Gov. Sarah Palin, the day after coming back to Alaska from her two-month run for vice president, was sorting through which clothes to send back while under attack from anonymous John McCain staffers in a frenzy of finger-pointing.
"It's a circling firing squad," said Meg Stapleton, who is under contract as the governor's campaign spokesman for the next week.
The anonymously sourced salvos are being launched in media including Newsweek, Fox News and The New York Times. The claims include that Palin didn't know Africa is a continent, went on shopping sprees on the Republican Party's dime, and threw tantrums that left staff in tears. Palin supporters said it's just people trying to scapegoat the governor for the unsuccessful presidential campaign.
Palin flew into Anchorage late Wednesday night from the campaign trail, greeted by shivering fans and questions from reporters. The governor said she wouldn't comment on "false allegations" made by anonymous McCain staffers.
"If they're an unnamed source, then that says it all. I won't comment on anybody's gossip, or allegations that are based on anonymous sources," Palin told reporters after stepping from her last flight on the McCain-Palin campaign home.
Palin was at home in Wasilla on Thursday and not giving interviews, while an aide sorted through luggage to identify campaign clothes purchased by the Republican National Committee. The high-end clothing, which Palin intends to return so it can be donated to charity, became a controversy that is still following her.
Stapleton spoke to Palin about the clothes, the anonymous accusations and frustrations the governor had on the trail. Stapleton said some campaign staff members controlled Palin too tightly, keeping her from the press and admonishing her when she made calls to radio hosts Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and others.
"Instead of just letting her be who she wanted to be they still felt this need to control. ...There were a few times where she actually did sneak in phone calls and was reprimanded for picking up the phone and placing a few calls on her own," Stapleton said.
"She felt that she really did want to go out and speak and get out there more. One of them was to (the Daily News). There were a number of times where she reached out and really wanted to speak and she was told she needed to follow the script and she needed to follow what they wanted her to do and that wasn't in the plan."
Stapleton said Palin called the staff of Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly. But the campaign got wind of it and told her O'Reilly had canceled the interview, which wasn't true.
Randy Scheunemann, McCain's foreign policy aide, contacted the Daily News at Stapleton's request Thursday and defended the governor. He praised Palin and said anonymous attacks from other staffers are "disappointing and dishonorable."
"It's really amazing, I think it's unprecedented in terms of presidential politics to have this level of vindictiveness and pettiness. It's like these people fell out of favor with a middle school 14-year-old girls' clique. It's really unbelievable," Scheunemann said.
Scheunemann, who played a major role in preparing Palin for the vice presidential debate, said he doesn't believe the claim that Palin thought Africa was a country and not a continent.
"Her debate performance speaks for itself. ... The idea that she could stand up on the stage with somebody who's been in the Senate for 35 years and discuss domestic and foreign policy as effectively as she did, and yet somehow she doesn't know who is in NAFTA and doesn't know that Africa is a continent and not a country is laughable," he said.
Much of the infighting is over the Republican National Committee's purchase of more than $150,000 in clothes for Palin as well as her family. Anonymous aides have described it as a Palin shopping spree that went even further than previously reported, including staffers using their own credit cards to clothe her.
Palin supporters tell a different story. Stapleton said the campaign brought in a New York stylist to Minneapolis, where Palin was sequestered in a hotel suite practicing her speech for the Republican National Convention. The stylist's job was to make Palin look vice presidential, Stapleton said, and the campaign went out and bought the clothes, bringing them back for Palin and family members to try on.
Stapleton said Palin never went shopping for high-end clothes herself and objected when she saw the price tag on one of the items, only to be told it's necessary as a candidate.
"She was thrown into it with, here's your chief of staff, here's your personal assistant, here's your foreign policy adviser. By the way you're part of this campaign and here are the clothes you're going to wear," Stapleton said.
The question now is what's going to happen with the clothes. The Republican National Committee has said they'll be donated to charity. The New York Times reported anonymous advisers describing the campaign as incredulous about the shopping and saying Republican National Committee lawyers were likely to go to Alaska to conduct an inventory and try to account for all that was spent.
Stapleton said Palin has no notice of any RNC lawyers coming to town. She said Palin asked that everything not belonging to her -- including clothes -- be taken off her campaign plane in Phoenix before she returned to Alaska on Wednesday.
That didn't happen, Stapeleton said, so Palin and another aide were going through the luggage in Wasilla on Thursday, sorting through what belongs to Palin and what does not.
The clothes are "not her property. It's the property of either the RNC or the campaign and so they have said it will go to charity. The governor would love for it to go to an Alaska charity but I don't know," she said.
Stapleton said another question is what's going to happen with the "boxes and boxes and boxes" of gifts either given to Palin or a family member on the campaign trail, or shipped to her in Alaska. She said the gifts have to be valued to see what Palin is allowed to keep, and what she has to disclose.
"I think we're in the inventory stage," she said.
Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344.Photos: Palin comes home to vote
Video: From the airport to Wasilla and back
By SEAN COCKERHAM