Aides Say Team Interviewed Palin Late in the Process
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
ST. PAUL, Minn., Sept. 2 -- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was not subjected to a lengthy in-person background interview with the head of Sen. John McCain's vice presidential vetting team until last Wednesday in Arizona, the day before McCain asked her to be his running mate, and she did not disclose the fact that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant until that meeting, two knowledgeable McCain officials acknowledged Tuesday.
Palin was one of two finalists in the vice presidential sweepstakes who were interviewed last week by former White House counsel Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., just days before McCain introduced her to the nation as his choice. The other finalist was Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. One of the officials said Culvahouse was chasing down last-minute information about Pawlenty at the request of the campaign as late as last Thursday, the day McCain offered the job to Palin and she accepted.
The new details of the selection process provide a fuller picture of how and when McCain made his decision. Despite the late interview of the little-known Palin, senior McCain advisers said Tuesday night that she was chosen only after a lengthy and deliberative process that included the same background investigation given to others on McCain's shortlist and considerable debate among the candidate's inner circle about all his choices.
McCain did not speak face to face with Palin until Thursday morning, at his retreat in Sedona, Ariz. He also talked to her by telephone the previous Sunday. McCain had spoken with all of the others on his shortlist over the course of a selection process that went on for several months, but he was least familiar personally with the person he finally chose.
Palin flew to Arizona last Wednesday and met with senior McCain advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter that night in Flagstaff. What had not been known previously was that she had met earlier the same day with Culvahouse.
McCain advisers said they had gathered extensive information about Palin before that meeting, including details of an ongoing investigation in Alaska involving her firing of the state's public safety commissioner. Details of her life and her record as governor that have since emerged in media accounts were discovered during that process, they said.
Palin, along with other finalists, completed a lengthy questionnaire that probed many personal issues. Campaign officials declined Tuesday to respond to questions about whether she had returned the questionnaire to the vetting team before she arrived in Arizona, saying they would not provide details of the timing of the process.
McCain officials said that questionnaire and the personal interview revealed three new facts previously unknown to the team: Palin's daughter's pregnancy, the arrest of her husband two decades ago for driving while intoxicated, and a fine Palin paid for fishing without proper identification.
"We made a political determination that the American people would not object to a female candidate with a 17-year-old daughter who was pregnant," Schmidt said Tuesday. "We believed that parents all over America would understand that life happens. The team made a recommendation to the senator that these issues were not disqualifying."
Schmidt also said the campaign had made a decision much earlier not to announce McCain's running mate until the day after the Democratic convention ended. He said McCain's team had long planned to use all the time available to weigh the choice. He dismissed questions that the campaign had made a hasty or ill-informed decision in the selection.
"Throughout this deliberative process of selecting a vice president, John McCain's political advisers each argued pro and con positions to the senator about each of the finalists for his consideration," he said. "The senator had an opportunity to reflect on all the pro arguments for each nominee and all of the con arguments for each nominee."
The search process started in the spring. McCain's vetting team was given a list of 20 names and Culvahouse's group prepared lengthy background books on each candidate, based primarily on a search of public records. Ultimately, the list of 20 was pared to six serious finalists, then to two, and finally to Palin. According to several campaign sources, Palin was on the list from the start.