.

5:05 p.m. EST (Andy Kroll):
Sarah Palin is apparently a fan of Pastor John Hagee, the controversial leader of Christians United for Israel who, among other incendiary remarks, once alleged that Adolf Hitler's genocide against European Jews was "god's will." In a May 3, 2007, email to her scheduler [PDF], Palin asked if there was free time in her schedule to attend an event of Hagee's at the Juneau Christian Center in June. Told there was nothing penciled in that day, she replied, "I should try to get back to juno for this one."

Nearly a year later, Sen. John McCain, Palin's future running mate, would make headlines by rejecting Hagee's endorsement—after first accepting it—in the face of mounting criticism. McCain called Hagee's Hitler sermon "crazy and unacceptable."

4:55 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy):
Two weeks before she gives birth to her son Trig, the Governor sends a heartfelt letter to family and friends, written from the perspective of "Trig's Creator, Your Heavenly Father." Although distinctly Palin in tenor and diction (sample passage: "What do you 'earthlings' consider 'perfect' or even 'normal' anyway?") the letter [PDF] reveals a different side of the governor.

4:35 p.m. EST (Kate Sheppard):
Among the scandals during Palin's time in office, Dairygate was a minor one—but an email chain from June 2007 gives some insight into Palin's operating style.

Matanuska Maid, a state-run dairy, had been losing money for several years when the state Creamery Board voted to close it down. Palin made a lot of hay about her desire to keep the dairy open, publicly rebuking the board. However, she lacked the power to fire the Creamery Board directly. So instead, Palin fired the entire Alaska Board of Agriculture and Conservation, which has oversight over the dairy panel. The firings hit the news on June 18, 2007.

The emails show that Palin was, at the time, plotting to install Franci Havemeister, a high school friend and real estate agent, as the head of the state's Division of Agriculture. In a June 15 email to Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin, Palin touts, "She'd be so good on the team—get her a great deputy and staff around her and her leadership as Ag Director will be awesome."

She did appoint Havemeister to that post—a $95,000-a-year gig—two months later. The governor's high school pal could cite only "her childhood love of cows" as her qualification for the job.

Before the formal appointment, though, Palin asked Havemeister for suggestions to replace the ag board she planned to fire. In a June 17 email, Palin's chief of staff, Michael Tibbles, writes to Palin, "I can show you Franci's list as well as my draft of how we can get our people plugged in while meeting the statutory requirements for members." In another, Havemeister write to Palin suggesting that several suggested candidates might not be good choices due to loyalties to a previous Mat Maid president. Another email, from Todd Palin to Sarah Palin on the night of the 17th, includes the sub-head "A BOARD NAMES" (as in, Agriculture Board), but the list is redacted.

Another email from Palin on the day her dismissal of the board went public shows that she didn't even know whom she had given the boot to. "I assume Mr. Willard is a former BAC member?" she writes in an email to four staff members, likely referring to Bruce Willard, who was in fact one of the people she'd just fired. "He was on the news tonight, saying I shocked him when I made the abrupt call to him to dismiss him this weekend. Hmmmmm. I've never spoken to him."

4:30 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy):
Palin's obsessive focus on the Lamestream Media predated her arrival on the national stage. "It may drive me crazy trying to catch all the corrections we'll be reading and seeing in the media," she began a note to deputy communications director Sharon Leighow in early August of 2008. "But please help me catch them and ask for the corrections." Among other unconscionable errors, her daughter Piper's age had been misreported as 8, not 7.

4:20 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy):
Sarah vs. the Lamestream Media, Vol. MCMXCVII: After Alaskan blogger (and former gubernatorial candidate) Andrew Halcro writes about a former Palin attorney who left the administration, the Governor responds in characteristic fashion: "What a goof he is... truly annoying":

4:00 p.m. EST (Suzy Khimm):
In 2006, Palin was under investigation for allegedly pushing state officials to fire her former brother-in-law, Mike Wooten, from the state trooper force, reassigning Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan in the process. (The so-called "Branchflower Report" that resulted from the investigation concluded that Palin was guilty of ethics violations but did not call for any criminal charges against her.)

