If not for the explosive report by the Anchorage Daily News, detailing some 558 text messages sent to a junior female state employee inviting her to his home as an apparent attempt to begin an affair over a 27-span earlier this year, now-former Attorney General Kevin Clarkson would have been back on the job this Tuesday.
Instead, he resigned hours after the report was published.
In his resignation letter to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, he wrote, “As you know, I have accepted and am completing a period of unpaid leave as a consequence for my error in judgment.”
So Dunleavy knew about the unpaid leave, but left unanswered about the incident is just what the Gov. Mike Dunleavy knew about Clarkson’s harassment, when he knew it and why he was apparently planning on letting Clarkson resume work following the secretive 30-day period of unpaid leave.
If Dunleavy and his press team have their way, we will never know.
In the week since then, Dunleavy and Press Secretary Jeff Turner have barred reporters from press briefings, refused to answer questions asked by other reporters and have threatened to cut off access if reporters dare question the governor about the sexual harassment by a key member of his administration. Some reporters have vented their frustration publicly, and others have done it privately.
“Just to be clear: It is OK to ask the governor of a state about the resignation of his attorney general,” tweeted ADN reporter Kyle Hopkins, the author of the initial report, after being barred from a briefing this week because he refused to let Turner screen his questions. “It’s kind of our job.”
KTVA-turned-Alaska’s News Source reporter Daniella Rivera was at that briefing and did ask the questions about the governor’s knowledge and handling of Clarkson’s behavior and was told to email the questions.
“When I sent questions about transparency related to his handling of the AG’s conduct last week, those questions were not answered,” she added on Twitter.
“It’s fucking bullshit,” an anonymous reporter told us. “The governor needs to say something.”
(For the record, we haven’t received any invitations to press briefings as soon as Turner took over. It’s been so long since we got a response to a question, that we’ve stopped asking altogether.)
This is all on the same day that the governor used his official platform to go after a private Montana-based outdoors company for opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which began with “Fake news from the media is one thing…”
The governor has since tried to hide behind the state’s personnel laws to deflect any and all questions about Clarkson’s conduct, pledging to run the questions through the Department of Law, once helmed by Clarkson, to see what he can and cannot say. It’s a process that several days later seems to still be in progress—if it’s in progress at all.
Assuming that that’s a legitimate defense—a big assumption given how legally tenuous many of the opinions produced by the Clarkson’s Department of Law proved to be—the fact that they’ve not already done this or at least produced some kind of blanket statement, instead resorting to strong-arm threats about access, is telling.
As the governor’s unofficial spokesblog gleefully pointed out during Gov. Bill Walker’s sloppy handling of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott’s resignation (which, if we’re splitting hairs, didn’t require an internal investigation and a pugnacious press to result in his departure from office), “The three rules of crisis communication are that you are first, you are right, and you are credible.”
“At this point, the Governor’s Office has not met the minimum requirement of any of these rules,” the spokesblog wrote in a statement that could just as precisely be applied to the current situation. “The explanations offered have instead appeared politically motivated.”
Perhaps Dunleavy’s refusal to face the press is politically motivated, perhaps it’s rank incompetence on behalf of his press team, but it’s clear that these questions will not be going away anytime soon. And they shouldn’t. Alaskans deserve to know why the governor seemed to hope the whole incident would go unnoticed so his top lawyer could get back to busting unions, infringing on elections and defending the governor against recall.
The governor’s refusal to answer these questions and his press team’s clumsy refusal to even muster the half-assed answer needed to get through a news conference without threatening the press, leads to only logical follow-up question:
What’s he hiding?