Attorney General Treg Taylor turned heads during his confirmation hearing with the House Judiciary Committee last week when he called former Attorney General Kevin Clarkson “an honorable man,” saying that good people sometimes do bad things.
Clarkson resigned abruptly last year as hundreds of inappropriate text messages sent to a junior state employee became public through an Anchorage Daily News/ProPublica report detailed how the former attorney general sent 558 inappropriate messages to a junior employee. Clarkson was set to complete an undisclosed monthlong leave of absence without pay before he resigned.
“I know Kevin very well and he’s a good friend of mine and I know him to be an honorable man,” Taylor said. “He himself would be the first to tell you that he is extremely embarrassed about what had occurred and what had happened and that it was inappropriate in the workplace.”
In a follow-up hearing, Taylor said nothing about the text exchange was honorable and said the state’s action to suspend him and his resignation were the right outcome. There are questions whether the administration had planned to quietly get through the scandal and have Clarkson resume to the job—ADN/ProPublica later published a report detailing former Chief of Staff Ben Stevens’ efforts to cover up the harassment—but Taylor told the committee that he believes additional actions against Clarkson were being weighed.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Matt Claman asked, “Do you think he was being an honorable man when he sent the first of those text messages to the employee of the executive branch?”
“I in no way condone what took place with those text messages,” Taylor said. “It was wrong, I think that action should have been taken and action was taken which ultimately led to Mr. Clarkson resigning. I think that was the right result and I would never condone actions of that nature in any circumstance.”
“When he sent that first text, was he being an honorable man?” Claman asked again.
“I’m not sure what that first text was. I would be the first to tell you that I haven’t gone through all of the texts that he sent but I don’t think that was an honorable exchange that took place,” he said. “Good people make mistakes and I’m a true believer in a redemptive quality. If we’re all judged on our worst mistakes then—I guess what I’m saying is, no I don’t think it’s honorable he sent those texts, but do I think those texts define him as a person? No, I don’t.”
Claman asked Taylor if he thought Clarkson had been held accountable for his conduct.
“He lost his position, his employment with the state. I think that’s the appropriate action for the state to take and I think that’s the appropriate result,” he said. “Whether or not he needs to do some continued soul-searching, that probably should take place.”
Taylor added that whether there’s civil action taken against Clarkson would ultimately be up to the employee to take. Taylor said that he respected Clarkson but that the texts were “a revelation.”
Why it matters
Clarkson’s successor, Ed Sniffen, also abruptly resigned as a report detailing a sexual relationship he had had with a high school student decades ago was published by the Anchorage Daily News/ProPublica. Taylor has been less mixed on his assessment of Sniffen than Clarkson, telling the committee that he hopes to combat the systemic failings that allowed Sniffen’s actions to go without consequence for decades despite it being somewhat of an open secret within the Alaska legal community.
Taylor says that he wants to use his position as attorney general to tackle Alaska’s status as the state with the highest rate of sex crimes. “I truly believe that until this scourge is rooted out, and our mothers, wives, sisters and children feel protected and safe, we are hobbled as a state,” Taylor told the committee at his first hearing.