They knew. They knew the whole time: Report

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson makes the case for the administration's latest efforts to bust unions during a September 2019 news conference. (Photo by the governor's press office)

When did Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration know about now-former Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s harassment of a junior state employee? What did it know? And why did it appear that the administration was hoping that it would blow over and Clarkson could continue on as Alaska’s top attorney?

Those are the questions that the Alaska press has doggedly trying to get answers to since Clarkson resigned hours after the publication of an explosive report by the Anchorage Daily News/Pro Publica detailing inappropriate advances over the course of hundreds text messages sent to her personal phone.

Dunleavy and his administration have hoped they would never have to answer these questions and they’ve dodged press conferences, barred reporters from news conferences and threatened to cut off access to others.

Undaunted by the administration’s refusals—which are based on a convenient, bogus reading of the law—Anchorage Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins has continued to push for answers. According to his latest report on the incident, which features an interview with the unnamed junior employee, the administration knew.

It knew the whole time.

[Woman says top Dunleavy official knew of attorney general’s misconduct, was slow to act]

And it didn’t take any action to investigate Clarkson’s conduct until word started to slip outside of the walls of the administration months after the woman’s supervisor helped her craft a text message in an effort to put an end to the unwanted advances and blocked the attorney general’s number on her personal phone.

“I was like: ‘The chief of staff knew about this for months. For months. And now you expect me to believe you care about me?’” the woman told the ADN, recalling her first meeting with a human resources manager that came months after an anonymous whistleblower report was filed. “I said, ‘I’ll be honest with you, I think you’re only doing this because you’ve been exposed.’”

According to the interview, Dunleavy’s chief of staff, Ben Stevens, knew about the exchange by early April. When he finally met with the woman in June, she says he asked him to deny anything happened.

Stevens shrugged his shoulders, she said. “He said, ‘Just say, “What situation?”’”

“I was like, ‘Excuse me?’ And he just said, ‘Say, “What situation?”’” she said.

“He wanted me to just deny it. And I said ‘OK,’ but I didn’t do what he said. … I just stayed quiet.”

In an interview with the ADN, Stevens claims “It makes no sense that we would, that this office would do anything to protect the attorney general.”

Except it kinda does.

Clarkson had been a key figure for the administration that, having been stymied at many turns by the Alaska Legislature to implement its far-right agenda, had turned to Clarkson’s Department of Law to devise efforts to implement in through other methods. Much of those efforts, which have ranged from efforts to undercut public unions to block several election issues opposed by Dunleavy (including his recall), have ultimately been rejected by the courts.

Among the Clarkson’s cases was an anti-public union lawsuit intended to expand upon the Janus v. AFSCME lawsuit, which carried potential national importance and was a shot for the administration to raise its national profile among conservatives.

Stevens told the ADN that the whole thing is being propped up by Dunleavy’s opponents and supporters of the recall.

Dunleavy eventually met with the woman in in June, she said, where he reportedly told her she hadn’t done anything wrong and told her he’d think about what to do next.

Clarkson was later secretly put on leave without pay as apparent punishment for the incident and was expected to resume work once that period came to an end, which was a week after the ADN broke the initial story.

As for efforts to get ahold of Clarkson’s text messages, the state says it’s relied only on Clarkson’s word that no such texts exist and has made no other effort to investigate the matter.

“The attorney general does not have and did not have, and therefore did not delete, public records that he sent to or received from (the employee) on his state-owned or personal devices,” Chief Assistant Attorney General Alan Birnbaum told the Anchorage Daily News.

The woman told the Anchorage Daily News that soon after the allegations began leaking outside the administration, she felt she got the cold shoulder from the administration and people refused to look her in the eye. She was asked about the anonymous whistleblower letter, which she told her supervisor she didn’t write.

“I have two kids to provide for and a mortgage. Like, why would I put myself in a situation to potentially lose my job? I have too much to lose,” she said.

She ultimately tried to find another job with state, hoping for a pay raise along the way (a seemingly reasonable request given the administration’s penchant for handing out sole-source contracts and high-level positions to political allies). She ultimately has found a different job with the state but not with the pay raise though there is reportedly a settlement negotiation underway.

It’s likely the settlement, her efforts to find a pay raise amid the situation and her attorney’s connection to the recall campaign will be used by Dunleavy’s allies to discredit her but the woman says all she wanted was the unwanted messages to stop.

According to the ADN, “he said she is no longer directly supervised by Dunleavy, Stevens or the governor’s office staff but worries she will be fired or see her job defunded now for speaking out.

“Had it not been for this anonymous letter, it would have most likely just been swept under the rug,” she told the paper.

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