LISTEN: Governor’s office slow to act in addressing attorney general’s misconduct

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and former Attorney General Kevin Clarkson at a press conference held at the Capitol, Jan. 30, 2018. (Skip Gray/360 North)

The victim in a misconduct scandal that caused former Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson to resign in August says the governor’s office knew for months prior to the resignation about inappropriate texts Clarkson sent the woman.

Clarkson sent 558 text messages to the junior state employee’s personal phone in March — texts where he asked the woman to come to his house at least 18 times.

According to reporting Wednesday by the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica, the woman says the governor’s chief of staff told her to keep quiet about it.

Anchorage Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins told Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove that Gov. Mike Dunleavy and administration officials explained very little and denied many of the ADN’s public records requests after the newspaper’s story led to the Attorney General’s resignation.

LISTEN HERE:

Full transcript of the interview below with minor edits for clarity:

Kyle Hopkins: We spent months reporting that story and kind of doing records requests and trying to get more information about what was being said. Eventually, we got the text messages after being denied records request for those text messages. We were able to report on all the messages that the attorney general had sent this woman. We published our story in August. And then since then, you know, one of the kind of remaining unanswered questions was well, “what was known about that misconduct? What was known about that behavior within state government? And when was it known and what was done about it?” And so that was kind of the nature of today’s story was trying to sort that out a bit.

Casey Grove: How has the governor’s office been responding to your questions and requests about this?

KH: They had been pretty consistent from the start on their position that they were bound by law and were unable to talk about most elements of Clarkson’s behavior, and that certain personnel confidentiality rules and HR investigation rules prevent them from talking.

My position, our position has been that that’s not the case. The law pretty plainly states that the head of a department within the executive branch is not subject to the personnel confidentiality rules. And then there’s the matter of the HR confidentiality rules. A kind of a key question has always been when did that HR investigation actually begin. And once I was finally able to talk to the woman who’d receive the texts, I got a better sense of when she actually was contacted by HR investigators and it turned out that that didn’t happen until 68 days after people in the governor’s office became aware that there was a problem.

CG: And then what does the woman say, though, about how the governor’s office responded to her? And I guess she actually spoke with the governor about all of this, right?

KH: The woman says that she spoke to her direct supervisor. Her direct supervisor makes Ben Stevens, the chief of staff, aware. And that’s back in April. And then there’s a little bit of a difference of opinion on when the chief of staff and the woman first spoke in person about it. But she says that it was before June. The chief of staff says that he did not talk to her directly about it until after after June or in June. By the end of June, she’s had multiple meetings with the chief of staff, and she’s met with the governor. There was kind of a flurry of meetings and then on June 11 — remember this text message telling Clarkson to knock it off went out April 4 — so fast forward two months to June 11, that’s when the governor’s office says that they contacted HR to do to investigate the complaint.

CG: Where does this go from here? Is this what we remember about it? You know, that they didn’t respond very quickly, it seems like to her?

The next steps, like from a practical standpoint, would be either the state employee who now has a different job within state government, signs the settlement agreement or not. If not, then, you know, it remains to be seen what happens there, if there’s litigation or not.

My interest was more about kind of the unfinished business of better understanding. when did people in charge know about this issue and what did they do about it. By this week I feel like they did answer some questions. I mean, it took a long time to get there.

I think this process has revealed some things, some problems with public records law in Alaska. It’d be interesting to see if anybody looks at … amending that law. And I think there’s a case to be made, and we kind of made it during the reporting that, well, when you’re talking about the attorney general of Alaska, right, who’s head of all criminal and civil litigation, is the head of his department is therefore exempt, you know, arguably, from personnel confidentiality rules, and you don’t have an HR investigation that begins until a couple months after his actions, his misconduct, that most of that information is public. I mean, that’s kind of been our position throughout the reporting. And the AG is confirmed by the legislature, right, so the fact that the legislature confirms the attorney general also suggests that they have some oversight rule and ought to have access to information about his misconduct.