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Alaska National Guard Scandal Adds Pressure To Election

ARUN RATH, HOST:

A federal investigation into rape and fraud allegations in the Alaska National Guard has found shocking abuses. Two state officials have now resigned and the governor is on the defensive about what he knew with only a few weeks left before election day. Alaska Public Media's Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

ALEXANDRA GUTIERREZ: The findings were worse than expected. Sexual assault reports were mishandled. Recruiting officers took advantage of young women. Military helicopters were used for personal reasons. And money was embezzled from the Guard's family assistance programs. Now, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell is being questioned about why he took so long to investigate the Guard when he first received complaints four years ago.

SEAN PARNELL: I'm sorry it did. It's not - that's not acceptable.

GUTIERREZ: At a press conference this week, Parnell walked a tightrope, alternately expressing regret while describing his response as adequate.

PARNELL: Every time I heard an allegation, every time I got an allegation of misconduct or my office did, we investigated that with Guard leadership.

GUTIERREZ: But many of the allegations were directed at Guard leadership. And federal investigators concluded that Parnell's appointees oversaw a toxic work environment. Because of the findings, that Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs have resigned. Parnell says that while he takes responsibility for oversight of the Guard, his own trust was abused by the leaders who handled daily operations.

PARNELL: I was misled on a number of occasions about how well the system was working. There's no question I was.

GUTIERREZ: That explanation wasn't enough for the protesters who gathered outside his office this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTORS: Sean Parnell has got to go - hey, hey.

GUTIERREZ: They were with Alaska Women for Political Action and they waved signs that said stop the violence and hold Parnell accountable. Sue Levi helped organize the rally. She's especially troubled by the delay in action because Parnell has promised to make sexual assault response a priority since he became governor.

SUE LEVI: We have such a high rate of sexual assault in the state of Alaska. We're number one.

GUTIERREZ: Levi, a Democrat, is no fan of the Republican governor. But she thinks this is an issue that will resonate across party lines and that could jeopardize Parnell's reelection in November.

LEVI: His negligence of this very important issue is a disgrace to Alaska.

GUTIERREZ: Levi says her opinion of the governor's response could change if he released records into how his office dealt with the whistleblowers who came to them years ago. So far the Parnell administration has rejected wholesale records requests regarding how they handled Alaska National Guard complaints. For NPR News, I'm Alexandra Gutierrez in Anchorage. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.