Just the facts, please!

Facts are pesky things.  You ignore them at your peril, especially when  they are easily, er, fact-checked.

On Friday, July 3, 2009 Sarah Palin made the surprise announcement in a hastily called news conference that she was going to resign.  Since none of the faradiddle of reasons for quitting made the slightest bit of sense, there was a rush from reality-based commentators in both the MSM and the blogosphere to try to find some kind of rationale for Palin’s abrupt mid-term departure.

After Alaska blogger and radio personality  Shannyn Moore went on MSNBC and stated that there had been rumors of a Federal investigation in Palin’s home turf around Wasilla, speculation centered on the amazing coincidences that occurred regarding the construction of the Palins’  home on Lake Lucille.  The Wasilla Sports Complex was  built nearby during the same period and featured the same building materials, including windows that needed to be installed with a crane (not something Todd  Palin could have accomplished with his bare hands — where did the crane come from?).

The Village Voice had run an article during the Presidential campaign laying out some of the questions swirling around the construction of the Palins’ house.  Some turned to this article by Wayne Ballard  for clues about Sarah Palin’s unexpected mid-term resignation  (Note:  This article was quoted extensively in my earlier post  “Palin Facing  Criminal Probe?”)

Palin made her announcement late on Friday 7/3.  The commentary swirled through the blogosphere  and  by Sunday had reached  the point where a Google search for “Sarah Palin + housegate” yielded 4070 hits.  The smart thing at this point for the Alaska Governor might have been to simply ignore the discussions and let it fade away naturally as attention turned to the upcoming memorial for pop star Michael Jackson

Instead new fuel was thrown on the fire by a four page screed from Thomas Van Flein, Palin’s personal attorney who had represented her on prior issues such as “troopergate”.  In this letter Van Flein blustered and threatened Shannyn Moore and any others who exercised their First Amendment rights to free speech and continued to comment on “housegate”. (Full text of Van Flein’s letter can be found at http://www.salon.com/opinion/walsh/politics/2009/07/05/palin_lawyer_letter/index.html)

Not exactly appropriate for the weekend celebrating the 233rd anniversary of Independence Day — but let’s not digress from the subject at hand.

We need to focus on facts.  Van Flein tries to pretend that Spenard Builders Supply is a non-issue by assserting on one hand that Todd Palin’s family owns a hardware and building supply company in Dillard while not actually making the claim that the materials were sourced from the family business.

This obfuscation ignores the fact that Spenard Builders Supply actually filed a lien against the property in 2001 and recorded it at the County Recorder’s office: Here is the recorded document showing the lien on the Palins by the building company which built the Sport’s Complex and got lucrative contracts from Gov. Palin after she became Governor.  The owner of  Spenard Builders Supply is a major contributor to Sarah Palin’s election campaign.

Type of Document: ALASKA NTC OF RIGHT TO LIEN

Recorders Office - Document Display

Selected Document: 2001-022840-0
in District: 311 - PA
ee Index Codes Cannot view images? Image Unavailable
Document Year: 2001 Number: 022840 Suf: 0 District: 311 - PALMER
Date Recorded: 10/19/2001 Time: 12:44PM    Pages: 2
Index: LI -  LIENS
Desc: ALASKA NTC OF RIGHT TO LIEN
Grantor - PALIN TODD
Grantor - PALIN SARAH
Grantor - WELLS FARGO BANK WEST
Grantee - SPENARD BUILDERS SUPPLY
Location: Lot: 3     Block: 1
No Plat Subdivision: SNIDER
Here is the public recorder's website. http://dnr.alaska.gov/ssd/recoff/sag/DocDisplay.cfm?SelectedDoc=20010228400&District=311

The lien filed on the Palin property by Spenard Builders Supply is a fact as are the contracts for the Wasilla Sports Complex and other, later state contracts.  The contributions to Palin are also  facts. Inconvenient for Sarah Palin at this juncture, perhaps, but still facts.

At this juncture Wayne Ballard re-enters the fray, writing in an article entitled “Palin’s Team Takes Swing at Voice, Whiffs”. http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/archives/2009/07/barrett_7.php

Sarah Palin attorney Thomas Van Flein spent his July 4 in Fairbanks, Alaska, issuing a four-page statement warning news organizations not to investigate allegations printed by the Voice last October.

