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Feb 6th, 2010

Palin E-Mails Reveal a Powerful ‘First Dude’

In Sarah Palin administration, her spouse was active in state business

Image: Sarah Palin and her husband Todd
Nearly 3,000 pages of e-mails that the first gentleman, Todd Palin, exchanged with state officials draw a picture of his influence on policy in the Sarah Palin administration. Other e-mails are still being withheld by the state of Alaska. (Photo credit: Robyn Beck / AFP — Getty Images file)

By Bill Dedman
Investigative reporter
Feb. 6, 2010 investigative reporter Bill Dedman

Officially he was the first gentleman of Alaska. More people called him the “first dude.” But newly released e-mails show that Todd Palin was busy doing more than snow machine driving and salmon fishing during Sarah Palin’s two and a half years as governor and vice presidential candidate.

Nearly 3,000 pages of e-mails that Todd Palin exchanged with state officials, which were released to and NBC News by the state of Alaska under its public records law, draw a picture of a Palin administration where the governor’s husband got involved in a judicial appointment, monitored contract negotiations with public employee unions, received background checks on a corporate CEO, added his approval or disapproval to state board appointments and passed financial information marked “confidential” from his oil company employer to a state attorney.

You can read all those e-mails in’s searchable online archive, created in cooperation with a legal services company, Crivella West. We’re still going through the documents, and invite readers at to search for themselves, connect the dots with public issues, and send us an e-mail with your own analysis.

While 1,200 separate e-mails were released this week, 243 others were withheld by the state under a claim that executive privilege extends to Todd Palin as an unpaid adviser to the government. Still, just the subject lines of those e-mails provide a glimpse of the ways the Palins divvied up their responsibilities when she became governor in December 2006, less than two years before Republican Sen. John McCain pulled her onto the national political stage by nominating her as his vice presidential candidate.

The 243 still-secret e-mails between Todd Palin and senior officials reach into countless areas of state government and politics: potential board appointees, constituent complaints, use of the state jet, oil and gas production,  marine regulation, gas pipeline bids, postsecondary education, wildfires, native Alaskan issues, the state effort to save the Matanuska Maid dairy, budget planning, potential budget vetoes, oil shale leasing, “strategy for responding to media allegations,” staffing at the mansion, pier diem payments to the governor for travel, “strategy for responding to questions about pregnancy,” potential cuts to the governor’s staff, “confidentiality issues,” Bureau of Land Management land transfers and trespass issues and requests to the U.S. transportation secretary. Also withheld: a discussion of how to reply to “media questions about Todd Palin’s work and potential conflict of interests.”

‘That gossip crap bugs me’

The e-mails that were released open a curtain on the behind-the-scenes preoccupations of the Palins, particularly the flash points of family and the media, personal finances and state finances.

  • The governor coached her staff on how to disguise the amount of electrical work needed at the mansion to hook up her new tanning bed.
  • Palin and her staff stewed over the refusal of the state Public Safety Department to provide a plane so the children could fly to Todd’s family’s home in Dillingham; after all, they were going to attend a bill signing, so the travel requests could be justified. Sarah Palin called the decision “outrageous,” and an aide said it provides “a great excuse to privatize” the governor’s jet service.
  • The manager of the Palins’ travel schedule searched for a public event to use as justification (“I just need one“) to charge the state for an airplane flight for Palin’s daughter, Willow, who made the trip but had missed the event given as its justification.
  • When Sarah Palin complained that the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner wrote a critical editorial after she did them the favor of meeting with the editorial board, Todd Palin advised the press chief to “take the news miner [sic] off the press release address list for a few days, see how long it takes them to realize their [sic] not on the list.”
  • “Man, that gossip crap bugs me,” Sarah Palin wrote after the Anchorage Daily News wrote about mansion repairs in its Alaska Ear political column. “Any time it has anything to do with home or family, it’s irritating.” A press aide apologized, saying the columnist did not call to check out stories before publishing. The residence director added, “Reminds me of junior high school, where hormonal teenagers are always looking for the drama. … I’ll do my best to avoid giving them any news nuggets.”

