State releases over 4,000 email pages in National Guard case

  • By Mark Thiessen
  • Saturday, April 25, 2015 9:52pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — The state of Alaska released more than 4,000 pages of emails covering the National Guard scandal, but they revealed little new information into how former Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration handled the allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.

The state had initially released about 600 pages under court order just before the November election. Besides a few more emails released the night before the general election, the state didn’t release any until providing reporters with a link to a 4,142-page PDF document Friday afternoon.

The emails were heavily redacted, and the state also released a 51-page privilege log detailing the reason for the redactions, such as deliberative process. Many pages were also duplicative, including several copies of the voluminous federal report.

Parnell released the results of the federal investigation the same day in September that he demanded and received the resignation of his adjutant general, Thomas Katkus. This happened months before the election, but Parnell was dogged by criticism that he didn’t act soon enough after Guard chaplains took their concerns to his administration as early as 2010. Parnell lost the election to Gov. Bill Walker.

Parnell has said Katkus had assured him reports of sexual assault and fraud were being properly handled.

Parnell said he received concrete examples of how guard leadership was failing members, and in February 2014 asked the federal National Guard Bureau to investigate. The report by the bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations found victims didn’t trust the system because of a lack of confidence in the Guard’s senior leadership.

Media organizations including The Associated Press sought the emails that touched the inbox of former Parnell Chief of Staff Mike Nizich from 2009-2014.

Included in the emails was an open letter to the Alaska Legislature in March 2012. The letter outlines what it claims were problems with the Guard under Katkus’ leadership, including allegations that sexual assaults brought to the command’s attentions weren’t investigated.

The anonymous letter says the Parnell administration “has opted not to address these problems.” It asks the Legislature to investigate both the allegations of corruption and the “omission of action by Governor Parnell and his administration.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how or if the letter was transmitted to lawmakers. However, a week later, Nizich wrote in an email to Katkus: “We still need to do the letter refuting the claims and get it to legislators.”

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, also asked the National Guard Bureau to investigate the allegations in 2012, and that office didn’t find any wrongdoing in its investigation.

“Interesting that Sen. Begich had the same result in 2012 that I had in 2010 on the same issue,” Parnell wrote in an email to his spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, and Nizich was copied in to the note.

Parnell has said Nizich went to the FBI when he heard about specific conduct in 2010, and the federal agency found no basis for criminal charges. The FBI has said it doesn’t discuss pending or past investigations.

Walker took office in December and later named Laurie Hummel as his adjutant general.

“Because the release of these documents is part of pending litigation, I need to refer all questions to Department of Law,” Walker’s spokeswoman, Grace Jang, said in an email to the AP.

Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills said the records took a long time to be released in part because they needed to be carefully reviewed to protect people’s privacy. They included information about victims, perpetrators and whistleblowers, she said.

Mills said her office also re-reviewed every record provided before November’s election. In many cases the department removed redactions from those records, she said.

The department in late May plans to release the results of a special investigator’s report on the case, she said.

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