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Exclusive: Gov. Palin Apologizes for Her Church's Suspicious Fire

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," December 15, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin goes "On the Record" about her church, torched in a case of arson. About $1 million worth of damage has been done to the Wasilla Bible Church. An accelerant has been found at the scene. Moments ago, Governor Sarah Palin went "On the Record."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Governor, nice to hear from you again.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, nice to hear your voice, Greta. How are you?

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm very well. Governor, where are you?

PALIN: I am in Juneau.

VAN SUSTEREN: I assume getting ready for the budget and working on Alaska business?

PALIN: Oh, yes. We just rolled out our budget for the next fiscal year, and I look forward to working with lawmakers adjusting it according to the price of a barrel of oil that keeps fluctuating.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, the reason I wanted to talk to you is the bad news back home in Wasilla. How did you hear about the fire?

PALIN: We had folks stop by our house. I was at home over the weekend, and we had folks stop by our house at about 1:30 in the morning, knocking on our door, letting us know that the church was burning. And they wanted to let us know. We live only about a mile away from the church, just letting us know that there were some crazy, mean-spirited people out there and just giving us a heads-up. That's how we found out.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, when we were in Alaska after you first became the running mate with Senator McCain, we actually visited that church. That's a brand-new church, isn't it.

PALIN: It is, and that's what's pretty sad about this, is all the effort that had gone into it this beautiful church, to build it very practically and prudently and spending other people's money so wisely, the leadership of the church has done, and a beautiful new church. And yes, that made us ever more sad.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, did you actually see the damage? Did you make a trip to the church?

PALIN: Yes. We didn't go inside. We went to the exterior, Todd and I did, the next morning just to, you know, see, of course, if there's anything that we could do to help. But extensive damage. In fact, it's probably over a million dollars or more in damage to this new church, a lot of structural damage, and a lot of rebuilding will be done, of course.

And I love the fact that the pastor, the leadership, has come right out and said, you know, This isn't the end of the world. My goodness, we're going to -- we're going to rebuild. And this is such a charitable and giving church that that's how they're looking at this, as more opportunity to somehow turn this around, what was meant for evil, turn it around into good and continue to help this community.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, looking at the damage, it looks -- I mean, and a million-dollar price tag on it, that's a lot of damage. Now, were people inside the church at the time?

PALIN: Yes, there was a group of women who were doing some scrapbooking, some crafts there, and children in the church. Kind of late into the evening they were working, and they were the ones who first discovered that there was an obvious problem with the fire alarms going off and looking down the hall and seeing fire in a couple of different spots.

And it became pretty obvious, I think, quite -- quite near the very beginning of this whole episode that this was suspicious because there were just too many things that had taken place that evening. And they've got the experts looking into it now, of course, what caused the fire, but quite suspicious.

Watch Greta's interview with Gov. Palin

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you know if there were any threats to the church?

PALIN: I don't know, and the pastor hasn't spoken much about that, and I'll leave that to the pastor to speak to. But very thankful -- again, Greta, I want to reiterate, how thankful everyone is that those -- the moms and the children got out of the church safely as they were doing just some good-hearted work in the church that evening for other people, helping out others, that they got out safely.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, I heard that -- or let me ask you. Is there any suspicion in your mind that it may be in any way related to the fact that you're the governor of Alaska, you ran for the second-highest office in the country and an obviously high-profile member of the church?

PALIN: Well, not -- not just that church, but a couple other churches that I've even visited in Alaska certainly received some unfair scrutiny and negative press, I think, because I happened to have participated in some of the events at their churches. So maybe that raised some eyebrows right off the bat, and that was -- certainly, it's a concern of mine. And I apologized to the assistant pastor, letting them know and if there's anything that I've done to draw negative attention to that good church, I certainly apologize for it. But I don't know. There again, experts are looking into any kind of political threat.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, when I was there, actually, they were quite proud that you were a member of it. They certainly weren't shying away from you being a member.

PALIN: True. Well, anyone who has visited that church I think, too, would be very proud of the teaching coming from that church. It's non- denominational, just biblically-based, not controversial or anything else. It's just a great, again, charitable and very giving church that helps this community and helps the entire state of Alaska.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, when we were there, there was one little controversy that was brewing that the pastor was trying to explain to us about gays and some sort of meeting in Anchorage. Do you know about that at all, what that controversy was?

PALIN: Yes, I think there was an insert in the church's bulletin one Sunday that had advertised a seminar that was being (INAUDIBLE) at another church in Anchorage, and it had to do with those who wanted some assistance or some kind of counseling in dealing with any struggles that they would have regarding homosexuality. And it was a seminar that was advertised at the church. And yes, that drew quite a bit of scrutiny during the presidential campaign because people looked at that and wanted to spin that into something that it was not. And yes, that was a bit of the scrutiny and attention that the Wasilla Bible Church has received.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, are gays welcome at your church in Wasilla, the one that was burned?

PALIN: Absolutely. Of course. Yes. In fact, the pastors and leadership at that church, they are quite open in terms of welcoming people into the church and assisting anyone who desires assistance or counseling or help. That's what this church is all about. Wasilla Bible Church, along with some other churches in Wasilla and Alaska, are very, very good, very, again, biblically-based and not intolerant or judgmental, just welcoming people of all walks of life.

VAN SUSTEREN: So I understand they had to scramble to find a place for church on Sunday. Now, you were in Juneau, doing the state's business. Did your family go to church? And what -- how did they -- how did they find a church so quickly? What did they do?

