Top aides and close confidants of Gov. Rick Snyder could be called to testify in a Flint water crisis criminal trial, according to a new witness list from Attorney General Bill Schuette’s legal team that names Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and a former chief of staff who now works for Vice President Mike Pence.
Prosecutors this week identified nearly 70 potential witnesses in the case against Michigan Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eden Wells, who is facing obstruction of justice and false statement charges related to a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak linked to at least 12 deaths.
Filed in 67th District Court, the list reflects the latest effort by Schuette and special prosecutor Todd Flood to probe the involvement of the Snyder administration in the Flint crisis.
State Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and four other former state and Flint officials are also accused of involuntary manslaughter, a charge that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine.
Calley has been the Snyder administration’s face in the Flint cleanup efforts and is expected by political experts to face off next year for the Republican gubernatorial nomination against Schuette, who has repeatedly said politics is playing no role in the Flint prosecutions.
“There’s an intersection between prosecution and politics,” said Wayne State University Law professor Peter Henning. “Could that be a factor here? We won’t know because they’re fully within their rights to name everyone who could possibly be called as a witness.”
Also named is Jarrod Agen, who was director of communications when Snyder in January 2016 publicly disclosed the Flint Legionnaires’ outbreak, and is now director of communications for Pence. Agen was making the transition to chief of staff when Snyder declared the outbreak.
Agen’s name was not listed in warrant documents for Wells, but Schuette’s investigatory team did mention him last month in warrant documents for Lyon. Calley is not mentioned in either warrant document, and his possible value as a witness is unclear.
Agen told investigators that fellow Snyder aide Harvey Hollins told him in December 2015 he had attended a Flint Water Advisory Task Force meeting where the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak was discussed, according to the document. On Jan. 11, 2016, Agen called a meeting and asked Lyon to look into the outbreak.
“Defendant LYON stated that there was indeed an outbreak, that there was reason to be concerned, and that Governor Snyder should know,” according to a chronology prepared by special agent Jeff Seipenko. He said Agen then met with Snyder on Jan. 13, the same day the governor publicly disclosed the outbreak.
Lyon is accused of failing to alert the public about an initial Legionnaires’ outbreak when he “had notice that another outbreak was foreseeable.” The warrant documents allege he learned about the first wave in January 2015, nearly a year before Snyder’s public announcement.
Other notable potential witnesses in the Wells’ case include former Snyder Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore, former state Treasurer Andy Dillon and the governor’s urban initiatives chief Hollins. Current Snyder Chief of Staff Dick Posthumus, Treasurer Nick Khouri and Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh were also named.
A shorter list of preliminary examination witnesses includes former Department of Environmental Quality Dan Wyant, who resigned amid the Flint lead contamination crisis in late 2015. Subpoenas will or have been issued, according to the document.
It is highly unlikely that Schuette’s legal team will call all 67 witnesses, said Henning, a former federal prosecutor who added that prosecutors are “covering their bases” by giving the defense notice of who they may call to the stand.
Such lists are typically “over-inclusive,” Henning said, and are usually whittled down by the time of trial.
“I doubt we will see the lieutenant governor or anyone high up in the administration called to testify, but as a prosecutor, you have to make sure to list everyone who there is a chance you might call,” he said.
Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton declined to “speculate or comment on the investigation or prosecution and who might be called to testify.” Calley spokeswoman Laura Biehl echoed that response, and Agen couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Wells’ attorneys have previously said they will vigorously fight the charges against her, and Heaton said this week “the governor continues to have full faith and confidence in Dr. Wells.” He has said the same about Lyon as well.
Schuette’s team indicated the prosecution may call as many as 12 witnesses in the scheduled October preliminary examination of Wells, who faces up to two years in prison if convicted of obstruction of justice. She also faces a misdemeanor charge of lying to special agent.
Preliminary exam witnesses include Wyant, former state health officials, former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling and a Wayne State professor of medicine who has accused Wells of trying to “suppress” research into any connection between Flint’s lead contaminated water and the 2014-15 Legionnaires’ outbreak.
A spokeswoman for Schuette declined to discuss the witness list.
Among those who may be called to testify at Wells’ preliminary exam in October:
■Tim Becker, former deputy director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
■Jay Fiedler, manager of the Surveillance and Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section of the state health department. A Schuette charging document said Fiedler would say that starting in May he talked Wells on a daily basis, often about Legionella issues in Genesee County.
■Genesee County environmental health supervisor James Henry, who had a tense relationship with the state health agency on the Legionnaires’ issue.
■Corinne Miller, former state epidemiologist.
■Wayne State University researcher Shawn McElmurry. A charging document said McElmurry would testify that in January 2016 Hollins asked to conduct research into whether Flint’s switch in water source caused the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. The document also indicates he and others would testify that Elmurry was directed to stop his retrospective analysis because it “proved problematic.”
■Jim Sygo, deputy director at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. A charging document said he would testify that he never heard back from Wells after telling her in March 2015 that there was a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Genesse County and that she said she would see if the state health department.
Freelancer Jacob Carah and Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.