We Don't Like You Either

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  • Cockney Robin [Bemused Brit]
  • Anna Hosanna [Born. Again. Holier than Thou]

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September 13, 2008


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Last summer State Representative John Harris, the Republican speaker of the House, picked up his phone and heard Mr. Palin’s voice. The governor’s husband sounded edgy. He said he was unhappy that Mr. Harris had hired John Bitney as his chief of staff, the speaker recalled. Mr. Bitney was a high school classmate of the Palins and had worked for Ms. Palin. But she fired Mr. Bitney after learning that he had fallen in love with another longtime friend.

What happened in between? According to Mr. Bitney, Gov. Palin got a call from another old friend, Scott Richter, informing her that his wife, Debbie Richter, and Mr. Bitney were having an affair. Mr. Bitney had kept that secret from the governor, even as he told her of his divorce, he said.

Allies of Republican presidential nominee John McCain like to point out that his running mate is the governor of the largest state in the union. But at times, Alaska seems more like a small town, run by folks with overlapping professional, political and personal ties that can be difficult to untangle.

Gov. Palin and her husband, Todd Palin, were also close friends of the Richters. Ms. Richter served as treasurer of Gov. Palin’s gubernatorial campaign and her inaugural committee. After taking office, Gov. Palin put Ms. Richter in charge of the Permanent Fund Dividend Division at the Department of Revenue. The fund allocates oil revenues to Alaska residents; this year each Alaskan is expected to receive $3,269.

The two couples owned property together on Safari Lake, north of Wasilla, according to Gov. Palin’s financial disclosure reports. Each couple had its own cabin on the land, where the families would vacation side by side, according to Ms. Richter. In the most recent disclosure form, the governor reported that she and Mr. Palin now own the property with Mr. Richter alone.

“They were, you know, professionally my bosses, but they were my friends,” Mr. Bitney said of the Palins. “And so what caused them to want me to leave the governor’s office was my relationship, my divorce, my dating a woman with whom they had a personal relationship.”

When Gov. Palin was notified by Mr. Richter in July 2007, she called Mr. Bitney into her office. She already knew he was going through a divorce, and, Mr. Bitney said, he had “led her to believe there weren’t going to be any more surprises.”

Mr. Bitney said the governor “indicated to me that she was hurt, disappointed and upset, and that she didn’t know what she wanted to do.”

A few days later, Gov. Palin’s chief of staff “indicated to me that I needed to leave the governor’s office,” Mr. Bitney said.

“I understand why I had to go,” Mr. Bitney said. “I accept that. I was in the governor’s office and a trusted adviser. I betrayed that trust by not being forthcoming about what was going on in my personal life.”

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