MSU taps Blanchard firm amid conflict of interest fears

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard will represent Michigan State University in Washington, D.C., during investigations into the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, the university announced late Monday.

The university entered into a one-year contract with DLA Piper, Blanchard’s long-time law firm, despite fears by some Michigan congressional lawmakers about potential conflicts of interest. The agreement started Feb. 1 and runs through Jan. 31, 2019.

“I am very pleased that MSU has DLA Piper and Jim Blanchard representing us in Washington on the substantive issues before Congress and the Executive Branch,” said Interim MSU President John Engler in a news release. “His professionalism and that of his firm will be a great asset for Spartan nation.”

Engler, a former Republican Michigan governor, confirmed last week that he planned to tap Blanchard as an adviser, drawing criticism from U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, who said a conflict could exist if Blanchard’s law firm benefits financially from the relationship. Dingell’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Monday. U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, also raised concerns.

Blanchard has said there was no conflict of interest because he has no title or official role at MSU.

Blanchard, a partner in the firm, will represent MSU before the many federal departments and agencies of the Trump administration as well as before Congress. The Nassar scandal has spurred at least three separate congressional inquiries into MSU’s handling of complaints from girls and young women who accuse Nassar of sexually abusing them over two decades.

The former MSU and USA Gymnastics sports doctor has been convicted of 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and has been accused by at least 265 women and girls of sexual assault under the guise of medical treatment.

Blanchard, who was Michigan’s governor for two terms from 1983 through 1991, is a MSU alumnus and Detroit native. He served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and as U.S. ambassador to Canada from 1993-96.

In a statement Monday, Blanchard said: “It will be a pleasure and an honor to work on these matters with Interim President Engler.”

“DLA Piper will be prepared to assist MSU in answering the numerous inquiries concerning Title IX and sexual assault policies on campus from congressional members and committees,” Blanchard said. “I will help MSU coordinate and cooperate with any inquiry so that all issues are resolved promptly, that action will restore confidence in a great university that is my beloved alma mater.”