A Wasilla Republican senator committed "very serious" retaliation against a legislative aide when he held a news conference to denounce media reports suggesting that he'd sexually harassed her, according to a newly released nonpartisan investigation.
Alaska Senate leaders said Wednesday that they'd responded by sanctioning the senator, David Wilson.
That announcement was the latest turn in a dispute that's been unfolding since a June altercation between Wilson and the aide, in which Wilson pointed his phone toward the aide's skirt.
A political blog, the Alaska Landmine, subsequently reported that Wilson was alleged to have placed his phone under the woman's dress — though a separate, nonpartisan legislative investigation said that the phone "never reached below the skirt's hemline."
The incident, that report found, didn't constitute sexual harassment. But it did make the aide uncomfortable and placed her in a "stressful, no-win predicament," it said.
The aide never filed her own complaint about Wilson, but she did participate in an investigation that the Legislature launched after the Landmine's report.
Federal law bars employers from retaliating against employees for answering questions during an investigation of alleged harassment. While Wilson doesn't directly supervise the aide, who works in the state House, his status as an elected official still means his actions could be equated to an employer's, the Legislature's human resources manager, Skiff Lobaugh, wrote in the newly released report.
Wilson, at his news conference, denied not just that he'd sexually harassed the aide; he also said, wrongly, that there had been no altercation at all, Lobaugh wrote. He also revealed confidential information and investigative questions multiple times, Lobaugh said.
"In my opinion, his press conference will discourage future employees from filing complaints or participating in investigations unless properly dealt with by the Senate," Lobaugh said.
The release of the investigation Wednesday helps extend a two-month stretch in which the public's focus has been on lawmakers' own conduct, rather than on the policies they're setting that affect Alaskans.
In December, Democrat Dean Westlake, from the Northwest Alaska village of Kiana, resigned from his House seat after seven women at the Capitol accused him of unwanted sexual advances. And last week, House leaders asked Bethel Democratic Rep. Zach Fansler to resign after a Juneau woman accused him of slapping her during a romantic encounter in his hotel room.
Fansler has not directly responded to calls for his resignation, though his attorney last week said he had no immediate plans to step down.
The Senate has placed Wilson on probation for three months, required him to take a course on retaliation and restricted his travel, Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said at the Wednesday committee hearing where the report was released.
"The release of this report shows the Senate does not condone retaliation and expects all legislative employees to be treated with respect," Kelly said. In a prepared statement, Kelly said he would not say anything else about the report, based on the advice of legislative attorneys.
The Senate also required Wilson to write a "letter of responsibility" to the aide. In it, he quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and said he didn't intend "to have an uncomfortable situation occur as reported."
Wilson, in a phone interview Wednesday, said he had no regrets about his news conference, adding that it was necessary to protect his reputation from false allegations that he'd sexually harassed the aide.
"I stand by my press conference and I would not change anything about my press conference," he said. He added: "People just assume that I'm going to say, 'I'm an elected official and I took this role to be abused in this manner.' That's not true. This affects more than myself and my job as an elected official."
The aide declined to comment. House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, responded to a request for an interview about the report in a text message: "It speaks for itself."