When the probe was first underway, however, Palin and her top chief of staff, Michael Nizich, complained to each other about the investigators' demands, as evidenced by this August 2006 email exchange:


3:45p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Palin began nursing her grudge with the media long before the 2008 presidential election launched her onto the national stage. In an email exchange with Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editor Kelly Bostian, a Palin aide chastised Bostian for publishing a piece accusing the governor of overextending her celebrity. "She could go from superstar to dud in a real big hurry, and we're already hearing rumblings," Bostian explained to the aide. Palin, in response, warned her troops:


3:29 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy): Even before she was tapped as Sen. John McCain's running mate, Palin was battling accusations that she was abusing her position by spending state resources on her family members. In response to a request for travel records, Palin emphasized that she doesn't accept per diems for her kids' meals, and lives at her own home, not a rented apartment. And one more thing: "Show him Murkowski's 'top advisor-my wife' memo also please,'" she wrote, referring to a pretty fantastic memo from scandal-prone former governor Frank Murkowski. Here's the email:

3:25 p.m. EST (David Corn):
Wondering about the redactions in the Sarah Palin emails? Here's an example that arouses suspicions.

On January 14, 2007, Palin sent an email to several aides that included a letter from an Anchorage resident named Mary Walker, who ran a religiously-oriented environmental group, criticizing Palin for urging the federal government to not list the polar bear as a threatened species. The letter noted that Palin's request "had several clear factual errors such as the statement: 'there is no scientific evidence.... that these polar bear populations are declining.'" Walker cited scientific evidence showing a declining polar bear population. She noted that Palin was wrong to say that there was "no discrete human activities that can be regulated" to alter the impact of global warming on the polar bears' habitat, adding, "I believe that her comments were a direct result of bad information."

The portion of the email following the letter, which seems to ask aide Mike Tibbles to respond or take some action is completely excised with this notice: "Privileged or Personal Material Redacted." And all of Tibbles response to Palin is redacted, as well. Here's the image:

3:09 p.m. EST (Andy Kroll):
In a September 15, 2008, email to four state employees, weeks after McCain named her his vice presidential nominee, Palin wrote that "Climate change is a top issue" for her state. Over time, however, Palin would shift on the issue, citing the "junk science" and demanding that President Obama boycott the December 2009 UN climate treaty negotiations in Copenhagen. She has also cast doubt on whether humans have played a role in warming the planet—which the vast majority of the scientific community says is true—and she split with McCain on the issue during the 2008 campaign.

2:51 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy):
 Another Palinism from Palin. In early September 2008, she responded from a word of praise from top aide Michael Nizich, she responded: "Keep hunting, keep being a true Alaskan... keep calling it as you see it—we love the mobster in ya." Here it is:

2:41 p.m. EST (Kate Sheppard)
In the heat of the debate over a controversial natural gas pipeline, Palin used state funds to travel to speak to a group of evangelical students in Wasilla, where she urged them to pray that the pipeline would be approved. It seems the appeal to a higher power for help with the project was administration-wide.

Amid the emails released Friday is one to Palin from Tom Irwin, the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, from shortly after the bill was passed similarly invoking divine intervention on behalf of the pipeline. "Governor, I praise the Lord for you," he wrote, citing a verse from the book of Psalms. "I have saved it for this day," he says of the verse.

There are also emails to her office celebrating the approval from oil and gas executives, like David Keane, vice president of the Houston-based BG Group. Those are considerably less God-focused.

2:22 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta)
Wishful thinking: Palin reacts to the Wall Street Journal's story detailing on Troopergate.

2:09 p.m. EST (Kate Sheppard):
Among the documents released Friday is a long list of emails that Alaska declined to disclose, citing various types privilege. Among them are a number of emails from August and September 2007 about how to name a petroleum tax proposal. A few others:


  • 4/19/07—"email message re: gasline message strategy"
  • 8/7/07 and 8/8/07—"talking points for call with H. Kvisle" (Hal Kvisle is a Canadian oilman and was president of TransCanada at that time.)
  • 8/24/07—"email responding to media questions about Todd Palin's work and potential conflict of interests"
  • 9/12/07—"communications about BP fire"

2:05 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy):
In a letter to aides from her Yahoo! account on August 4, 2008, three weeks before she joined John McCain's ticket, Palin had positive words to say about then-candidate Obama's energy policy:

"He gave a great speech this morn in Michigan—mentioned Alaska. Stole ou[r] Energy Rebate $1000 check idea, stole our TC-Alaska gasline talking points, etc. So.... we need to take advantage of this a[nd] write a statement saying he's right on. (Glad he's flipflopping on OCS, too.) Joe— could you help crank this quick statement out as our 'reaction' to some of Obama's good points this morning"

