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Alaska must have clear path to pursue justice for young women in Allen case

As many Alaskans know, the state still hasn't fully recovered from the corruption scandal that beginning in 2006 rocked the state and sowed the seeds of mistrust between the people and their government. Certain prior actions by the U.S. Department of Justice -- the most powerful guardian of justice in our country -- have contributed to that lingering mistrust. However, there is a new opportunity for U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to right past wrongs.

That's why we announced last month that the state, as a part of the creation of the Department of Law's Public Integrity Unit within the Office of Special Prosecutions, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Lynch, seeking authority to evaluate whether to file charges against Bill Allen, the government's main witness in the case against the late Sen. Ted Stevens.

Allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor surfaced during the 2008 trial of Sen. Stevens, but were never pursued by the federal government. Two Alaska attorneys general, including now-Sen. Dan Sullivan, tried to get the Justice Department to allow them to pursue an investigation into the allegations, but were rebuffed without sufficient explanation, resulting in questions that to this day undermine public trust.

Because of the specific allegation of Mann Act violations -- which makes it a felony to bring someone across state lines for prostitution -- the charges had to be brought by the federal government, or the federal government had to cross-designate the state to do so.

Shortly after Sen. Sullivan was elected, he also discussed the matter with current Attorney General Lynch. It should be clear that none of this happened under Attorney General Lynch's tenure. However, at that time, Sen. Sullivan received an insufficient response from the Department of Justice. For years U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has also been asking questions about the case and also has not received adequate answers.

Now, however, such obfuscation is against the law. An amendment sponsored by Sen. Sullivan to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in May, compels the Justice Department to allow state prosecutors to pursue federal offenses under the Mann Act, unless it would undermine the administration of justice. If U.S. Attorney General Lynch does not cross-designate, then she has 60 days to provide a detailed explanation as to why she is denying the request.

The new law will help provide much-needed resources in the battle against human trafficking in the state and across the country.

Attorney General Richards' letter to the Justice Department seeks authority to pursue these charges. It also asks a specific question of the Justice Department, a question with profound implications that has haunted Alaskans for years. If the Justice Department refuses to cross-designate the state, writes Attorney General Richards, "I would ask that the explanation for any denial answer the question of whether the Department's decision is, in any way, based on a suggestion or assurance (whether expressed or implied) by any federal official to not prosecute Mr. Allen in order to secure his cooperation in the case brought against the Senator."

This is a chance for Alaska to right a wrong and to close one of the darkest chapters in Alaska's history. There are allegations that young girls were abused and that the federal government cut a deal with Bill Allen to testify against Sen. Stevens, who was vindicated and whose conviction was overturned. Let us hope that was not the case.

But if it was, it would constitute a scandal of the highest order. And those who decided that prosecuting Senator Stevens was a higher priority than seeking justice for abused children should be exposed. Alaskans need answers, one way or the other.

A 2010 Anchorage Daily News editorial pointed out that although we don't know all of the facts, "We do know that young women came forward in this case only to be told, in effect, that justice they sought wouldn't be forthcoming. We do know this sends exactly the wrong message about the value we place on the safety of our children and justice for victims -- particularly those most vulnerable, including Native girls from Alaska's villages."

Alaska has among the highest rates of sexual assault and abuse in in the country. We have three times the national average of rape. The numbers for sexual abuse of our children are similarly horrifying.

Victims need to know that their government is working for them, not against them for political purposes. And perpetrators need to know that we won't rest until they are brought to justice.

The mission of the Department of Law's Public Integrity Unit is to restore public trust. We can think of no better place to start than with this case.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan has served in the U.S. Senate since January 2015. Craig Richards is Alaska's attorney general.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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