The Palins did not respond to several requests by to discuss Todd Palin’s role in state government. After this article was published, an attorney for the Palins, Tom Van Flein, said in an e-mail Friday to NBC News that Todd Palin’s role as an “active advisor” to his wife should come as no surprise “to most Alaskans, and to the millions of people who read “Going Rogue,” Palin’s autobiography. …

Private e-mail accounts

Many of the e-mails on public policy issues that reviewed were written using private e-mail accounts on Yahoo and other services. The governor and her top aides set up accounts outside the state system, supposedly outside the reach of the public records laws. Outside accounts also helped avoid any violation of the state law against using public resources for campaigning.

Todd Palin’s e-mail address at that time was named for his hobby as a four-time champion driver in the 1,971-mile Iron Dog snow machine, or Iron Dog winner. The governor wrote mostly from and sometimes from, until that account was cracked in September 2008 by an anonymous Internet user, who boasted that he figured out the answers to her Yahoo security questions by browsing her Wikipedia page. A 20-year-old student at the University of Tennessee, David C. Kernell, was indicted and is awaiting trial; he was an Obama supporter and the son of a Democratic state legislator. …

Of the e-mails released this week, dozens have information redacted, or blanked out, sometimes leaving little more than a subject line. …

Often the governor wasn’t included on Todd Palin’s e-mails at all. The staff went straight to him, or he went straight to the staff. …

Confidential information

Todd Palin also often served as a conduit for information to flow from one part of state government to another. When a friend or campaign aide’s spouse got a state job, he was often notified. At other times, he notified the governor’s office.

Sometimes information from outside flowed through him to the government. In one instance, the e-mails show, Todd Palin sent confidential financial information from his longtime employer, the oil and gas company BP, to a lawyer for the state, which does a lot of business with BP. …

The Palins did not reply to a message from sent to their spokeswoman and another to the company that manages Sarah Palin’s speaking engagements. Sarah Palin is scheduled to speak Saturday evening at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, where her bio describes her as a champion of “ethics reform and transparency in government,” themes of her campaign for governor. …

‘Shadow Governor’

Todd Palin’s frequent presence in the governor’s office led some in Juneau to call him the “Shadow Governor.” But it had never been clear, at least to the public, what roles he played.

He did receive scrutiny for his role in the so-called Troopergate case, in which he and the governor were accused of seeking to have her former brother-in-law fired from the state police force. …

When, other news organizations and citizens of Alaska sought Palin e-mail records after she was named the Republican vice presidential running mate in August 2008, the state initially quoted a cost as high as $15 million for state technicians to find the e-mails, for state interns to print out the e-mails one at a time, for state lawyers to read them to determine what information could be withheld, and for a print shop to photocopy them.

That’s still the laborious approach the state has taken, at what it says is a cost of more than $500,000 in staff time, but the prices it is charging have come down considerably. The state charged only $323.58 for the records released this week. …


‘First Dude’s’ influence exposed (NBC Nightly News, Feb. 5, 2010) — Emails show former Governor Sarah Palin’s husband Todd played a major policy role behind the scenes. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports. (03:30)


6/6/11 Update

24,199 pages of Palin e-mails to be released (Bill Dedman, MSNBC, June 6, 2011) — The long-delayed release of public records in Alaska, 24,199 pages of emails sent between former Gov. Sarah Palin (and her husband) and state officials, will happen in Juneau at 9 a.m. Friday [June 10, 2011], the Alaska governor’s office announced Monday. News organizations and citizens requested the emails under the state public records law back in 2008, when the relatively unknown Palin burst onto the national scene, and when it became known that she and her staff were using personal Yahoo accounts to conduct state business outside the usual reach of public records requests. … The wait for the public records has now lasted longer than the Palin administration. Sarah Palin was governor for 966 days, before ending her term abruptly. As of Friday, the anticipated day of release,’s request for public records under state law will have been pending for 997 days. … Full story


2/23/12 Update

Emails Show Palin as Governor: ‘I can’t take it anymore.’

The last of the emails that the state of Alaska could recover from Sarah Palin’s brief term as governor were released on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (Photo credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Editor’s note: Here’s a link to’s previous coverage of a release of Sarah Palin’s public records, and our database where you can read those public documents. The Associated Press was apparently the only news organization to be notified by the state that new records were available. Here is the AP’s report. Others that had requested them said they had not been informed of the release. They include, Mother Jones magazine (which blogged about the odd release), CNN, The Washington Post, ABC News, and the Republican political activist Andrée McLeod, who said Thursday, “The culture of corruption continues unabated.”