In a follow-up email, she adds, "He did say 'yay' to our gasoline. Pretty cool. Wrong candidate." Here are the emails:

1:55 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy):
Even in professional correspondence, Palin had a propensity for the folksy expressions that have become her hallmark. After TransCanada CEO Hal Kvislie tells the Globe and Mail in early August of 2008 that its Alaskan pipeline project would not begin until Exxon is "happy," Palin is indignant: "Unflippinbelievable":

1:44 p.m. EST (David Corn):
Those Palinwatchers who suspect she may not be Trig's mother might be interested in this email Palin sent on August 2, 2008:

1:30 p.m. EST
(David Corn): It's been known that Sarah Palin, when she was governor of Alaska, used personal accounts for state business—and that made it difficult for the state to collect her emails in response to the open records request Mother Jones submitted for her emails.

But as this December 2006 email showed, state officials knew that if they wanted to reach her, they had to use her personal email:

By the way, the state said that this release would only cover Palin emails until the end of September. But here's a December 2008 email—without explanation. Sorry, misread that. It's December 2006.

1:18 p.m. EST (Andy Kroll):
Among the e-mails withheld from Mother Jones' record request was a March 8, 2007, email from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. Records show that the email, sent to Palin's governmental email address, pertained to a meeting with a Cheney staffer about "gas pipeline." The email also mentioned "meetings with representatives of Alaska communities about the Endangered Species Act."

Advertise on

House Passes "Redefining Rape" Bill, H.R. 3

| Wed May 4, 2011 11:53 AM EDT

UPDATED: The House of Representatives passed the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" on a 251-175 vote Wednesday afternoon. The bill has been the subject of a lot of controversy over the possibility that it could redefine rape for the purposes of abortion law and force IRS agents to ask questions during audits about whether a woman who had received an abortion had been raped or was the victim of incest. However, the bill is almost certainly DOA in the Senate, which is run by Democrats and is more sympathetic to abortion rights. Even if H.R. 3 did pass the Senate, President Barack Obama has vowed to veto it.

I've been following the action live on Twitter. I'd put a Twitter widget here, but they generally aren't very good (they either show old tweets ahead of new tweets or don't refresh), so I'd encourage you to just follow me on Twitter.

"I Hope This is Settled Now: Rape is Rape."

| Tue May 3, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

In February, House Republicans drew widespread condemnation for pushing a bill, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," or H.R. 3, that would have changed the definition of rape for the purposes of abortion law. They eventually removed the offending language from the bill itself, but they're still after the same goal. I have a piece today about how they're trying to do it again:

Republicans haven't stopped trying to narrow the already small exception under which federal funding for abortions is permissible. They've used a sly legislative maneuver to make sure that even though the language of the bill is different, the effect remains the same.

The backdoor reintroduction of the statutory rape change relies on the use of a committee report, a document that congressional committees produce outlining what they intend a piece of legislation to do. If there's ever a court fight about the interpretation of a law—and when it comes to a subject as contentious as abortion rights, there almost always is—judges will look to the committee report as evidence of congressional intent, and use it to decide what the law actually means.

In this case, the committee report for H.R. 3 says that the bill will "not allow the Federal Government to subsidize abortions in cases of statutory rape." The bill itself doesn't say anything like that, but if a court decides that legislators intended to exclude statutory rape-related abortions from eligibility for Medicaid funding, then that will be the effect.

As I explain in the story, Republicans say they aren't changing anything: They're just codifying existing law, which they say already forbids the use of Medicaid funds to pay for abortions in cases of statutory rape. Almost all the folks I spoke to, including the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which works with state agencies to administer Medicaid, say that's not true: existing law doesn't allow states to distinguish between different types of rape when it comes to funding abortions.

But Douglas Johnson, the legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and a top anti-abortion lobbyist, agrees with the Republicans that a current law, the Hyde Amendment, already makes a distinction between different types of rape. When pressed for evidence to support that assertion, Johnson noted that many federal abortion laws have been interpreted in "widely varying ways depending on who is doing the interpreting." Just because "the current gang at CMS" interprets the law a certain way, that "doesn't mean that the House Judiciary Committee report statement is wrong," Johnson says.

Johnson has a point, and perhaps a future Republican president could choose to interpret the Hyde Amendment in this matter. But when I followed up with a CMS spokeswoman, she was adamant that Johnson is mistaken: "As we said before, we have always considered rape to be rape and we have never made a distinction under the Hyde amendment on different types of rape under any administration that we can remember," she said. "I hope this is settled now: rape is rape."

