John Bitney was a high school classmate of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and a key member of her 2006 gubernatorial campaign team. When she took office she made him her legislative director. Then, in July,2007, the governor discovered that he was having an affair with the wife of a Palin family friend and Bitney was fired.
E-mails released Friday detail some of the back-and-forth in the days around Bitney’s departure, including Palin’s belief that the former staffer was behind negative press.
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“Bitney and Deb [Richter]. Still can’t believe it - and hope it’s not true about the two of them together at the mansion when I left Deb stay there while I was gone,” Palin wrote to mansion staffer Erika Fagerstrom on July 11, 2007. “Ugh! I sure learned a lesson there!”
A few days later, she wrote of Bitney leaving the administration and suggested he was helping plant negative items in local papers: “Bitney finally cleaned out his Juneau office, and upon hearing who he had gleefully assisting him with the task, a few more pieces of a puzzle come together. Kevin Jardell was his guy -- and its making some sense that Kevin has been kept in some loops that harm administration’s mission to clean up Juneau politics.”
Jardell was a former staffer in former Gov. Frank Murkowski’s administration who went on to lobby for ExxonMobil.
Palin posits that an anonymous blogger on the Anchorage Daily News Web site criticizing her pipeline planes is Jardell and concludes, “Anyway, as more is revealed, more makes sense about some of the internal problems we had with communications.”
Palin’s office initially told the press that Bitney was fired for personal reasons, but during the 2008 presidential campaign, a spokeswoman cited “poor job performance” as the reason.
In her memoir “Going Rogue,” Palin wrote that Bitney was poisoning her relationship with state legislators, encouraging her to take a too-aggressive approach. She adds, “We learned the legislative director had been too busy with his personal affairs to attend to much state business.” Bitney has contested these allegations.
On July 18, 2007, after firing Bitney, Palin wrote in response to a news report that she was changing her position on a petroleum profits tax: “I haven’t waffled. Confidentially - Bitney has created a lot of this confusion by telling others (we’re hearing more accounts of this) that we’ve changed our mind.”