By Becky Bohrer

February 22, 2012

JUNEAU, Alaska — In the final months before she resigned as Alaska’s governor, Sarah Palin displayed growing frustration over deteriorating relationships with state lawmakers and their perceived efforts to “lame duck” her administration, along with outrage over ethics complaints that she felt frivolously targeted her and prompted her to write: “I can’t take it anymore.”

The details are included in more than 17,000 records released Thursday by state officials — nearly 3 1/2 years after citizens and news organizations, including The Associated Press, first requested Palin’s emails.

By the spring of 2009, the emails show, Palin was regularly butting heads with lawmakers of both parties over her absences from the Capitol and over her picks for vacancies in the state Senate and her own cabinet. The emails she sent to staff illustrate Palin’s growing suspicion that those legislators were seeking to undermine her administration by harping on how often she was away from Juneau, the state capital. …

The emails are the last of her emails from her time as governor, according to Alaska state officials. Citizens and news organizations, including the AP, first requested Palin’s emails in September 2008, as part of her vetting as the Republican vice presidential nominee. The state released a batch of the emails last June, a lag of nearly three years that was attributed to the sheer volume of the records and the flood of requests stemming from Palin’s tenure.

The 24,199 pages of emails that were released last year left off in September 2008. When it became clear that the June release would not include all the emails from Palin’s tenure last June, requests were then made for the remaining emails. Thursday’s release includes 17,736 records, or 34,820 pages, generally spanning from October 2008 until Palin’s resignation, in July 2009. Of those, 13,791 records were released without redactions, according to the governor’s office. Another 965 documents were withheld. …

The first batch of emails released last June, before she announced she would not run for president, showed that Palin was angling for the vice presidential slot months before John McCain picked her to be his running mate. Those records produced no bombshells, while painting a picture of an image-conscious, driven leader, struggling with the gossip about her family and marriage, involved in the day-to-day duties of running the state and keeping tabs on the signature issues of her administration.

Full story


Related reports

‘Tea party’ movement faces uncertain future (AP, Feb. 5, 2010) — “Tea parties” popped up last spring in small towns and big cities alike as disillusioned Americans — many never before involved in politics — protested the $787 billion economic stimulus measure, Wall Street bailouts and Obama’s health care plan. Since then, local leaders have struggled over the coalition’s direction. There’s even dispute over the name’s origin: It was drawn from the 1773 tax revolt, or it’s an acronym for “taxed enough already.” … Full story

Video: Sarah Palin’s Tea Party Speech at the Gaylord

Palin: America ready for ‘another revolution’ (MSNBC, Feb. 6, 2010) — Sarah Palin says, “America is ready for another revolution,” during her speech at the tea party convention. Watch her entire speech. (41:15)

Bachmann Heads Teabaggers

Rep. Michele Bachmann spoke at a Tea Party at Lake George in St. Cloud after a town hall meeting, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009. (Jason Wachter / St. Cloud Times)
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) speaks at a Tea Party at Lake George in St. Cloud after a town hall meeting, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009. (Photo credit: Jason Wachter / St. Cloud Times)


Background report

The Personality Profile of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin

Following is the abstract of an investigation of Sarah Palin’s personality characteristics and leadership style, conducted at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, directed by Aubrey Immelman.

PalinPosterImage_4-09.jpg Palin Poster picture by Rifleman-Al

Sarah Palin’s most prominent personal attribute is a dominant, dauntless quality. Her profile also indicates ambitious, outgoing, and contentious tendencies. Palin’s constellation of personality patterns is congruent with several personal qualities associated with success in politics, including assertiveness, determination, ambition, and personal charisma. The combination of ambitious, dominant, dauntless, and outgoing patterns in Palin’s profile suggests an ambitious competitor personality composite.

Andrea Schiebe, Angela Rodgers, and David Wutchiett present their research on “The Personality Profile of Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin” at the 44th annual Minnesota Undergraduate Psychology Conference, College of Saint Benedict, St. Joseph, Minn., April 18, 2009. (Supervisor: Aubrey Immelman, Ph.D.)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — February 6, 2009


Steep rise in soldier suicides (MSNBC, Feb. 5, 2009) — 24 soldiers committed suicide in January 2009, more than were killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. John Soltz of discusses. (02:53)

Army: Stunning Spike in Suicides

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that the Army was investigating an unexplained and stunning spike in suicides during the month of January. The count was said to be likely to surpass the number of combat deaths during the same period reported by all branches of the armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the fight against terrorism.

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