Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, in a rare exchange with reporters, declined Thursday to endorse the candidacy of indicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.
Opening arguments began Thursday in Stevens' corruption trial. The longest-serving Republican in the Senate faces seven counts of making false statements stemming from allegations that he concealed gifts on Senate financial documents. In spite of the charges, he is running for re-election to retain the seat he has held since 1968.
When a reporter asked Palin, Alaska's governor, if she supports the re-election of Stevens, she replied: "Ted Stevens' trial started a couple of days ago. We'll see where that goes."
Outside a firehouse near ground zero of the 2001 terrorist attacks, Palin took just a handful of questions from reporters. She has yet to have a news conference in the four weeks since Republican presidential candidate John McCain chose her to be his running mate and has submitted to only three major interviews — with ABC, Fox News and CBS.
Palin was asked if she thought the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan was helping to mitigate terrorism
"I think our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will lead to further security for our nation. We can never again let them onto our soil," she said.
Although the McCain campaign said Palin was suspending her activities — McCain on Wednesday called a halt to his campaign to deal with the financial markets rescue plan being negotiated by Congress and the Bush administration — Palin was heading to Philadelphia for a rally at the airport.
Wrapping up a trip to New York for her first meetings with world leaders, the Alaska governor toured a visitors center dedicated to those who lost their lives in the 2001 attacks. She nodded her head several times and said, "Oh, my goodness," while a retired firefighter showed her pictures of the burning World Trade Center. She also viewed exhibits that highlighted the moments that hijacked planes stuck each tower.
Her tour guide was Lee Ielpi, whose son Jonathan, a firefighter, died at the World Trade Center.
Palin told Ielpi, "My parents came after the cleanup," and Ielpi replied, "The whole country did." She repeated his words: "The whole country did."
The Alaska governor also listened to a taped emergency call from that day.
Palin spent more than a half-hour at the visitors center. She emerged to walk past a bronze memorial built into the wall of a firehouse, which commemorates the 343 firefighters who died on Sept. 11. She touched the wall several times.
John Morabito, a New York firefighter, walked alongside the memorial with Palin.
"She was very personable. She was actually a little emotional because of the firefighters memorial wall," Morabito told reporters.
Before taking reporters' questions, Palin said she wished all Americans and all world leaders could visit the site.
"To come here and see these good New Yorkers who are not only rebuilding this area but rebuilding America, it's very inspiring," she said.