Fact Check: Palin Accounts Disputed by McCain Aides
By special contributor Shushannah Walshe and CBS News' Scott Conroy, co-authors of the book "Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise And Brutal Education Of A New Conservative Superstar"
Two of the more enticing excerpts that have been published in advance of the official release of Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue" involve the former vice presidential candidate's recollections of behind-the-scenes conflicts with top McCain aides on the 2008 campaign trail. The first details Palin's version of a conversation she had with top campaign aides about her views on evolution, and the second addresses the fallout from the infamous crank call she received from a comedian pretending to be French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
On the night before John McCain invited Palin to join him on the Republican presidential ticket, Palin stayed in Flagstaff, Arizona, at the home of Bob Delgado, the CEO of Cindy McCain's family company Hensley & Co. After speaking on the phone with McCain campaign attorney A.B. Culvahouse, top McCain aides Mark Salter and Steve Schmidt took turns trying to ensure that Palin was ready for the monumental leap onto the national stage that she was about to take.
The McCain campaign had stressed secrecy over thoroughness in their vetting of Palin, so at this eleventh hour, Salter and Schmidt grilled the Alaska governor on topics ranging from her own political record to more personal matters.
Salter was particularly interested in Palin's views on the subject of evolution vs. creationism, and according to an excerpt from "Going Rogue," Palin maintains that the McCain campaign's chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, was dismissive of her point of view on the subject.
Palin writes: "But your dad's a science teacher," Schmidt objected. "Yes." "Then you know that science proves evolution," added Schmidt. "Parts of evolution," I said. "But I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adapt." Schmidt winced and raised his eyebrows. In the dim light, his sunglasses shifted atop his head. I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism. But I felt I was on solid factual ground."
Palin's version of the conversation contradicts the reporting we conducted for our own book, "Sarah From Alaska," which was published earlier this month.
"I'm the daughter of a science teacher. My father showed me fossils. I know about evolution, and I accept evolution," Palin said, we report in our book. "That doesn't mean that God didn't set everything in motion."
In "Sarah From Alaska," we reported that contrary to Palin's description of a pair of sunglasses shifting ominously atop Schmidt's head, both Schmidt and Salter were actually quite satisfied with Palin's answer, which dovetailed with the theory of Intelligent Design.
Read an Exclusive Excerpt from "Sarah from Alaska"
Washington Unplugged Interviews Conroy and Walshe
Two former McCain aides each independently maintained that Palin's recollection of the conversation in "Going Rogue," was inaccurate.
"If she had been, 'I am a creationist,' she would not have been the nominee," one former aide said. "McCain wouldn't have gone for that."
Another former McCain campaign aide maintained not to have recalled ever hearing Palin use the word "creationism" and said that it had been Palin, not Schmidt, who had raised the issue of her father's occupation as a science teacher.
Palin's book may not have even hit the shelves yet, but some former McCain aides are already complaining that the former Alaska governor has taken real events but shifted the context and embellished quotations, in order to fit the narrative that she was a victim of incompetent handling and deserving of little blame for her own missteps.
Coming to Palin's defense, a former aide who traveled with the governor during the campaign and remains close to her said that the McCain folks should follow the Arizona senator's lead and refrain from commenting on "Going Rogue," at least until they have read the book.
"From what I've seen in the book, it's a positive book," the Palin loyalist said. "Here we go again. People should listen, take it in, and go from there."
In another excerpt of "Going Rogue," obtained by the Huffington Post, Palin provides her version of Schmidt's reaction to the "Sarkozy" crank phone call, which lasted several minutes before the embarrassed vice presidential candidate finally hung up the phone.
"Right away, the phones started ringing," Palin writes in the excerpt. "One of the first calls was Schmidt, and the force of his screaming blew my hair back. 'How can anyone be so stupid?! Why would the president of France call a vice presidential candidate a few days out?!'"
"Good question, I thought,'' Palin writes. "Weren't you the ones who set this up?"
A senior McCain aide and a mid-level Palin staffer who was with the governor during the crank call disputes this account and says that Schmidt did not call to berate her over the incident and that the chief strategist instead sent an email to staffers, rebuking them for setting up the call.
Furthermore, as Palin was told at the time, it was her own foreign policy adviser, Steve Biegun, who set up the phone call with "Sarkozy," not Schmidt.
"The call had been on the official schedule that went out to all campaign aides, but it had merely been labeled 'personal phone call,' which could have meant a conversation with her mother or son," we write in "Sarah From Alaska." "…Palin's demeanor softened a bit when she learned that Biegun, a staunch loyalist, had been responsible for allowing the call to go through. As her stunned aides looked on, Biegun was called and told what had happened. He was mortified and accepted full responsibility for not notifying the proper aides about the phone call and allowing the pranksters to get to the candidate, but Palin was determined to correct the mistake rather than reflect upon it."
The former Palin aide who remains loyal to her said that Schmidt did in fact place a phone call but that he was not singling out Palin for blame.
"He was yelling at the situation. I wouldn't say yelling at her," the aide said.
After Election Day, former McCain aides unleashed a barrage of attacks against Palin --the woman whom they had worked tirelessly to elevate to the vice presidency -- with charges of incompetence, ignorance, and self-aggrandizement.
In "Going Rogue," Palin appears to relish the opportunity to strike back. But the McCain side shows no signs of retreating, as they continue to leak internal campaign emails (some of which are reprinted in "Sarah From Alaska") to back up their version of events.
"It was of incredibly great concern on the campaign -- her constant misstatement of facts," a former McCain senior aide said in a phone conversation on Sunday. "That is what the tension was fundamentally about."
More Coverage of Sarah Palin's Book:
Sarah Palin: I Was "Annoyed" by Katie Couric's Newspaper Question
Palin Book Roils Former McCain Aides
Palin "Vindictiveness" in Her New Book?
Sarah Palin's Book: The Fact Check
Palin Publicity Blitz Full Speed Ahead
Bob Schieffer on Palin: No Future in Politics
Palin Talks with Oprah About Katie Couric, Levi Johnston
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