PALIN: Yes, the kids and Todd did go to church the next day at Wasilla Middle School, which is kind of a cool thing that happens up here. And you know, so far, so good. Heaven forbid anybody say that a congregation can't meet in a local public school. That's what we do up here. And the public schools quite often open their doors to a congregation that is needing some space for a meeting or for a church event. And that's what Wasilla Middle School did for Wasilla Bible Church. It's a great partnership. And everybody was very thankful that they had a nice, warm place to congregate that morning because it was a very cold morning the other day.

VAN SUSTEREN: Governor, I assume that there's some disappointment with the election, but you're back in Alaska, so are you happy to be back, at least?

PALIN: Very happy to be back in Alaska. In fact, kind of historic. Today we just left an event with our lieutenant governor that he conducted with the Division of Elections, he exercised for the Electoral College as we cast the three votes for the presidential ticket that had John McCain and me as VP on it. That's what Alaska just conducted, along with the other states today. So sort of historic that I got to be there and be an observer, anyway, of the Electoral College process, kind of cool.

But very, very nice to be back in Alaska and just conducting our business that's based on contributing more to rest of the United States of America with resource development and oil and gas development that the rest of the U.S. is craving.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you watching what's going on in Illinois with their governor?

PALIN: Yes, I am. And I'll tell you, now is the time for not just governors but all elected officials to really try to start shoring up some trust with the electorate, to let people know that -- you know, you cannot be in this business to get rich, for one. You cannot be in this business of public service with anything but a servant's heart. Otherwise, you know, you need to get out. So watching what's going on there in Illinois and wondering how long the guy thought he was going to get away with it and -- quite interesting, what's going to happen next.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, Governor, thank you very much for joining us.

PALIN: Hey, thank you so much, Greta. And I wish you a merry Christmas, happy new year to all your folks there, too.

VAN SUSTEREN: Same to you, Governor.

PALIN: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Now you go from Juneau, Alaska, to Wasilla, Alaska. Joining us live in front of the Wasilla Bible Church, Chief James Steele from the Central Mat-Su Fire Department, and Pastor Larry Kroon from the Wasilla Bible Church. Good evening to both of you.

And Pastor, first, of course, a terrible thing, what happened at your church. Pastor, when did you first get word that there was a problem?

PASTOR LARRY KROON, WASILLA BIBLE CHURCH: It was Friday night about 9:00 -- probably about 10:30 or so is when I heard.

VAN SUSTEREN: And Chief, I take it that you were over there with other people, or least the fire department, to put the fire out. Tell me what you saw, how bad the fire was when you arrived.

CHIEF JAMES STEELE, CENTRAL MAT-SU FIRE DEPT.: Well, we were dispatched about 9:40 that night, and our first arriving unit actually reported back that there was heavy smoke showing and also flames showing from some of the windows. So we encountered quite the active fire initially.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, Chief, I know that because it's an investigation, you're not going to tell us about, you know, some of the findings you have, but I am curious. Have you had other arsons in the area in the last six months, or is this unusual, sir?

STEELE: This is fairly unusual for us. We don't have any other events that we can directly connect to this event.

VAN SUSTEREN: Pastor, have you had problems? Have people made threats on your church?

KROON: No, I can't say that. They haven't.

VAN SUSTEREN: Pastor, now, I know that there's been some accelerant. Do you know -- can you tell me a little bit about what you know about the accelerants that were found, how many locations in the building?

KROON: Well, you know, with the investigation going on like that, we're just leaving that to the investigators, and I really can't go into that. I don't know many details on it, either.

VAN SUSTEREN: Pastor, I don't know if you heard our interview with the governor, but she said that -- you know, that she hoped that she was not the one responsible. Have you had a chance to speak to her at all directly?

KROON: No, I haven't been able to speak to her directly and -- you know, there's no need to apologize there at all.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I guess -- I didn't mean that she was responsible for the fire, but rather that someone was taking it out on her, is what I meant by saying that.

KROON: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: So Chief, how long did it take you to put the fire out?

STEELE: The fire was actually under control in about 90 minutes, but given the location of the fire within the walls themselves, it traveled vertically and horizontally in the building. So it took us several hours to track down all the little smoldering remains in the fire. So we were actually -- we had units still on location until, oh, about 5:00 o'clock just with some of the overhaul and clean-up.

VAN SUSTEREN: Pastor, I've been inside that church with you, in fact, talking with you, sort of that big auditorium, big church area, the big room. Was that room injured at all or was that hurt at all, that room burned?

KROON: No. No. That room's intact and the banners you saw any everything are still there.

VAN SUSTEREN: And the banners, of course -- those banners -- you're proud of those banners. That's particularly important to your church, isn't it.

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: I have a good memory.

KROON: They sure are.

VAN SUSTEREN: So...

KROON: I know that.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what was -- so what was the damage, like, in the rooms behind it? Is that it?

KROON: Yes, the -- if you remember, Greta, when you were here, it's the offices and the main entry area and all that section that you entered through.

VAN SUSTEREN: So Pastor, what's the plan, to just start all over again, fix this up or build another church? I take it you guys aren't going to give up just because you had a fire.

KROON: Oh, not at all. Not at all. This fire won't change what we do. The -- you know, a considerable amount of the building is in great shape. It's just in -- you know, analyzing the structural damage and start seeing what we can begin to occupy. And it'll probably be a staged reentry into the building and slowly work at the portions that we can reconstruct.

VAN SUSTEREN: Chief, good luck with your investigation. Pastor...

KROON: Meanwhile, we've got a great...

VAN SUSTEREN: Go ahead. I'm sorry, Pastor. Go ahead.

KROON: Oh, I was just going to say we've got a great situation with the community help and we're in good shape.

VAN SUSTEREN: Chief, good luck with your investigation. Pastor, nice to see you again, and good luck. And it's a terrible thing when anyplace burns, especially a church. Thank you, both.



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