A massive trove of emails released Friday from Sarah Palin's time as governor show a chief executive who was engrossed with countering her critics and increasingly upset at news coverage as she vaulted into international celebrity.
The state of Alaska released 24,199 printed pages of emails that Palin sent or received as governor. They show Palin coming into office preoccupied with making appointments and filling staff positions, like any governor, but also pledging to be open and transparent.
"I've asked that you all share your opinions, speak freely to the press, public, one another, etc...I have great faith that we're on the right path going a new direction here with freedom in information sharing," Palin wrote in an email to commissioners and top staff members early in 2007, about a month after taking office.
But as Palin took public relations hits, whether it be in news stories, talk radio, letters to the editor or just anonymous comments on blogs, she appeared to become increasingly focused on counterpunching. At one point in 2008, Palin ghost-wrote a letter to the editor, quoting herself, apparently feeling the need to counter an earlier letter to the editor that had criticized Palin for failing to show up at that year's Miss Alaska pageant. Palin prepared the response and asked her aides to find someone to submit it to the Daily News under their own name.
Palin was particularly sensitive to comments on the Daily News' politics blog. At one point she asked that Alaska State Troopers check out one of the most critical commentators, Sherry Whitstine of Wasilla.
"I think our security guys should check into her because the times she's blogged about Todd's schedule and what we drive have really infringed on our privacy rights and potential safety when psychos know when Todd's out of town," she wrote.
In another email Palin speculated on the identity of "rfn," another person who left comments on the Daily News blog. "He started off as a big supporter, now he's a critic who picks and chooses what issues to support us on," Palin wrote, and wondered if the commenter was a member of the media.
She wrote in a different email to officials working on her natural gas pipeline project that she was fascinated by how another person who left anonymous comments on the Daily News blog had turned "from his support of the administration to his slamming of us the past few weeks."
Palin suggested that the commenter was lobbyist Paul Fuhs ("he told us his pen name months ago"), and attributed his turnaround to Palin's dismissal of his friend John Bitney as her legislative liaison. She lamented that another commenter had inside information about her administration, calling it a sign of an internal problem.
Palin's team was also focused on countering criticism.
One example, from April 24, 2008, is an email from Palin communications director Roseanne Hughes to the top members of the governor's staff. "Now. About the blogs. As you know, our boss is getting pounded. Let's take action. TODAY."
"Frank and Ivy, if you could get the word out to your contacts - grassroots supporters who love our boss - we need to get them out there FLOODING that Anchorage Daily News Alaska politics blog. I mean FLOODING," Hughes wrote.
She offered ideas of what people could say, including "quoting Newt Gingrich that Governor Palin is one of the most aggressive reformers in the country."
Emails from early in her term demonstrate Palin's openness to answering questions from the press. She picked favorites among reporters and tried to spin stories to her advantage, like anyone in politics, but expressed a desire to engage.
She became increasingly frustrated with the questions she was being asked, however.
She expressed incredulity that a reporter was working on a story about the state paying for her daughter, Piper, to join her on a trip to Barrow. As Palin did repeatedly in the emails, she said people should take a look at what her predecessor as governor, Frank Murkowski, did in office.
"Huh? Is he writing a story on the First Family's invitation to attend a native celebration?..And we didnt even spend the night so no hotel! And my travel is 1/4 what Murk's was, despite having a large family that's always invited to all these Alaskan first family events," Palin wrote her top staffers from her firstname.lastname@example.org private email account.
Just days before McCain picked her in 2008, she lamented questions about her family travel: "Amazing, the scrutiny we are under..."
Another email string shows Palin chief of staff Mike Nizich giving Palin advice in how to handle a reporter asking about Palin accepting state per diem payments for nights she spent in her own Wasilla home. It includes talking points like "State of Alaska rented an apartment in Anchorage for Governor Murkowski" and "Governor Murkowski's travel in 2006 totaled $525,392."
On the campaign trail she expressed astonishment that the governor's office was being asked questions like whether she believed dinosaurs and humans had walked the Earth together. "Arghhhh!" she wrote. "I am so sorry that the office is swamped like this! Dinosaurs even?!"
PICK WAS A SURPRISE
Palin didn't seem to be expecting a vice-presidential run. In an Aug. 5, 2008, email, Palin asks staff to find a place in "already-booked-up" Minneapolis-St. Paul, site of the 2008 Republican convention, and where it eventually turned out that she'd make her debut as a national political figure.
But her staff was speculating about her political future right before McCain chose her, with Palin spokesman Bill McAllister telling a staff member and the governor in an Aug. 22, 2008, email that conservative commentator Laura Ingraham was talking up Palin on Fox as a good vice presidential pick.
Palin herself had been intent on meeting McCain at a National Governor's Association conference that February. She asked if Nick Ayers, the executive director of the Republican Governor's Association, could make it happen. "Can Ayers find us another way to get in touch with McCain? He obviously doesn't need Alaska, but it'd still be good to talk to him before too long," Palin emailed to Kris Perry, one of her top aides.
Well-wishers and haters alike emailed the governors official account after McCain chose her. Some called for Palin to be shot from a plane like an Alaska wolf, others asked Palin to appear at charity runs or hold fundraisers in their home state.
RELEASE WAS FORCED
Friday's release of Palin emails comes as she says she's considering making her own run for president in 2012.
The release, which came as a result of public records request first filed in 2008, caused a media sensation. The volume of the material released was huge, and Palin supporters complained it was over the top.
Reporters descended on Juneau on Friday to collect their six boxes of emails, and media organizations went to extreme lengths to get the printed pages scanned and posted on their websites within hours.
More than 20 reporters and photographers crammed into an office near the Capitol building to load the emails up on hand trucks and cart them away.
MSNBC.com set up shop at Juneau's Centennial Hall and shared a set of records with volunteers from the League of Women Voters and the Retired Public Employees of Alaska, who the news website said would be "chewing through bagels and the stacks of documents." A Pittsburgh-based document company called Crivella West was in the same room scanning another set of the documents to be posted online.
The emails that were released on Friday show Palin involved in state issues, from bringing up the natural gas pipeline to appointments, to putting together speeches and attending public events.
"The thousands upon thousands of emails released today show a very engaged Governor Sarah Palin being the CEO of her state. The emails detail a Governor hard at work. Everyone should read them," said a statement from Tim Crawford, treasurer of Palin's political action committee.
The emails released cover from when Palin took office at the end of 2006 until the end of September 2008, in the heat of the vice presidential campaign. What they don't cover are the tumultuous final months of Palin's term, when she returned to Alaska after the McCain-Palin loss until her abrupt resignation in July 2009.
Other records requests have been filed for those emails; the state isn't saying when they'll be released.
The state is withholding more than 2,000 pages of Palin's 2006-2008 emails, having deemed them exempt from Alaska's public disclosure law. The state's lawyers made recommendations for what to withhold and the final decision was made by the governor's office, which includes holdovers from the Palin administration. A set of the emails to be released was also previously sent for review to Palin's lawyer, John Tiemessen of Fairbanks. The state says that the Palin team made no requests to redact or withhold any of those records.
The withheld emails include subjects like "communications w. Sen Stevens" (Palin had a sometimes rocky relationship with Ted Stevens) and strategies for responding to Palin critics like radio talk show host Dan Fagan and former legislator/blogger Andrew Halcro. Most of them were withheld for the reasoning of "Executive/Deliberative Process," a broad exemption to the Alaska records law that covers internal discussions of policy before a decision is made.
Daily News reporters Kyle Hopkins and Richard Mauer contributed to this story.