Short-listed potential VP nominees are required to hand over tax returns, medical histories, financial statements, court records, and anything else labeled "private and confidential," while also answering the most probing questions about themselves, their spouses, their children and their extended family—questions I would not dream of posing in any other context.
Yet, as in all campaigns, if we had allowed good manners to intervene, anything we missed surely would have been dredged up by someone else. In 1976, the Ford campaign's vetting questionnaire had 16 questions; the one we used in 2008 had almost 80, with multiple subparts. We asked about infidelity, sexual harassment, discrimination, plagiarism, alcohol or drug addiction, delinquent taxes, credit history, and use of government positions or resources for personal benefit. Nothing was off-limits.
The vetting of Sarah Palin was no less rigorous, just compressed. She was a late addition to the short list, catapulted into contention by the campaign's calculus that a woman would broaden the ticket's appeal. Our team of lawyers churned out the expected detailed written vetting report—only we packed eight weeks of research into less than one. We pulled information from Alaska-centric websites, including her local critics' blogs and copies of Wasilla church sermons.
Assisted by the candid information Gov. Palin provided, we identified and reported every issue that subsequently arose (with one exception: her husband's membership in the Alaska Independence Party).