NARAL Pro-Choice America has also issued a statement:

"The anti-choice House leadership faced fierce public backlash against the original 'redefining rape' fiasco," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "Any attempt to reintroduce this outrageous provision would be unconscionable, and will only further galvanize Americans against anti-choice politicians who are wildly out of touch with the values and priorities of our country."

Osama Bin Laden Is Dead

| Mon May 2, 2011 1:46 PM EDT
Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda and the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, was killed on Sunday in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda and the mastermind of the September 11th attacks, was killed on Sunday in Pakistan. Here's what we know so far.

Where was Bin Laden killed? He was killed in a "compound near Abbottabad," which is a relatively wealthy city of about one million people about 150 km north of Pakistan's capital of Islamabad.

How did he die?  The operation was a "surgical strike" by a small US team that entered by helicopter. The team was in the compound for under 40 minutes. Bin Laden was killed in a firefight and US forces took his body with them when they left. Early reports suggested that Bin Laden was shot in the head, but the White House has not confirmed that detail. NBC has reported that he was shot in the left eye. According to ABC, he was shot a second time to make sure he was dead.

Who killed him? In a background briefing, senior administration officials declined to say whether the operation was military or non-military (e.g., CIA). But the buzz elsewhere is that this was a military operation executed by the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG or DEVGRU), once known as SEAL Team Six. It's the special counterterror operations group of the naval special operations community. The SEALS were reportedly under the command of the Joint Special Operations Command and carried out the operation with the help of the CIA. "In all, 79 commandos and a dog were involved in the raid," according to the New York Times.

Were there eyewitnesses to the raid? Abu Dhabi's The National newspaper reports that witnesses in Abbottabad awoke around 12:45 am local time on Sunday to the sounds of explosions coming from a house in the suburb of Bilal Town, and saw three helicopters firing on the bin Laden compound. The shooting ended around 2:00 am. "We watched as one of the helicopters was shot down and exploded when it hit the ground," said Ehtesham-ul-Haq, 30, a businessman who watched from his home.

The National also reports that top members of Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban currently hiding out in Pakistan are preparing to flee the country, according to a Karachi-based militant source. "Right now, the priority is safety. All leading figures will be constantly on the move, not staying at one location for more than 15 minutes," said the source, who added that they will eventually return to Afghanistan.

The Arabic news network Al-Arabiya says bin Laden's twelve-year-old daughter witnessed his death.

How did we find him? The US began hunting some suspected Bin Laden couriers over four years ago. Eventually, US officials became aware of the compound in Abottabad. The compound was eight times the size of the surrounding houses, and it had huge walls that were so high that people on the third floor still had seven-foot walls shielding them from outside view. The occupants burned all their trash (not a common local practice) and didn't have any phone or internet access. There were signs that a family matching the size of the Bin Laden clan was living there in secret. The courier who was living there with his brother had no discernible source of income, another tip-off for US intelligence.

Did Bin Laden fight back? Senior administration officials said Bin Laden "resisted" but would not say if he used any weapon in doing so. According to ABC, "Bin Laden himself fired his weapon during the fight" and "was asked to surrender but did not." White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan told journalists Monday, "There was a female who was in fact in the line of shield bin Laden from the gunfire," adding that it spoke to "the nature of the individual." But on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney changed the story, saying that though bin Laden put up a fight, he was unarmed.

How long was he hiding in the compound? The compound was custom-built about five years ago to hide "someone of significance," according to a senior administration official. Based on the location given by the New York Times, the compound is located less than a mile from the parade ground of the Pakistan Miltary Academy, "Pakistan's West Point," whose graduates include former President Pervez Musharraf. (The spot in central Abbottabad identified as "Osama bin Laden's compound" on Google Maps is not correct.) Here's video of what could be the compound burning:

And here's video from ABC News taken inside the compound:


Who knew the raid was coming? The intelligence about the compound was not shared with any other country, including Pakistan. Only a very small number of people within the US government knew of the raid.

How was he able to hide so long undetected? There are good reasons why we didn't tell the Pakistanis. The New Yorker's Steve Coll, a bona fide AfPak/bin Laden expert, has an excellent post on the killing. He says the evidence suggests that "bin Laden was effectively being housed under Pakistani state control." Read the whole thing.

