Palin Aide Fires Back at Reported McCain Camp Slams
Says RNC, Not Palin, Responsible for Wardrobe Missteps; Rejects Other Complaints
By KATE SNOW
Nov. 6, 2008
Now that the defeated Republican presidential team of Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have gone their separate ways, the knives are out and Palin is the one who is getting filleted.
But longtime Palin staffer Meg Stapleton is lashing back at anonymous critics within the McCain-Palin presidential campaign, telling ABC News they are attacking the former vice presidential candidate with distortions and blaming her for the Republican National Committee's own missteps.
Revelations from anonymous critics from within the McCain-Palin campaign suggest a number of complaints about Palin.
Fox News reports that Palin didn't know Africa was a continent and did not know the member nations of the North American Free Trade Agreement -- the United States, Mexico and Canada -- when she was picked for vice president.
The New York Times reports that McCain aides were outraged when Palin staffers scheduled her to speak with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, a conversation that turned out to be a radio station prank.
Newsweek reports that Palin spent far more than the previously reported $150,000 on clothes for herself and her family.
Several publications say she irked the McCain campaign by asking to make her own concession speech on election night.
Palin Aide: Campaign Drove Wardrobe Controversy
However, Stapleton told ABC News the Fox News report on Africa and NAFTA was taken out of context. She explained that during a briefing session, someone asked Palin to explain the McCain-Palin stance on an issue, and as she was responding, "in the middle, she said 'country of Africa' and somebody instantly wrote it down and said, 'Oh, my God, she thinks it's a country.'"
But "she knows it's a continent," Stapleton said. "It was just a human mistake, just like Obama saying 57 states. I don't think anyone ever doubted that Obama knows there are 50 states."
Regarding the $150,000 worth of clothing, Stapleton claimed it was the campaign that said, "This is what you need as a VP candidate, and it was the campaign and/or the RNC [Republican National Committee] -- but it wasn't the governor -- saying this is what she needs."
Stapleton added that a New York stylist was told to go and make Palin look presidential, that Palin was simply presented with her wardrobe and staff and told, "Here's your people, here are your clothes."
The only items Palin remembers requesting from staff are toothpaste and coats for cold weather, Stapleton said.
Palin even saw a price tag of $3,500 on one suit jacket and said she didn't want to wear it, Stapleton said -- but she was told to wear it anyway.
Stapleton claimed there also was a directive to buy any and all clothes before Sept. 4, the day the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., ended, so that it could be buried as part of other convention costs.
"They said, 'Bill the convention under wardrobe so that the cost could be hidden,'" Stapleton said. "And then they realized and they were told that's illegal. So, then they said, 'OK, how do we make this legal and appropriate?' So, they had somebody pay for it and then the RNC would reimburse them."
The person who paid for the clothing in the end was a wealthy GOP donor, Stapleton said.
The campaign also bought clothing for the Palin children so they, too, would look nice, Stapleton added.
When somebody realized the Palins didn't have any suitcases to bring the new clothes on the campaign trail, Stapleton said Palin e-mailed her husband Todd to bring her suitcases with him. But instead, the campaign bought luggage.
Stapleton said $150,000 was the original bill, but after some merchandise was returned, the cost went down to $107,000.
Regarding the concession speech, Stapleton said a McCain-Palin campaign speechwriter was flown in to write words for Palin to deliver Tuesday night after the election. But after a discussion, aides decided only McCain would speak that evening -- not Palin. Stapleton said Palin didn't understand why they would bring in a speechwriter and then not use the speech they wrote for her, which was complimentary of McCain.
Palin-GOP Tension May Keep Rising
One top McCain aide came to Palin's defense today. Randy Scheunemann, McCain's top foreign policy adviser, who helped prepare Palin for her vice presidential debate, praised Palin's campaign effort and intelligence.
"I've been working over 20 years in Washington and I've been around literally dozens and dozens of politicians. She is among the smartest, toughest, most capable politicians I've ever dealt with," Scheunemann said. "She has a photographic memory."
But the tension between the Palin camp and other GOP groups is likely to continue or get worse. Lawyers for the Republican National Committee are heading to Alaska to try to account for all the money that was spent on clothing, jewelry and luggage, according to The New York Times.
But those reports are no longer in the rumor stage as McCain loyalists are now blasting away at the Alaska governor, who was a favorite of the Republican right during the campaign, but was cited in numerous polls as a reason why many Americans wouldn't vote for the Arizona Republican.
Perhaps the most dangerous allegation for Palin are reports in The New York Times and Newsweek that when she was urged by McCain adviser Nicole Wallace to buy three suits for the Republican convention and three suits for the campaign trail, she went on the now-infamous shopping spree at swank stores, like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.
A Republican donor who agreed to foot a majority of the expenses was stunned when he received the bill, Newsweek reported. Both the Times and Newsweek report that the budget for the clothing was expected to be between $20,000 and $25,000. Instead, the amount reported by the Republican National Committee was $150,000.
