By Michael D. Shear and Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
ST. PAUL, Minn., Sept. 1 -- Before she was chosen to be Sen. John McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin submitted to a three-hour interview with the head of his vice presidential search team, and responded to a 70-question form that included "intrusive personal questions," a senior campaign aide said Monday.
The aide said all facts about Palin's record and background that have caused controversy as they were revealed in the past few days -- including the ongoing "troopergate" investigation and the fact that Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant -- were known to the McCain campaign. Washington lawyer Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr. led the search team.
"Nothing that has come out did not come out in the vet. She was fully vetted," the senior aide said.
Until last week, Palin was relatively unknown outside Alaska, and as facts have dribbled out about her, the McCain campaign has insisted that its examination of her background was thorough and that nothing that has come out about her was a surprise. "John had access to all that information and made the decision," campaign manager Rick Davis said last week in describing the vetting process.
The process included what aides described as a full search of public documents and videos of her speeches. That included a review of Alaska newspapers, but not Palin's local newspaper because aides worried that going through back issues would indicate that she was under consideration to be McCain's running mate.
Among the things that turned up during the vetting process: her husband's arrest for driving under the influence more than two decades ago; the ticket that she once received for fishing without a license; her daughter's pregnancy; and a report that she had supported Pat Buchanan for president in 1996, which she denied at the time.
Her name, along with others, was submitted to the FBI under a routine inquiry into whether she was the subject of a criminal investigation.
The aide denied reports that a team of a dozen McCain staffers has traveled to Alaska to do further investigation of Palin's background. The adviser confirmed the team is there, but said it would have had a similar assignment whomever McCain had chosen. The team, under the direction of Deputy Communications Director Taylor Griffin, is in Palin's home state to establish contact with her staff, coordinate questions from the national media and fight back against "smears" on the Internet about her background, the aide said.
Palin made the announcement about her daughter in a carefully worded statement issued by the McCain campaign Monday morning. The statement said Bristol Palin plans to deliver the baby and marry the father. Palin, who has said she supports teaching abstinence and opposes sex education in public schools, pleaded for privacy and understanding, identifying the father only as Levi.
"Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family," she said. "We ask the media to respect our daughter and Levi's privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates."
The campaign confirmed Monday night that the father's full name is Levi Johnston, 17, a high school student in Wasilla, Alaska.
The announcement came less than a week after McCain introduced Palin, casting her as an all-American mother with five children and a husband, Todd, who is a champion snowmachine racer. Her biography, which includes her giving birth to a son, Trig, with Down syndrome in mid-April, has been touted as a key part of her appeal, especially to conservatives.
But that image was almost immediately clouded by reports that she has been involved in a dispute with her former brother-in-law, an Alaska state trooper whom her sister divorced. Allegations that Palin tried to have him dismissed from the force and that she fired the state public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, because he would not fire the trooper have made her the subject of a state ethics investigation.
Also Monday, it was revealed that Palin has hired a private attorney to represent her in the investigation. Her decision signals a shift to a more combative posture, which may delay the inquiry scheduled to produce a report a week before the election.
McCain advisers said that after talking to Palin, they decided to issue the statement about Bristol's pregnancy in the wake of repeated inquiries from reporters after liberal blogs raised questions about whether Bristol Palin is Trig's mother. The statement Monday appeared designed to rebut that rumor by offering a timeline that, if accurate, would have made it impossible for Bristol Palin to have delivered a baby in April.
Senior adviser Steve Schmidt condemned the rumors as "disturbing, nasty smears," while acknowledging that their existence had persuaded the campaign to reveal the pregnancy. "It's a private family matter. Life happens in families," he said.
Gov. Palin, who is scheduled to speak at the convention Wednesday night, arrived here Monday but made no public appearances. She declined, through a spokesman, requests for an interview.
Bristol Palin attended high school in Wasilla, where her mother grew up. But it was widely reported by town residents that while the Palins continued to live on Lucille Lake in Wasilla, she had moved to the home of an aunt in Anchorage and was attending high school there.
Along with her siblings, Bristol Palin was on the stage holding her brother Trig when McCain introduced their mother last Friday in Dayton, Ohio.
She took part in the six-hour bus trip the two families then made to Pittsburgh, stopping at a shop for Ohio State Buckeyes paraphernalia. She has not been seen at the rallies McCain and Palin have since held.
In Wasilla, a young woman who answered the door at the home of Levi Johnston said, "Any comment will have to come from the campaign."
Alaskan political insiders said versions of the rumors that Palin had faked a pregnancy to cover up her daughter's pregnancy began making the rounds a few months ago. They were dismissed after accounts emerged from people who said they had seen the governor showing signs that she was carrying a child, and of private assurances to fellow patients from the physician who delivered Trig.
Palin has told reporters she was in Houston on a business trip a month before her due date when she felt contractions and leaked amniotic fluid. After consulting with her doctor, she and her husband flew through Dallas and Seattle to Anchorage, then drove 45 miles north to the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, where she delivered after labor was induced. The new mother was back at work three days later, and announced that her fifth child was born with Down syndrome.
Vick reported from Wasilla. Staff writers Dan Balz and Juliet Eilperin in St. Paul and Robert Barnes in Philadelphia contributed to this report.