Was anyone else killed in the raid? No Americans were killed. Three adult males besides Bin Laden were killed in the raid, reportedly including one of Bin Laden's sons. One woman was killed when she was used as a human shield and another woman was injured. One helicopter was lost to mechanical failure and destroyed on the spot, according to the White House. Given that, this story from the Pakistani newspaper Dawn seems super-interesting. One resident who heard the commotion of the raid tweeted, "A huge window shaking bang here…I hope its [sic] not the start of something nasty."

Was anyone captured? Early reports suggested that a number of members of bin Laden's family were captured in the attack. National Journal's Marc Ambinder originally reported that a total of 22 people were "captured or killed"—which would indicate that US forces captured as many as 17 people—but he now says 22 people were "counted." (He says his sources changed their story.)

Where is Bin Laden's body? A US official says bin Laden's body has been buried at sea, reports the Associated Press. Politico's Mike Allen says the burial happened "less than 12 hours" after bin Laden was killed. CBS News reports that the sea burial occurred after Saudi Arabia refused to take the body. Senior administration officials had promised that his body would be handled according to Islamic practice, which requires a quick burial. "Finding a country willing to accept the remains of the world's most wanted terrorist would have been difficult, the official said. So the US decided to bury him at sea." The official did not immediately say where that occurred. The Guardian reports that some Islamic scholars are saying that sea burials are not generally permitted under Islamic law. John Brennan, the president's top counterterrorism adviser, said in a White House briefing Monday that potential burial scenarios had been weighed and planned for months.

How do we know it was him? Multiple reports say that the US has DNA confirmation.

Wait, we had Bin Laden's DNA? Actually, according to ABC's Brian Ross, the US had DNA from Bin Laden's sister, who died of brain cancer in Boston several years ago.

Are there pictures from the compound? The Pentagon released some in a briefing Monday morning. Here's a schematic of the compound:

And some aerial shots:

How long has this been planned? President Obama reportedly asked for a plan to take out bin Laden back in June 2009. In August 2010, US intelligence learned about the location of the compound. The attack has been planned for months and the special forces involved practiced extensively. National Journal's Yochi Dreazen says that SEALS "built a full-scale mockup of bin Ladin's compound and spent weeks practicing the raid and learning layout." Politico's Allen says "The SEALs held rehearsals of the raid on April 7 and April 13, with officials monitoring the action from Washington." Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy and Aamer Madhani at National Journal have each posted a rundown of what was known about the operation as of Sunday night. According to Rogin, the meetings Obama convened with his national security team concerning the operation were held on March 14, March 29, April 12, April 19, and April 28. And Rogin breaks down the the chain of events from over the weekend that led to the final go-ahead: 

The final decision to go forward with the operation was made at 8:20 AM on Friday, April 29 in the White House's Diplomatic Room. In the room at the time were [national security adviser Tom] Donilon, his deputy Denis McDonough, and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan. Donilon prepared the formal orders.

On Sunday, Obama went to play golf in the morning at Andrews Air Force Base. He played 9 holes in chilly, rainy weather and spent a little time on the driving range, as well. Meanwhile, the principals were assembling in the situation room at the White House. They were there from 1:00 PM and stayed put for the rest of the day.

At 2:00, Obama met with the principals back at the White House. At 3:32 he went to the situation room for another briefing. At 3:50 he was told that bin Laden was "tentatively identified." At 7:01 Obama was told there was a "high probability" the high value target at the compound was bin Laden. At 8:30 Obama got the final briefing.

Before speaking to the nation, Obama called former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Who was in the know during the raid? Allen has the details:

Obama monitored the operation all day from the Situation Room, surrounded by Donilon, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and others. [CIA Director Leon] Panetta was at CIA headquarters, where he had turned his conference room into a command center that gave him constant contact with the tactical leaders of the strike team.

Who's Bin Laden's successor? The short answer is: no one. Bin Laden's number two is Ayman al-Zawahiri, but he does not command the same following or loyalty as the late Al Qaeda leader. According to the New Yorker's Lawrence Wright, author of the definitive history of Al Qaeda, Zawahiri "has few of the qualities that would make for a successful leader. He’s anti-charismatic. He ran his own Egyptian terror organization, al-Jihad, into the ground." Also on the shortlist is Anwar al-Awlaki, the US born cleric who's now in hiding in Yemen (and who apparently inspired the Underwear bomber and the Fort Hood shooter). But compared to Bin Laden, as Al Qaeda expert Peter Bergen put it on CNN, al-Awlaki's a "dwarf."

