Earlier this year, a close aide to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin investigated whether emails from private accounts belonging to state officials could be obtained by prosecutors or state investigators. She forwarded her findings to Palin and Palin's husband Todd.
The emails raise new concerns about whether Palin and her top aides used private email accounts in an attempt to conduct state business away from view of the public – or investigators. Read emails here and here.
The so-called "Troopergate" scandal has given Palin's email habits new significance. Two probes are looking at whether Palin misused her power in firing former Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan; investigators in both inquiries are believed to be reviewing emails from the governor and her staff for evidence of possible wrongdoing.
The emails in question were obtained through a public records request by Alaska ethics advocate and self-described independent government watchdog Andree McLeod, who provided them to ABC News.
In addition to Palin's state-run email address, the vice-presidential candidate used at least two private email accounts with Yahoo!, at least one set up from a privately-maintained domain, "PalinForGovernor.com," and another set up from a third private domain, the McCain-Palin campaign confirmed yesterday. The campaign would not disclose the name of the third domain.
Emails to and from Palin -- some obtained by hackers and posted online, others released through records requests -- show Palin used private email accounts to conduct state business. But the McCain-Palin campaign has insisted she used the separate accounts to keep her personal and official business separate.
"As a champion of government accountability and transparency, Gov. Palin was exercising an abundance of caution to ensure that all state and personal business matters were being kept separate. Gov. Palin is committed to serving with the highest regard toward ethics," said campaign spokeswoman Meg Stapleton.
The campaign denied the private email accounts were part of any attempt to hide communications about state business between Palin and her aides. While Palin has shut down her Yahoo! accounts, all of the emails in those accounts have been maintained, according to campaign spokesman Taylor Griffin.
But the March emails show Palin aide Ivy Frye was focused on other concerns. Her queries to state officials focused on whether emails sent to or from personal accounts could be obtained by auditors or prosecutors.
At first, Frye asked whether a state employee could get in trouble with state auditors for receiving email to his or her personal account on a state-owned Blackberry or other mobile device. But her inquiry soon shifted.
"What type of situation would constitute subpoena of personal emails?" Frye asked state finance director Kim J. Garnero in a March 17 email.
In her emailed response, Garnero deferred the question to the state Department of Law.
Frye repeated Garnero's response in an email to Palin and Palin's husband Todd, using their private email accounts, as well as to top Palin aides Frank Bailey and Kristina Perry. "Kim Garnero thinks that personal emails on a personal device would be confidential and not subject to subpoena, however the question is still unanswered by [the state Department of] Law," Frye wrote.
One minute later, Frye sent another email query to Garnero: "Are personal emails on blackberry currently routed through the state server or through AT&T or whomever provides the phone service?"
Garnero responded that all emails sent to state-owned blackberries would come into computers maintained by the state.
"How about when I send personal email? Do they only travel over the phone contractor line?" Frye emailed Garnero two days later.
Garnero wrote in reply that she checked with the state technology chief, and learned that "state email goes through [state servers]; personal email doesn't (like a Yahoo account, it goes directly over the internet into the device."
Five days later, Frye forwarded that exchange to Palin aides Bailey and Perry. The next day, she forwarded it to Palin and Palin's husband, Todd, again to their private email addresses.
A McCain-Palin campaign staffer who would only discuss the matter with the promise of anonymity said Palin did not direct Frye to make the inquiries. Frye likely forwarded her conversations to the governor because "She thought maybe Palin needed it as an FYI or something," he said.
The campaign disagreed that the Frye emails suggested any wrongdoing by the governor or her aides. "I am not sure how you can draw that conclusion when the e-mails so clearly demonstrate the exact opposite," said McCain-Palin spokesman Taylor Griffin. "These e-mails demonstrate that the discussion is not about protecting state business from public view... Most Americans understand that even state employees deserve a little privacy in their personal life."
Emails have been used as important evidence as details of the Troopergate scandal have unfolded in the public eye. Palin used emails between herself and aides to argue that Walt Monegan, whose firing is at the center of the scandal, had a "rogue mentality" and refused to work within the administration's wishes. Recently, Monegan has said he has other emails that prove otherwise.
To McLeod, an Alaska ethics advocate and Palin critic, all of the governor's private emails should be turned over to the state for safekeeping. "Citizens have a right to know the inner workings of their government," said McLeod.