Wow. Our experiment is off to a great start—let's see if we can finish it off sooner than expected.
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, msnbc.com, 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.
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:
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."
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:
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."