Are we worried about potential retaliation? US military bases around the world are on high alert in case of retaliation. The government has been preparing for this eventuality for a long time. The US has not heard of any specific retaliation threats against any specific targets. In a statement to agency employees, outgoing CIA director Leon Panetta said: "The terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge him, and we must—and will—remain vigilant and resolute."

What are Islamists/conservatives/active-duty soldiers saying about Bin Laden's death? Check in with all of them here.

What does former President George W. Bush think? Here's his statement.

Here's President Obama's speech:

Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory -- hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.

And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.

On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.

We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice. We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda -- an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. And so we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.

Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we’ve made great strides in that effort. We’ve disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government, which had given bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support. And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot.

Yet Osama bin Laden avoided capture and escaped across the Afghan border into Pakistan. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continued to operate from along that border and operate through its affiliates across the world.

And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.

Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.

Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must –- and we will -- remain vigilant at home and abroad.

As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who’s been gravely wounded.

So Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.

Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.

We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.

Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores.

And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.

The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

Here's a transcript of a background conference call held by senior administration officials just minutes after President Obama’s announcement of Bin Laden's death. An excerpt:

[W]ithout a doubt, the United States will continue to face terrorist threats. The United States will continue to fight those threats. We have always understood that this fight would be a marathon and not a sprint.

There's also no doubt that the death of Osama bin Laden marks the single greatest victory in the U.S.-led campaign to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. It is a major and essential step in bringing about al Qaeda’s eventual destruction.

Bin Laden was al Qaeda’s only (inaudible) commander in its 22-year history, and was largely responsible for the organization’s mystique, its attraction among violent jihadists, and its focus on America as a terrorist target.

The New America Foundation's Peter Bergen and Steve Coll—who literally wrote the books on the bin Ladens—held a conference call for reporters Monday afternoon. Among the questions asked and topics discussed:

Ultimately, did the policies of the Bush administration deliver bin Laden? Coll remains curious about the extent to which Bush-era interrogation policies bred the intelligence that led to the killing of bin Laden. He pointed out that the information could have come from multiple interrogations of several detainees held at Guantanomo Bay, and that it's entirely unclear whether any of it came as a result torture. "I suspect we'll get more clarity about that as time goes along," Coll speculated.

Where are the pictures? Bergen is convinced that pictures of bin Laden's dead body exist, and noted that post mortem photos of past high value targets—like Uday and Kusay, the sons of Saddam Hussein—send a commanding message to their allies and enemies alike. Bergen predicted that the pictures will be released eventually.

How does this recast the US' relationship with Pakistan? In the wake of the Raymond Davis episode, the Pakistani government demanded that the United States withdraw all its covert operatives from within its borders; such an extraction would, inevitably, have substantially weakened the United States' ability to conduct the sort of unilateral mission that it executed on Sunday.

Coll stressed that there's much more than meets the eye to the Davis episode, and said that he has a pretty good guess as to what actually went down (but he refuses to speculate until he has more facts). "If what I understand to have taken place took place, it will provide context for this" operation, he said.

But he cautioned against concluding that the Davis affair and the bin Laden raid are in any way causally related. Given that the US was preparing to embark on perhaps its most ambitious secret mission ever, he said, it "makes sense that they would be stubborn about resisting changes in the paradigm" that could have hindered its plans.

Bergen, meanwhile, thinks that the operation "provide[d] a possibility for a reset of this terrible Pakistan/America relationship," and could result in dialed down drone activity along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. 

Mon Feb. 4, 2013 11:23 AM EST
Tue Nov. 6, 2012 9:47 PM EST
Fri Sep. 21, 2012 5:40 PM EDT
Sun Aug. 19, 2012 6:21 PM EDT
Mon Jul. 30, 2012 11:16 AM EDT
Mon Jul. 9, 2012 10:04 AM EDT
Thu Jun. 28, 2012 12:40 PM EDT
Wed Jun. 20, 2012 7:30 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 11, 2012 10:32 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 4, 2012 9:43 AM EDT
Wed May. 9, 2012 3:01 AM EDT
Tue Mar. 20, 2012 11:15 AM EDT
Fri Feb. 10, 2012 1:56 PM EST
Mon Jan. 23, 2012 11:08 PM EST