Talk about waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Van Flein’s famous client had announced her upcoming resignation as Alaska’s governor the day before, and the attorney wanted everyone to know that Palin’s sudden and unexpected withdrawal had nothing to do with our story, ‘The Book of Sarah‘ [October 7] which, of course, made many wonder just the opposite.

Ballard was scathing in his response to Van Flein’s letter and pointed out that while the Palin lawyer’s letter was longer than the original Voice article “he [Van Flein] does not challenge a single fact actually presented in our story.” (Emphasis added).

The lawyer does not dispute that Spenard Builders Supply provided thousands of dollars in building material for the house, built in Palin’s final year as mayor, 2002, which is also precisely when the complex project was approved. Nor does he deny that Spenard provided supplies for the complex.

Ballard also points out that there is a web of other connections between Spenard and the Palins:

Van Flein does not deal with the other references to Spenard in our piece — namely that it sponsored Todd’s snowmobile team that won races bringing tens of thousands of dollars to the Palin family and that it subsequently hired Sarah herself to do a statewide TV commercial for the company.

The real point with Spenard, which Van Flein ignores, is that building permits aren’t required in Wasilla, making it impossible to determine if Spenard was the only complex contractor to work on the house. The timing of the construction of the house — it was completed two months before Palin’s term as mayor ended — is what also invites skepticism. She was running for lieutenant governor at the time, her first statewide race — an odd time to build a house, especially when your husband and constant companion on the campaign trail is acting as “the general contractor,” a claim that Van Flein now makes.

Again Ballard is citing facts that Van Flein either ignores or tries to obfuscate.  Now that we know that Spenard actually filed a notice of lien on the house and that no other notices of lien were  found during a recent records search, it appears likely that Spenard was the major supplier for the house.

In conclusion Ballard cites a host of other inconvenient facts that Van Flein’s letter avoids:

The lawyer acknowledges that she appointed the seven-member steering committee that oversaw the project and picked the contractors. Van Flein insists she wasn’t the chair of the committee, a charge we never made. He does say that Curtis Menard did chair it — a dentist whose son was the godfather of Palin’s son and whose family has been called “a second family” to Sarah Palin. He doesn’t acknowledge that three other members of the committee were her employees — her public works director, her city engineer and the man she appointed as the project manager for the complex. Nor does he mention that another member of the committee was the architect selected to do the complex who also happened to be the son of the GOP boss who helped get Sarah into politics in the first place and was described as her political mentor.

Van Flein dismisses this web of connections — to say nothing of the donations from contractors that he ignores — by saying that “people in a small town appear to know one another, support one another, and take on big projects together.” He says “apparently that’s uncommon in New York.” Actually, it’s quite common here, and journalists here write about these incestuous networks whenever we discover them, just like Alaskan journalists do. And there’s nothing that lawyers who threaten lawsuits without uncovering any substantive errors can do about it.

Right now it is not clear whether an investigation regarding “housegate”  has anything at all to do with Palin’s sudden resignation.  Indeed, there may be any number of  reasons for Palin to  bail from the Governor’s chair (cashing in, political ambitions) that have nothing at all to do with housegate.  In the meantime, there is no reason not to investigate further and get all the facts about housegate.

That right  to freedom of speech and press is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, a document that trumps any state constitution (including Alaska’s).

You don’t have to take my word for it.  Here is an opinion from one Alaska lawyer who has experience taking on the Palin administration and winning:   http://www.adn.com/palin/story/853746.html

Anchorage attorney Peter Maassen, who last fall successfully defended legislators sued in an effort to stop the “Troopergate” investigation of the governor, said Van Flein would have an extremely hard time winning any legal action.

“If (Palin) is actually a public figure, which clearly she is, there has to be actual malice involved, in my understanding of defamation law. That would be very hard to prove. … It’s a very, very high bar if it is a public figure,” he said.

As Shannyn Moore succinctly put it to Palin:  Suck it up, Buttercup.

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