Thus was the first shot fired in the Great McCain/Palin War of ’09, my friends. From Sarahcuda’s book, a copy of which is now in the hands of the Associated Press:

She writes about the “jaded aura” of professional campaign aides and how McCain’s entourage limited her access to the media, leading to allegations – unfounded, she says – that she was avoiding reporters.

And she says that most of her legal bills were generated defending what she called frivolous ethics complaints, but she reveals that about $500,000 was a bill she received to pay for the McCain campaign vetting her for the VP nod.

She said when she asked the McCain campaign if it would help her financially, she was told McCain’s camp would have paid all the bills if he’d won; since he lost, the vetting legal bills were her responsibility.

I’m always suspicious when the media attempts to state her position without quoting her, but assuming that’s accurate, an unnamed McCain staffer will have you know that (a) the bills weren’t for vetting and (b) they couldn’t have paid them if they wanted to.

“That is one hundred percent untrue,” said the McCain official, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity in deference to McCain. “All those bills are from her personal attorney Thomas Van Flein, mostly relating to the Troopergate investigation and other ethics investigations. It is not legal to pay for those investigations out of general election funds, even if the campaign was so inclined.”

Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton would not confirm the accuracy of the AP report.

“The book remains embargoed,” Stapleton said in an e-mail to CNN. “The Governor will appear on Oprah first to discuss the book’s contents.”

Election law is so labyrinthine that I’m not even going to try to research this. There’ll be plenty of expert opinion about it on the wires tomorrow, no doubt, although election lawyers are welcome to send in tips if they have a take. In the meantime, a question: Why wouldn’t Team Maverick pick up the tab, assuming it was legal to do so? The RNC was willing to shell out six figures on wardrobe; a few hundred thousand more to bail her out of a campaign-induced legal quagmire doesn’t seem much to ask. If anything, given the tensions between her and some of the campaign’s staffers, you would think they’d be eager to do whatever they could to make her happy after the election to minimize the risk of an ugly McCain vs. Palin/GOP in disarray storyline.

Follow the first link up top for more details from the book. Turns out that, according to Nicolle Wallace, Katie Couric suffers from low self-esteem. Heart-ache.

Update: Another shot fired.

This senior McCain campaign official says they considered the $500,000 bill from Palin’s lawyer to be exorbitant — plus, even if they wanted to, they couldn’t use their general-election funds to pay for it (remember that McCain accepted some $84 million in federal funds for the general election).

“Everyone thought it was ridiculous,” the senior McCain official tells First Read.

Anyone not think the “senior McCain official” is Steve Schmidt?

Update: Here’s why it’s a bad idea to trust the AP. The line in the blockquote above about how “she reveals that about $500,000 was a bill” has now been revised in subsequent versions of the story to read “she reveals that about one-tenth of the $500,000 was a bill”. In other words, the vetting allegedly cost 50 grand, not 500 grand. Which makes it even odder that the campaign didn’t pick up the tab — assuming it was legally entitled to do so.

Update: Sounds like we have a disagreement over what constitutes “vetting.”

It’s not legal for general election matching funds to pay for pre-emptive legal defense; the McCain campaign did not believe it was legal for GELAC funds — a separate account that paid for fundraising complaince — to pay for the investigations either. But vetting is a poor word to choose. The McCain campaign footed the bill for Art Culvahouse’s investigation of Palin before she was elected. Palin was urged by campaign lawyers to set up a legal defense fund to pay for the investigations and ethics complaints that had nothing to do with her presidential bid.

“I can confirm that she was not billed for any vetting costs by the campaign,” said Trevor Potter, the campaign’s general counsel. “I do not know if she was billed by her own lawyer for his assistance to her in the vetting process, but from the excerpt that has been read to me by the AP, it sounds as if that is what she is describing.”

Without a quote from the book itself, it’s impossible to tell how much of a dispute there really is here.