Palin asked McCain staff to lie about her husband's involvement with secessionists, and Steve Schmidt said no
As CBS News reported Wednesday, Salon’s coverage of Sarah and Todd Palin’s ties to the secessionist Alaska Independence Party sparked a lively e-mail spat between Palin and McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt. The climax is a withering note from Schmidt to the vice-presidential nominee — AKA “rogue diva” — rejecting her request that the campaign essentially lie about Todd Palin’s seven-year membership in the secessionist group.
I wanted to clear up one question the CBS News story raised for me: whether Palin or her staff had gotten media inquiries about the Alaska first couple’s involvement with the fringe party. Certainly Salon asked about it multiple times, and got no reply from either Palin’s staff or McCain’s, but I can’t speak to whether other outlets also asked about the story. All I know is, they should have.
Todd Purdum’s Vanity Fair story opened the door on this new round of reporting on the Palin-McCain feud. But where Purdum’s piece was long on juicy gossip from anonymous sources, the CBS News story delivers names, dates and clear details on exactly what Palin and Schmidt were fighting about: in this case, Palin’s effort to whitewash her husband’s long association with the fringe group.
Salon took the lead in reporting on the Palins’ ties to AIP, from David Talbot’s interview with Palin-admiring party leader Lynette Clark to the Oct. 10 investigative piece that set Palin off: Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert’s deep exploration of how AIP members aided Palin’s rise to power, and how she paid them back, from firing Wasilla city employees they opposed, to trying (unsuccessfully) to appoint one party leader to the Wasilla City Council.
When CNN covered Blumenthal and Neiwert’s scoop, Palin demanded that the McCain campaign respond. “Pls get in front of that ridiculous issue that’s cropped up all day today — two reporters, a protestor’s sign, and many shout-outs all claiming Todd’s involvement in an anti-American political party,” Palin wrote to Schmidt, Nicolle Wallace and Rick Davis. “It’s bull, and I don’t want to have to keep reacting to it … Pls have statement given on this so it’s put to bed.” Schmidt fired back: “Ignore it. He was a member of the aip? My understanding is yes. That is part of their platform. Do not engage the protestors. If a reporter asks say it is ridiculous. Todd loves america.”
(Although Schmidt comes off as the stand-up guy here, it’s nice to see that the GOP default, even when accused of supporting occasionally violent secessionist whack jobs, is always simply “We love America,” as though Democrats don’t. The implication is: ”Todd Palin loves America — unlike that Jill Biden!”)
But that wasn’t enough for Palin. She dragged out the Big Lies — secession isn’t what the AIP’s about, and anyway, Todd wasn’t really a member.
“That’s not part of their platform and he was only a ‘member’ bc independent alaskans too often check that ‘Alaska Independent’ box on voter registrations thinking it just means non partisan. He caught his error when changing our address and checked the right box. I still want it fixed.”
Admirably, Schmidt wasn’t having any of it.
“Secession,” he wrote to Palin. “It is their entire reason for existence. A cursory examination of the website shows that the party exists for the purpose of seceding from the union. That is the stated goal on the front page of the web site. Our records indicate that todd was a member for seven years. If this is incorrect then we need to understand the discrepancy. The statement you are suggesting be released would be innaccurate. The innaccuracy would bring greater media attention to this matter and be a distraction. According to your staff there have been no media inquiries into this and you received no questions about it during your interviews. If you are asked about it you should smile and say many alaskans who love their country join the party because it speeks to a tradition of political independence. Todd loves his country.
“We will not put out a statement and inflame this and create a situation where john has to adress this.”
It’s not quite true there were “no media inquiries” on the links between the Palins and AIP; Blumenthal and Neiwert did, in fact, contact Palin’s staff, as well as the McCain campaign when Palin didn’t reply. “I contacted Palin’s staff personally, explained the nature of my query and who I was writing for, and gave them my contact info,” Neiwert confirms in an e-mail. “I never heard back from them. I also sent an e-mail, which I’ve forwarded to you.” The e-mail, to firstname.lastname@example.org, laid out in detail what the pair found about Palin’s ties to AIP extremists. They got no reply. It’s hard to believe no other reporters queried Palin and the campaign about her ties to extremists, but then again, looking at the lackluster, personality-driven reporting on the 2008 election, maybe it’s not that hard to believe.
Still, it’s nice that even if Schmidt and the campaign wouldn’t talk to us directly about the story, they weren’t willing to lie about Palin’s ties to the AIP, as she requested. It’s also fascinating that Palin chose to focus on the passing reference to her husband’s ties to the party, when the story was about her own. With Mark Sanford and John Ensign out of the 2012 race, Palin supporters had to be hoping her star would rise. But while the 2008 GOP infighting makes everyone involved look bad, in different ways, one thing comes through clearly: Palin is both deeply uninformed, as well as arrogant about being clueless. It’s a deadly combination, and her GOP enemies are likely to stop her before Democrats have to.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
More Related Stories
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Guantánamo prisoner on hunger strike cries for help on Twitter
- 3 possible solutions to international tax avoidance
- “I just want the U.S. to send my father home”
- Army weapons engineer tied to white nationalist organizations
- Ted Cruz against the world
- David Vitter's hypocritical, punitive, horrible new amendment
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- Could hackers destroy the U.S. power grid?
- Democrats may be even worse than Republicans at regulating Wall Street
- Eric Holder versus journalism
- A progressive defense of drones
- There's no substitute for government disaster relief
- Holder signed off on search warrant for reporter
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- Closing Gitmo is not enough
- Murkowski: Palin too disengaged to run for Senate
- In IRS scandal, new GOP tactic is ignorance
- Code Pink activist berates Obama at national security speech
- Cuomo: "Shame on us" if New York City elects Weiner
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11