McCain's vetting of Palin called into question

Concerns crop up about whether Republican's running mate decision was carefully considered or impulsive

Posted: Tuesday, September 02, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The announcement Monday by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband that their 17-year-old daughter is pregnant out of wedlock raised new questions about how thoroughly John McCain investigated the background of his vice-presidential pick.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire File
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire File

Whether the 72-year-old McCain's selection of 44-year-old Palin as his running mate was carefully considered or impulsive is a matter of growing interest.

Although the Palins made their announcement in response to Internet rumors, McCain advisers said that he knew about the pregnancy before he settled on Palin, and said that Palin had been thoroughly vetted. In Alaska, however, there's little evidence of a thorough vetting process.

While it's possible that some people in Alaska were called during the process, there was no sign of it. The former U.S. attorney for Alaska, Wev Shea, who enthusiastically recommended Palin back in March, said he was never contacted with any follow-up questions.

Chris Coleman, one of Palin's next-door neighbors, said that no one representing McCain spoke to him about Palin. Another neighbor also was never contacted, he said Monday.

Republican Gail Phillips, a former speaker of the Alaska House, said that she was shocked by McCain's selection of Palin and told her husband, Walt, "This can't be happening because his advance team didn't come to Alaska to check her out." She said she would've heard had someone been poking around.

"We're not a very big state," Phillips said. "People I talk to would've heard something."

Walt Monegan, the commissioner of public safety whom Palin fired in July, said that no one from the McCain campaign contacted him, either. His firing is now the subject of a special legislative investigation into whether Palin or members of her administration improperly interfered with the running of his department by pushing for dismissal of a state trooper involved in a divorce and custody battle with Palin's sister.

The FBI declined to say whether it conducted a full-field investigation of Palin's background before McCain tapped her as his running mate. FBI spokesman Richard Kolko referred callers to the McCain campaign.

Previous vice-presidential picks - even those with long records in national politics - have come under much closer scrutiny. In 2000, Democratic nominee Al Gore picked Joe Lieberman after a vetting process that lasted about 10 months, including poring through some 800 legal opinions Lieberman had been involved with as Connecticut Attorney General.

Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, was asked Monday as he walked through the Xcel Center in St. Paul if he was satisfied with Palin's vetting. "I'm not gonna get into that," he said.

As their national convention got under way Monday, Republicans stood by Palin and tried to make the media coverage, rather than McCain's decision-making, the issue.

"We're asking the media to respect a person's privacy," said Maria Comella, Palin's campaign spokesman.

A McCain adviser, Douglas Holt-Eakin, called the Palin pregnancy a family matter "best left to them."

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