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Alaska to release Sarah Palin’s emails

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JUNEAU, Alaska » Sarah Palin is long gone from this capital, what with the new ranch in Arizona and the is-she-running-or-not bus blitz of American heritage landmarks Outside, as Alaskans like to call the other 49 states.

Yet nearly two years after she resigned as governor and nearly three since Sen. John McCain chose her as his running mate, Palin is steering still another wave of national news media attention toward Juneau. On Friday, more than 24,000 pages of emails Palin sent as governor, mostly using private accounts, are to be released in response to public records requests first made in 2008.

After all the delay — and after Palin’s past and personal life have since been scoured in depth by news outlets (and exposed through leaked emails, investigative stories and tell-all books) — the relevance of the emails and what they might reveal is unclear. But that has not diminished many efforts to obtain them — or the challenge of digesting them.

"Oh, it’s going to be six boxes now, not five," said Linda Perez, the administrative director for Gov. Sean Parnell, Palin’s successor.

Even as Palin orchestrates much of her messaging through digital media — one moment she tweaks President Barack Obama via Twitter, then she elaborates on Facebook, all from wherever she might be at that moment — her old emails are being released by the pound, not the pixel, in six standard paper boxes, a total of about 250 pounds at a printing cost of $725 per set. And at least initially, the documents can be had only by either picking them up here, in remote Juneau — a city accessible only by plane and boat — or by having them shipped, at considerable cost, to newsrooms across the country.

In addition, more than 2,000 pages of the emails have been withheld for various reasons, including executive privilege and privacy, according to Parnell’s office. Many of the documents that are being released have had details redacted by state lawyers.

"Why has your staff only implemented taxing ways to disclose these (redacted) public documents? What about scanning them?" Andree McLeod, a Palin critic who started filing records requests even before Palin became a national figure, wrote to Parnell recently.

The documents are to be released at 9 a.m. Alaska time on Friday — 1 p.m. in New York — and some news organizations are putting into place elaborate systems for scanning them and inviting the public to help search them online. MSNBC, ProPublica and Mother Jones magazine are working with a research company to create an online database of the documents. The company, Crivella West, created a similar database last year when the state released a much smaller set of documents related to the involvement of Palin’s husband, Todd, with state government. The company has not said when exactly its new database will be ready.

"But it’ll be as fast as anybody can do it," said Richard Ekstrom, the company’s chief operating officer.

The and other news organizations also intend to assemble their own searchable online databases of the documents, and some were asking readers Thursday to help reporters sift through the voluminous correspondence in the coming days.

The emails being released span from the beginning of Palin’s administration, in December 2006, through September 2008, about a month after she joined McCain on the campaign trail and as national scrutiny of her tumultuous time as governor became increasingly intense. Palin frequently used her personal email account to discuss state business, including with her husband, and those emails have been determined to be public record.

The some 3,000 emails relating to the governmental interactions of Todd Palin, which the state released last year on a request from NBC News, added to an existing image of him as deeply engaged in state business: involving himself in a judicial appointment, checking on labor talks and weighing in on state board appointments, among other things.

Late last month another slew of emails were made public by way of a tell-all book by a disgruntled aide, Frank Bailey. Bailey had been an early volunteer and confidant of Sarah Palin during her run for governor and later became her state director of boards and commissions.

The book, "Blind Allegiance To Sarah Palin," relies on thousands of emails between Bailey and the Palins to paint a starkly negative portrait of her.

The book asserts that Sarah Palin illegally coordinated an advertisement made on her behalf in 2006 by an outside group — the Republican Governors Association — and that she and her husband were far more involved in the controversial pressure campaign to fire a state trooper — who had been through a bitter divorce with Sarah Palin’s sister — than they had let on.

Bailey was deeply involved in that pressure campaign and was put on leave after he was caught on tape pressing a lieutenant on why the trooper was still on the job given the Palins’ concerns about him.

Palin’s aides have dismissed Bailey’s book as a work of fiction by a former staff member with an ax to grind. The Alaska attorney general is investigating whether Bailey’s use of the emails in the book violates state ethics laws.

Given past reports and that so many emails are being withheld and others redacted, many people question what light these new releases might shed on Palin. Some of the people involved in managing the email release were also part of Palin’s administration, including Mike Nizich, Parnell’s chief of staff and the last one to serve under Palin, and Randy Ruaro, a deputy chief of staff to Palin and Parnell.

The legislative session is over here in Juneau, and the city has made its annual shift to tourist season, when giant cruise ships line up in Gastineau Channel and thousands of passengers disembark into rows of shops by the docks. On Wednesday evening, the Stein family of Melbourne, Fla., was one of the few groups that wandered farther, through downtown and up Main Street to the tiny Capitol.

"I love Sarah Palin," Stephanie Stein said when told of the email release. "But is it really going to be that exciting? Is it relevant?"

But her husband, Neal, who said he had mixed feelings about Palin, saw a public benefit.

"If I was from Alaska, I would be interested to see what they show about how committed she was to being governor," Stein said.

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