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Lansing — Attorney General Bill Schuette’s explanation for discussing a political convention in his government office is pure “fantasyland,” Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said Thursday, urging his Republican gubernatorial rival to “end the cover up or resign.” 

Schuette’s spokeswoman confirmed the attorney general, staff and a woman who usually works as his political fundraiser discussed the Republican National Convention during a July 2015 meeting in his Detroit office. They were planning remarks he would deliver in “his official capacity” as attorney general, she said, and the fundraiser was there as a logistics volunteer.

But Schuette was not actually invited to speak at the event until a month before the July 2016 convention, a full 11 months after the planning meeting, spokeswoman Andrea Bitely confirmed Thursday.

“He wanted to be a speaker at the event, and was planning ahead with his team on how to accomplish that,” Bitely said in an email to The Detroit News.  “Planning events on that level is something that starts years in advance.”

Calley questioned that explanation in a Thursday morning interview and accused the Attorney General’s Office of a “cover-up” to “justify the illegal use of taxpayer resources.” In a separate release, he suggested Schuette resign.

“The notion that they were preparing a speech a year in advance before even being invited to give a speech in an official capacity, that’s just fantasyland,” Calley said.

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“As they continue to be caught using taxpayer resources to favor the political standing of the attorney general or his personal finances with respect to his real estate transactions, their first inclination is to lie about it. And often times that just makes it worse.”

Stu Sander, executive director of a super political action committee supporting Schuette’s gubernatorial run, called Calley’s comments “sad and pathetic.”

“He can’t lose gracefully,” Sandler said.

Calley has faced criticism for not disclosing his own calendar. The executive branch of state government is exempt from public records requests, which Calley says he’d like to change.

But he has declined to release his schedule because it could contain calendar information about colleagues.

Calley’s call to resign is the latest battle in the GOP primary war. Schuette has consistently led public opinion polls despite a barrage of attacks from Calley and Democrats who have accused him of illegal or unethical behavior, allegations the attorney general has repeatedly denied.

"I’m the chief law enforcement officer for the state of Michigan … and the fact is I’m not going to have my integrity questioned whatsoever,” Schuette told The News on Wednesday.

The 2015 meeting first was disclosed in an email dump by liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan. The organization obtained communications between Schuette staffers as part of a lawsuit alleging he illegally used his state office and staff to build a political enterprise and help him climb the political ladder.

Gov. Rick Snyder routinely gets requests through his office to speak at political events. But the governor and staff would not discuss something like a Michigan Republican Party convention speech in state offices, said spokesman Ari Adler.

“No, if we were going to have any kind of discussion about something that was purely political in nature, it would be held off site,” Adler said.

Snyder said news reports "suggesting state facilities were used for political purposes raise some troubling questions about the Attorney General and the need for further review."

The governor, who is out of the state, has endorsed Calley as his successor.

"This is just an encore performance of political theater less than a week from an election," Bitely said. "AG Schuette will continue to focus on the cases that effect the lives of real Michiganians, not this flash in the pan drama created by someone trying in vain to tip the election in his favor."

In his national convention speech, Schuette touted his work as attorney general in Michigan but also highlighted his role as chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association,” a political organization he described as “27 women and men dedicated to defending the Constitution and upholding the rule of law.”

Other emails released Wednesday showed attorney general staffers, many of whom had worked on Schuette’s attorney general campaign or now work on his gubernatorial campaign, discussing political activities during regularly scheduled work days. But they were careful to always use personal email addresses, and Schuette said he’s confident any messages were sent on “personal time.”

His meeting on the Republican National Convention did not appear on Schuette’s official state calendar, which Calley’s campaign released last week after obtaining it through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Bitely, who described the RNC meeting as official state business, said it is “proof that the AG has more to his calendar than was reflected in the FOIA that was released.”

When the Attorney General’s Office receives a FOIA request, “we are prohibited from editing/altering the information — even if it isn’t accurate or out of date — which prohibits eliminating information but also means we can’t update/add information,” Bitely explained.

But Calley said there is “overwhelming evidence that they violated FOIA since the AG obviously has a second calendar managed by the same government staff.”

Calley said his team intentionally requested all daily calendars for Schuette, not just his official or public schedule. The RNC meeting was listed on a daily calendar that Schuette’s state scheduler sent through her personal email account.

“Does possession mean it has to be on the government server? If that’s the case, then we don’t have FOIA in Michigan at all. If all you’ve got to do is send a personal email to keep it out of the system and say the government doesn’t have access to it, that’s a pretty wide hole.”

Calley’s campaign last week promised to release a summary of his schedule but said Wednesday “these things take time” and told The News the analysis is “not available yet.”

“This is really rich coming from someone who hasn’t turned over his calendar and hasn’t turned over his emails,” Sandler said. “He’s quick to judge everyone, but ask him about his official record and he runs for the hills.”

Sandler on Wednesday released a 2017 email sent during typical workday hours from Kelli Saunders, executive director to the lieutenant governor, asking the Secretary of State's Office to amend a Calley campaign finance report. State records show Calley’s candidate committee gave Saunders a $5,000 “consulting bonus.”

"Kelli is on leave from her state job to work for the campaign and any volunteer work she did previously was taken off her time card," said Calley spokesman Mike Schrimpf.

Similar activity by Schuette staffers shows “nothing but personal support on personal time,” Sandler said.  “Until he turns his calendar and official emails over, Calley just needs to shut up.”

Calley's campaign did not immediately respond to a question about Saunders' role in his office and campaign.

joosting@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3662

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