News & Politics

The Man Who Vetted Sarah Palin Looks Back on What He’s Learned

In an article in the “Wall Street Journal,” lawyer A.B. Culvahouse gives a slightly different account than what he gave to “The Washingtonian” last year.

A.B. Culvahouse, the lawyer who vetted
Sarah Palin for
John McCain‘s 2008 presidential campaign,
wrote this account–published Tuesday evening–for the
Wall Street Journal about what he’s learned from vetting VP nominees.
The Washingtonian ran a profile of
last year, digging into the O’Melveny & Myers
partner and Republican operative’s long Washington career. In his
WSJ piece, Culvahouse repeats his view that Palin was a “high
risk, high reward” pick for McCain. He explained more thoroughly
last year to
The Washingtonian what he meant by that assessment:

. . . Culvahouse chooses his words carefully as he attempts to explain what he meant. His forehead creases as he stares down
at the marble table.

“Well, high reward . . . .” His voice trails off. The room is silent for eight long seconds. “I mentioned that her . . . .”
Five more seconds tick by.

Finally, Culvahouse offers: “She had an engaging personality.”

He continues: “We didn’t have to push her really hard.” He says she would say, “Here’s what you should really ask me is why
I went to so many schools.”

Culvahouse says, “I would start out trying to be gentle, and she would just go right there.”

Culvahouse says her “thoughtful” answers to his stock questions were another part of the “high reward” aspect of choosing
her, as was her public-service ethic and his sense that she would energize the Republican base.

Now he tries to address the other part of the question. “The high risk really was . . . .” Seven quiet seconds pass. Then:
“Her résumé was thin.”

Culvahouse writes in the
Journal that he didn’t think Palin would be ready to be Vice President on January 20, 2009, but that he believed she had the “presence
and wherewithal to grow into the position.” This is slightly different from what he told
The Washingtonian. He told us he advised McCain that he didn’t believe Palin would be ready to be
President on January 20, but “she has the smarts to get there.” And he also said he told McCain that few vice presidential picks are
ever truly ready to be President.

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Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 as a staff writer, and became a senior editor in 2014. She oversees the magazine’s real estate and home design coverage, and writes long-form feature stories. She was a 2020 Livingston Award finalist for her two-part investigation into a possible wrongful conviction stemming from a murder in rural Virginia.