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Palin used six email accounts as governor

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On Friday, reporters in Juneau, Alaska, began to sift through and scan more than 24,000 pages of emails to and from former Governor Sarah Palin, just released in response to requests made when she was governor. But they had full coverage of just two of her email accounts--and perhaps not the most interesting ones--because Palin had at least six accounts: one for public contact, one for internal state business, one for anything confidential and others for a mix of state and personal business.

Palin’s use of private accounts has been previously reported, but the just-released emails--which Sunlight is making available for search, analysis and download at Sarah's Inbox--provide a look inside the accounts, clarify the purpose of each, and reveal correspondence from two accounts that previously were little publicized. Her use of multiple accounts suggest that the public will never see Palin’s full state correspondence.

The six boxes of just-released emails include full coverage of governor@gov.state.ak.us, a public address that automatically responded to constituent mail, and govpalin@gov.state.ak.us, an internal address used by her staff and clued-in members of the public, from the start of Palin’s term until Sept. 30, 2008, when media outlets first requested them. The released emails are riddled with redactions, and the release includes an 80-page list of emails withheld due to privacy protections. The release also includes messages from Palin’s private accounts, but not all of them.

What the emails do show is how Palin used her email addresses--and her multiple inboxes--from the time she became governor up to the time Sen. John McCain tapped her to be his running mate on August 29, 2008. For example, in February 2007, about two months after Palin was sworn in as governor, Kari Spencer, her scheduler, sent an email to the heads of state agencies in the cabinet. There was just one address to reach the governor, she told them: govpalin@gov.state.ak.us. “We are shutting down her personal email accounts (the Yahoo and MTA accounts, messages will not be received at those accounts after today),” she wrote.

A week later, something caused Spencer to amend that message: the governor had two email accounts. “If you need to send a private or confidential email to the Governor, on non-state email, please use gov.sarah@yahoo.com,” she wrote, in an email that was marked confidential.

Because Alaska doesn't archive the private Yahoo accounts of public officials, such "private or confidential" emails would escape open records requests or legal scrutiny.

“For state business of any kind, please use govpalin@gov.state.ak.us,” Spencer continued. “We really want to use the govpalin@gov.state.ak.us if possible.”

In September 2008, the Anchorage Daily News reported that Palin routinely used a Yahoo account to conduct state business. Shortly afterward, someone hacked one of the personal accounts: gov.palin@yahoo.com. A list of email headers and screenshots of several emails were released, and published by WikiLeaks, before somebody shut down the account.

The just-released emails include messages to and from Palin’s gov.sarah and gov.palin Yahoo accounts. Though, according to the Los Angeles Times, they were included only when a recipient or sender was using official state email. Any email about state business for which both parties were using private addresses is missing from the emails the state released. Emails sent to private accounts often dealt with state business, the released records show, in contravention of Spencer’s request to keep state business on a state address.

A list of headers from the hacked gov.palin account, published by WikiLeaks, provides a window on the missing emails. Among those listed is a message from Meghan Stapleton, a Palin advisor and spokeswoman at the time, titled “FW: Motor Fuel Tax Suspension,” a policy initiative Palin was involved in at the time. While other emails identified by the list are available in the just-released set, the message from Stapleton, dated Aug. 30, 2008, is not among the emails released. Nor is it included in the list of emails withheld from disclosure.

While Palin's Yahoo account became famous during the campaign, the "MTA" account referenced in Spencer’s second email hasn't received as much attention. Spencer's email doesn’t say whether the “MTA” account was shut down as planned; it seemed to be in operation and was known to cabinet members two months into Palin’s tenure.

On March 3, 2007, Palin herself referenced the account. After receiving an email sent to and from spalin@mtaonline.net, and copied to two addresses that were later redacted, she wrote a frantic response: “Does anyone know how anyone could send an anonymous email from my old personal account (spalin@mtaonline.net) that I don't even use. I did NOT send this email.” Minutes later, she wrote another email to say “never mind:” she realized Todd Palin had sent the “anonymous email,” which contained a list of bullet points attacking a wildlife biologist’s credentials for office.

On August 22, 2007, an aide forwarded an email from Joe Miller, a lawyer who would later run for a U.S. Senate seat, to Palin’s Yahoo account. The email, which was heavily redacted in the release, discussed a candidate for the Juneau Superior Court. The email had been copied to the mtaonline.net account. “You were CC’d on the email below with your MTA email address,” the aide wrote.

The released emails also show at least two exchanges involving another Palin email account, according to a story in The Washington Post. The account – sp@hslak.com – was first reported on in October 2008, the Post said. At that time, it was identified as an account run by Frank Bailey, a Palin aide, which used a list of recipients “run through” PalinForGovernor.com. Bailey called the story “completely inaccurate” and said the associated domain hadn’t been used in “a long time.” Stapleton, the Palin spokeswoman, said the account was used to separate private matters from public.

The recent Post story used emails forwarded to state accounts to show that the account was active as recently as Sept. 8, 2008, and that it was used for state business. The WikiLeak-ed list includes an even later email from the hslak.com account, dated Sept. 25, 2008 – just six days before Bailey denied the first Post story.

Sunlight's Guide to Palin Accounts
 
governor@gov.state.ak.us (official public account)
  • Fully disclosed
  • Members of the public who sent emails to this address received an automatic response
 
govpalin@gov.state.ak.us (official internal account)
  • Fully disclosed, with the exception of certain messages redacted or withheld due to privacy protections
  • Communicated with cabinet secretaries, staff members, and various clued-in members of the public
 
govsp@alaska.gov (official internal account)
  • Fully disclosed, with the exception of certain messages redacted or withheld due to privacy protections
 
gov.sarah@yahoo.com (personal account used for state business)
  • Emails disclosed only when sent to or from a state account
  • A 2007 email from Palin’s scheduler says it should be used for "private or confidential" messages. Apparently shut down in 2008
 
gov.palin@yahoo.com (personal account used for state business)
  • Emails disclosed only when sent to or from a state account
  • Hacked in 2008, some emails were made public, was then shut down

 

govpalin@yahoo.com (personal account used for state business)
  • Emails disclosed only when sent to or from a state account

 

sp@hslak.com (personal account used for state business)
  • A few emails disclosed when forwarded to or from state accounts
  • Reported on in two Washington Post stories, one of which said a list of recipients was "run through" PalinForGovernor.com
  • A Palin aide said the associated domain hadn’t been used "in a long time" in October 2008, but an email was sent from the account six days earlier
 
spalin@mtaonline.net (personal account, may have been used for state business)
  • A few emails disclosed when forwarded to or from state accounts
  • Mentioned in a 2007 email from Palin’s scheduler as a private address
  • Apparently was in operation two months into her tenure and was familiar to her cabinet
  • Theoretically shut down at the time, but later emails show it was still in operation, though possibly inactive