Palin attorney decries 'defamatory' rumors

LEGAL ACTION: Speculation flies in wake of governor's resignation.

July 4, 2009 

Gov. Sarah Palin's personal attorney issued a statement Saturday denouncing rumors that Palin resigned because she is under criminal investigation and threatening legal action for publishing "defamatory" material about the governor.

"I can say definitively I am aware of no criminal investigation whatsoever involving Sarah Palin. Zero," Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Flein, said in a phone interview as he attended the Fourth of July festivities on the Delaney Park Strip in Anchorage.

Earlier in the day, Palin's personal spokeswoman, Meg Stapleton, sent out a statement from Van Flein attacking "false and defamatory allegations that the 'real' reasons for Governor Palin's resignation stem from an alleged criminal investigation pertaining to the construction of the Wasilla Sports Complex."

Rumors that Palin steered contracts for the 2003 construction of the Wasilla Sports Complex before leaving office as Wasilla mayor the previous fall, in return for work building her home about the same time, have been around at least since the vice presidential campaign last fall. They've resurfaced on many Web sites this weekend following her abrupt announcement she will resign from office in three weeks. Palin's house, almost 3,500 square feet with four bedrooms and four baths, is on a two-acre site along scenic Lake Lucille in Wasilla and is assessed at $532,500.

Van Flein wrote in his Saturday letter that the Palin family built the Lake Lucille house using Palin's husband, Todd, as general contractor. It said Todd "is no stranger to construction."

"The Palins used a combination of personal savings, equity from the sale of their private home, and conventional bank financing to build the house, like millions of American families" Van Flein wrote.

Van Flein's letter threatening legal action specifically pointed the finger at Alaska blogger Shannyn Moore as "most notably" claiming as "fact" that Palin resigned under federal investigation.

Van Flein, asked why he singled out Moore, said it's because she went on national television and talked about it. Moore was on with MSNBC's David Shuster on Friday, the day Palin said she will resign.

"There is a scandal rumor here that there is a criminal investigation into some activities and that's been rumored for about, I don't know, probably six weeks or two months," Moore told him.

She said she's never seen Palin appear as nervous as she did at the press conference announcing her resignation and "I think she was actually doing damage control for news that's coming up later."

Van Flein wrote that "we will be exploring legal options this week to address such defamation." In an interview, Van Flein said it's not clear what those options might be. His letter cites the freedom of speech clause in the Alaska Constitution, and its statement that "every person may freely speak, write, and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right."

Anchorage attorney Peter Maassen, who last fall successfully defended legislators sued in an effort to stop the "Troopergate" investigation of the governor, said Van Flein would have an extremely hard time winning any legal action.

"If (Palin) is actually a public figure, which clearly she is, there has to be actual malice involved, in my understanding of defamation law. That would be very hard to prove. ... It's a very, very high bar if it is a public figure," he said.

Moore said she always characterized it as rumors and never claimed it was fact. She said she has no idea if Palin is under investigation for the construction of her house or anything else, but that the governor's resignation from office was so out of character it's raising questions about what's going on.

"I haven't defamed the governor, I reported on speculation and rumor in Alaska. ... It's not my rumor; it's been out there for 10 months and the First Amendment protects me," Moore said. "Even if I didn't say it's 'rumors and speculation,' I'm still protected -- I would just lose credibility, which I'm not willing to do."

Van Flein wrote that his letter "is to provide notice to Ms. Moore, and those who re-publish this defamation, such as Huffington Post, MSNBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post, that the Palins will not allow them to propagate defamatory material without answering to this in a court of law."

The New York Times and Washington Post haven't written anything about this, but Van Flein said he believed they were asking questions. "What I've been informed is that they've been interviewing people in Wasilla about this, and have tried to interview the governor's parents about it," Van Flein said.

His letter said the Wasilla sports complex project was publicly bid and that having Spenard Builders Supply involved in the complex work as well as being a source of materials for the Palin home proves nothing. "Prior to the construction of Lowe's and Home Depot within the last few years in Wasilla, Spenard Builders Supply was the primary building supply company in Wasilla. It can hardly come as a surprise that it would sell materials to small homeowners or that it would also bid to supply commercial contracts," the letter said.


Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344.

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