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Alaska releases Sarah Palin's emails

Posted: June 10, 2011 - 12:36pm

JUNEAU — Alaska officials on Friday released thousands of pages of Sarah Palin's emails, giving a glimpse of her time as governor, her struggles in dealing with gossip about her family and her rise to national prominence as the GOP vice presidential nominee.

Reporters and photographers crowded into a small office to pick up the six boxes of emails — 24,199 pages and weighing 250 pounds. Some carried the boxes down the stairs and others, wheeling them on dollies, scrambled to be the first ones to reach elevators.

Within minutes of the release, Palin tweeted a link to the website for "The Undefeated," a documentary about her time as governor and her entrance onto the national political stage.

Her supporters, meanwhile, encouraged everyone to read the messages.

"The thousands upon thousands of emails released today show a very engaged Governor Sarah Palin being the CEO of her state," said Tim Crawford, the treasurer of her political action committee, Sarah PAC. "The emails detail a Governor hard at work."

Palin has been placing in the top tier of potential presidential candidates in polls of Republican voters. Her recent bus tour of the Northeast fueled speculation about her national ambitions. However, she has said she has not yet decided whether she will enter the 2012 race.

Many news organizations, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and msnbc.com, began scanning and posting the emails on their websites. The New York Times asked readers to join reporters in reviewing the documents.

The emails released Friday were first requested during the 2008 White House race by citizens and news organizations, including The Associated Press, as they vetted a nominee whose political experience included less than one term as governor and a term as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.

The nearly three-year delay has been attributed largely to the sheer volume of the release. Lawyers went through every page to redact sensitive government information. Another reason was the nearly 500 open records requests during Palin's time in office, and state records officers being told to deal with smaller, easier ones first.

The emails cover the period from the time she took office in December 2006 to her ascension to vice presidential nominee in September 2008.

In the months before she was named the nominee, Palin's emails showed a governor dealing with complaints, rumors and gossip about her family. In several, she asked about the identity of someone who alleged that she had not buckled her son, Trig, properly into his car seat.

In another, she lamented about gossip about her family and marriage. Palin and her daughter, Bristol, appeared to be traveling in a car, and Bristol emailed a Palin staffer in July: "Mom and I were just praying about the hurt and anger that comes with her job. Thank you for your faith in God.

"We share it and we love you!" Bristol wrote, from her mother's personal email account.

After she was selected the GOP vice presidential nominee, news organizations began vetting her record.

On Sept. 15, 2008, Palin responded to a host of news media questions presented to her by her gubernatorial spokesman. Among them were one about a tanning bed at the governor's mansion in Juneau and whether it was her "belief that dinosaurs and humans co-existed at one time?"

According to the emails, Palin responded, "I am so sorry that the office is swamped like this! Dinosaurs even?! I'll try to run through some of these in my head before responding. And the old, used tanning bed that my girls have used handful of times in Juneau? Yes, we paid for it ourselves.

"I, too, will continue to be dismayed at the media and am thankful you and (deputy press secretary) Sharon (Leighow) are not part of the stange (sic) going's-on in the media world of today," Palin wrote.

Palin resigned partway through her first term, in early July 2009. Requests also have been made for Palin's final 10 months in office. State officials haven't begun reviewing those records. Leighow, now spokeswoman for Gov. Sean Parnell, said she doubted the release of those emails would come soon.

Alaska is releasing the thousands of emails in paper form only in Alaska's capital city, accessible by only air or water. Reporters from several news organizations arrived in Juneau and made various plans to disseminate the emails to the public.

The emails were sent and received by Palin's personal and state email accounts, and the ones being released were deemed state business related.

Palin told Fox News Sunday that she was unfazed by the release of emails, saying there are no more rocks that could be turned over about her life or time as governor. But she also said "a lot of those emails obviously weren't meant for public consumption" and that she expected people might seek to take some of the messages "out of context."

There may not be any surprises to Palin in the emails, however.

Once the state reviewed the records, it gave Palin's attorneys an opportunity to see if they had any privacy concerns with what was being released. No emails were withheld or redacted as a result of that, said Linda Perez, Parnell's administrative director in charge of coordinating the release.

The voluminous nature of the release, the isolation of Juneau and the limited bandwidth in the city of 30,000 people has forced media outlets to come up with creative ways to transmit the information.

In addition to The New York Times' reader outreach, Mother Jones, ProPublica and msnbc.com are working with Crivella West Inc. to create a searchable database. The Associated Press plans to scan the paper copies to make searchable files available to its members and clients.

The state said it was not practical to provide electronic versions of the emails.

Prior records requests have shed light on the Palin administration's efforts to advance a natural gas pipeline project and the role played by Palin's husband in state business.

Palin and top aides were known to communicate using private email accounts. Perez said Palin gave the state a CD with emails from her Yahoo account, and other employees were asked to review their private accounts for emails related to state business and to send those to their state accounts.

Another 2,275 pages are being withheld for reasons including attorney-client, work product or executive privilege; an additional 140 pages were deemed to be "non-records," or unrelated to state business.

Some emails may have been previously reviewed in other, earlier public records requests, such as in the Troopergate investigation, in which Palin was accused of putting pressure on public safety officials to fire her brother-in-law, an Alaska state trooper who was going through a bitter divorce from Palin's sister.

Clive Thomas, a long-time Palin observer who's writing a book on Alaska politics, said he's not sure what the emails will contain — or whether their contents will affect people's perceptions of her.

"I guess most people, I think, who don't like Sarah Palin are hoping there's something in there that will deliver the final sort of blow to her (politically)," he said. As for Palin's supporters, he said he doesn't think their opinion of her will be changed regardless of what comes out.

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