That wasn't the whole tab, however, according to Newsweek. The magazine claims that Palin leaned on some low-level staffers to put thousands of dollars of additional purchases on their credit cards. The national committee and McCain became aware of the extra expenditures, including clothes for husband Todd Palin, when the staffers sought reimbursement, Newsweek reported.
Asked for a response by ABC News, the RNC released the following statement: "The committee's requirement is to report to the FEC our expenditures and we have done so."
McCain Aide Calls Palin Family 'Wasilla Hillbillies'
There is one comment in particular from a McCain aide that guaranteed to heighten friction between the two camps. The angry aide described the Palin family shopping spree to Newsweek as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast."
It's unclear how much McCain knew about the clothing debacle. Reports suggest that he was kept out of the loop for fear that he would not approve.
Both Newsweek and The New York Times say McCain and Palin had little contact with each other.
"I think it was a difficult relationship," one top McCain official confided to The New York Times. But a high level McCain adviser told ABC News that the two had a good working relationship.
"He likes her," this senior McCain adviser said last week. "He's had no problem with her. He's very appreciative of what she's done."
The adviser said McCain and Palin talked at least once a day. He also said McCain frequently joked about how large Palin's crowds were compared to his.
However, press accounts today suggest that Palin rubbed many of the McCain aides the wrong way. On election night, when it was clear that McCain would be giving a concession speech instead of an acceptance speech, Palin approached McCain with a speech in hand hoping to make her own concession speech, according to published reports.
Vice presidential candidates traditionally leave the spotlight to the top of the ticket on election night and McCain aides made it clear to Palin that she would be a spectator that night, not a speaker, The New York Times reported.
And when McCain and Palin split up in Arizona Wednesday, the personal differences were stark.
McCain drove himself home in a Toyota sport utility vehicle. Palin's departure was a grander event. She left with an entourage of 18 family members and friends and a Secret Service detail, heading to the airport in a motorcade stretching more than a dozen vehicles, flanked by a dozen more cops on motorcycles.
Interview Prep Lacking, McCain Staffers Say
McCain aides had numerous complaints about Palin. She was unwilling or unable to find the time and energy to prep for her disastrous interview with CBS' Katie Couric. And when she did study, she astonished her handlers by her unsophisticated views.
She didn't know Africa was a continent, according to Newsweek. Fox News revealed that, during her cramming, she couldn't name the three countries that belong to the North American Free Trade Agreement: the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Scheunemann suggested the Africa and NAFTA incidents were inaccurate.
"I was not present for all of her sessions, so I can't disprove that," he told ABC News. "I severely doubt that it is accurate. It's certainly not accurate in any of the sessions I had with her."
Scheunemann said he wasn't on the road with Palin in the days before her Couric interview, "so I don't know a lot about it."
But he said Palin's debate prep "was very good."
Scheunemann also denied published reports that he was suspected of leaking reports of discord between the two camps and was fired.
"I was never fired. Anybody who claims I was fired is either lying or ... they are certainly a whack job," he told ABC News.
Questions followed Palin home to Alaska. She was asked about some of the accusations from anonymous sources when she landed there late Wednesday.
Asked about the Fox report that she did not know the NAFTA members or that Africa was a continent, Palin said, "If they're an unnamed source, that says it all. I won't comment on anyone's gossip based on anonymous sources. That's kind of a small of a bitter type of person who anonymously would charge that I didn't know an answer to a question. So, until I know who's talking about it, I won't have a comment on a false allegation."
Palin Insists She's No Diva
When pressed on what went wrong with the campaign, she said, "I certainly am not one to ever waste time looking backwards."
She defended herself against the notion that she is to blame for the failure of the McCain-Palin ticket.
"I don't think anybody should give Sarah Palin that much credit, that I would trump an economic, woeful time in this nation that occurred about two months ago, that my presence on the ticket would trump the economic crisis that America found itself in a couple of months ago and attribute John McCain's loss to me," Palin told reporters in Arizona Wednesday.
"Now, having said that, if I cost John McCain even one vote, I'm sorry about that because John McCain, I believe, is the American hero. I had believed that it was his time. ...He being so full of courage and wisdom and experience, that valor he just embodies, I believe he would've been the best pick, but that is not the Americans' choice at this time."
She also rejected the characterization that she was a "diva" on the campaign trail, as one anonymous McCain adviser told CNN.
"If only people, y'know, come on up and travel with us to Alaska and see this 'diva' lifestyle that I supposedly live or would demand, because it's just false," she said.
Asked about her national political ambitions, she said, "I have not given it any thought in the context of making any kind of decisions at all, so no, just happy to be back here."
In one of her favorite coffee shops in Wasilla Tuesday morning, Palin summed it up this way: "Forever, I'm going to be Sarah from Alaska."