The Work

September 2, 2008 5:58 PM

ELECTION 2008: Palin Disclosures Raise Questions About Lawyers' Vetting Process

Posted by Brian Baxter

The revelations on Monday that Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant and that Palin's husband, Todd, was once arrested for drunk driving, are raising questions about how thoroughly Senator John McCain's lawyers--led by O'Melveny & Myers chairman Arthur "A.B." Culvahouse, Jr.--vetted the current Alaskan governor.

But several Washington, D.C., lawyers contacted by The Am Law Daily say that McCain didn't do Culvahouse any favors by giving his team a tight time frame in which to conduct such a complicated process.

"Google and LexisNexis searches make these things a lot easier than they used to be," says one Beltway lawyer, who appraised vice presidential picks in past elections. "But you would think they would have gone through all the clips surrounding [Palin], and they would have gone out and interviewed people, particularly in the Alaska legislature, which it sounds like they might not have done."

Another D.C. lawyer at a prominent Am Law 100 firm--all individuals contacted for this story requested and received anonymity in return for information on the vetting process--says McCain's attorneys may have felt they needed less time to vet Palin because of her relatively small legislative record.

Moreover, only friendly sources might have been interviewed. "When you're vetting someone and trying to keep it confidential, you go to the public sources and people that are close to the candidate, not to those that are hostile to that candidate," the lawyer says. "You're not going to be able to keep [a nominee's identity] confidential if you're talking to hostile individuals."

Both lawyers say that an ideal length of time to conduct a legal vet--most candidates go through a political vet as well on important policy issues--is several weeks to a month. Several firms can often be involved in the process since lawyers serving political campaigns often do so on their own time, sources say.

A vetting team for an individual candidate usually consists of between six to ten lawyers, with court documents and tax returns usually being examined first, and then confidential interviews conducted with key individuals (such as family members or colleagues) that go beyond the public record.

Lawyers familiar with the vetting process who spoke to The Am Law Daily say that usually the FBI does not conduct an inquiry into a vice presidential candidate. Typically, this only occurs with a formal appointment to a federal government position, such as a judgeship or cabinet position.

O'Melveny itself is a veteran of the vetting process. Current O'Melveny senior partner Warren Christopher, who chaired the firm for ten years prior to becoming secretary of State in 1993, helped then-governor Bill Clinton find his future running mate, Al Gore. The firm confirmed in March that Culvahouse was consulting with McCain on the GOP's vice presidential candidate. (Christopher, who later represented Gore during the 2000 Florida recount, declined to comment; Culvahouse had not responded to a request for comment at press time.)

A spokesperson for Palin told the Los Angeles Times that Culvahouse spent three to four hours interviewing the Alaska governor, who also completed a 40-page questionnaire submitted by lawyers for the McCain campaign. The Times says that in the interview with Culvahouse, "Palin disclosed her daughter's pregnancy and her husband's DUI," and that McCain aides also combed through her credit history, financial records, speeches, and court records, and various news accounts of the VP candidate.

But Monday's news still came as a surprise to many, a no-no since the last thing vetting lawyers want to do is "miss the big one" before it gets into the hands of the news media.

"How do you miss this stuff?" one lawyer with a few vetting notches on his belt asks. "Ask Bob Kimmitt, the deputy secretary of the Treasury and a Vietnam veteran, how he forgot to ask Dan Quayle what he did during the war! These things happen." (Quayle's service in the Indiana Army National Guard during the Vietnam War became a major issue during George H. W. Bush's 1988 presidential campaign.)

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From what I can see, Palin sounds cleaner than any politician I can think of. It is really weird, and amazingly sexist, to think that a child's pregnancy disqualifies one for the highest office. This is especially true when her opponent was the product of this type of union with exeption that the father was a foreign student and an adulterer.

Palin is a God Squadder, plain and simple. Just what the country needs another 4 or more years under the religious right wing.

I agree with Marlene that Palin sounds very clean - she's also smart, and she seems made with a real backbone. I, however,don't agree with her environmental positions, so I can't vote for her on those substantive grounds. The teenage daughter - give it a break - that's nothing to do with nothing. Also,I don't think Palin currently has the life experience to be VP, should the VP have to take over. However, Harry Truman didn't have the life experience to be VP/President either, and he became an excellent president who made the tough decisions. Who can really know these things? What we don't know enough about is her judgment and intellect, and yet we hear way too much about her families' problems, thanks to the press. More info showing her intellect and way of assessing options, please.

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