Palin returns fire

Mehta and Reston are Times staff writers.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin swung back hard Friday against aides to John McCain who have criticized her foreign policy knowledge and pricey wardrobe purchases, calling them “jerks” who were too cowardly to speak publicly.

The former Republican vice presidential nominee told reporters in Anchorage that a recent Fox News report -- which cited unnamed campaign sources as saying she did not know Africa was a continent and could not name the countries involved in the North American Free Trade Agreement -- was false, and that her comments were taken out of context.

“That’s cruel. It’s mean-spirited. It’s immature. It’s unprofessional, and those guys are jerks if they came away with it, taking things out of context, and then tried to spread something on national news. It’s not fair and not right,” Palin told CNN in an interview.


Palin’s fierce defense was part of a broader push-back Friday by her loyal aides as she resumes her duties as governor and tries to repair some of the damage done in the rough-and-tumble of the campaign. Although Palin has brushed off questions about whether she will run for president in 2012, her supporters are eager to correct what they see as unfair attacks.

And McCain himself has privately expressed sadness and displeasure over former staffers’ emerging criticism of his running mate, an aide said.

Since the Arizona senator’s defeat Tuesday in the presidential election, some of his aides have said that as much as $30,000 in clothing was purchased for Palin after the Republican convention in September. That would be on top of the $150,000 in wardrobe purchases made for the Palins by the Republican National Committee, which were reported in September and October Federal Election Commission filings.

The aides -- who spoke on condition of anonymity while discussing the campaign’s inner workings -- asserted that some members of Palin’s traveling staff charged clothing for the nominee and her family on their personal credit cards and submitted reimbursement requests to the RNC.

The campaign has said that at least a third of the $150,000 in purchases -- which included a $75,063 spree at Neiman Marcus and a $49,426 trip to Saks Fifth Avenue -- were returned.

In a phone interview Friday, McCain foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann, who prepared Palin for her debate with Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, bristled at the charges that Palin lacked a basic understanding of Africa and NAFTA. He too said that the reports were inaccurate.


“The real Sarah Palin is not the caricature put out by these dishonest leakers,” Scheunemann said. “The reality is she is a tough, capable, knowledgeable and focused politician. . . . Whoever these people are and whatever position they had in the campaign, they certainly never had John McCain’s best interests at heart.”

Scheunemann, whom Palin reportedly came to trust more than other McCain aides, also denied reports that he had been fired from the campaign. The reports said he had been fired before the end of the campaign for talking to reporters about what he viewed as the mishandling of the Alaska governor.

Palin’s aides also responded Friday to accounts by McCain aides that she sought to give a speech on election night and was overruled shortly before she went onstage at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton said that someone in the McCain campaign had in fact flown in a speechwriter to craft a laudatory introduction for Palin to deliver. Palin was disappointed when the speech was canceled at the last minute, Stapleton said.

The speech focused on McCain’s history and “what an incredible president he would have been,” Stapleton said.

“She still has [the speech] because she feels the words are just beautiful and capture why she has been on the trail, dedicated and devoted 70 days next to Sen. McCain,” Stapleton said.


As for the clothing, Stapleton said, the campaign brought in a New York stylist and gave her a “blank check” to outfit Palin during the convention -- a characterization disputed by McCain aides, who say the stylist was authorized to purchase just six outfits.

Palin “had no idea” about the amounts being spent on her clothing, Stapleton said. “She was sequestered in the hotel, and the only time she was allowed to leave was to watch Sen. McCain speak and to give her own speech.”

When the stylist appeared with bags of garments, Stapleton said, Palin showed displeasure -- and was stunned by the $3,500 price tag for one jacket.

“She said, ‘No, no, no, no, no. I would never wear this at home, I would never wear this outside of home. This is too much, this isn’t me,’ ” Stapleton said.

Campaign officials told Palin she should wear the jacket, Stapleton said, and eventually the governor relented. Palin never saw a price tag after that, Stapleton said.

Several Palin aides said that the governor may have requested certain clothing items be purchased after the convention, but that she never told staffers to put them on their personal credit cards.


Tracey Schmitt, who served as Palin’s traveling press secretary, said, “Any purchases that were made by campaign aides have been or will be reimbursed.”

In response to allegations that as much as $40,000 was spent outfitting the governor’s husband, Todd Palin, Stapleton said: “Two people were told to go clean up Todd . . . so he could look the part. They went and purchased . . . two suits. I’m not sure two suits add up to $40,000.”

Palin had asked that any clothing that did not belong to the family be removed from the campaign plane in Phoenix before she left for Alaska on Wednesday. But it never was, and when the Palins landed in Anchorage, 14 suitcases were brought to their house. Half belonged to Palin and her family. The remainder were full of the purchased clothing, paperwork and other items.

Aides were at the Palins’ Wasilla home Friday sorting through the luggage, and will return any clothing and accessories that don’t belong to them to the RNC, Stapleton said: “All of it is going back.”

Palin made that clear in her interviews Friday. “The RNC purchased clothes. Those are the RNC’s clothes, they’re not my clothes; I never forced anybody to buy any,” she told CNN. “I never asked for anything more than a Diet Dr Pepper once in a while.”