Whitmer tweet implies Perles should step down

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer weighed in on the Larry Nassar scandal this week when she tweeted about the latest lawsuit against Michigan State University, implying that MSU Trustee George Perles should step down.  

The suit, filed this week in federal court by California resident Erika Davis, alleged that Nassar videotaped himself in 1992 raping Davis, then a 17-year-old field hockey player. The suit also alleges that when her MSU coach complained about it, Perles, then the head football coach and former athletic director, intervened and covered it up.

Gretchen Whitmer at her campaign office in Lansing on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2018.

On her Twitter feed, Whitmer posted a link to The Detroit News' report on the lawsuit, which included a photo of Perles, 84, along with a comment.

 "It is time to go," she tweeted.

Whitmer's tweet comes as Perles, who was not named in the lawsuit, obtained outside legal representation days after his son, Pat Perles, denied the suit's allegations about his father and as MSU student groups discussed calling for Perles, a longtime trustee, to resign.

Patrick Hickey, a Detroit-based lawyer, was retained by Perles on Friday. He declined to answer numerous questions, saying he had just begun representing the MSU trustee.

"Next week I will I will be more up to speed, after I spend more time with Mr. Perles," said Hickey. "We'll be in a better position to make a statement, if we make a statement."

Whitmer's schedule on Friday did not allow her to elaborate on her tweet, said her spokesman, Zack Pohl. He did not directly respond to questions about Whitmer's comment in relation to Perles. Instead, he released a statement on her behalf.

"I stand with the survivors," Whitmer said. "It's clearer than ever that we need new leadership at Michigan State University."

Pressed what her tweet meant regarding Perles or the rest of the MSU board members, Pohl resurrected comments Whitmer made earlier this year.

“It’s time to clean house at MSU,” said Whitmer. "(The Board of Trustees) failed to do their job, their oversight. There’s no way the survivors will have confidence (in MSU again) until everyone who was there is gone."

Whitmer, a former state legislator who started her run for governor a year ago, holds two MSU degrees and has publicly revealed she was sexually assaulted while attending the university.

In the wake of the Davis lawsuit, MSU's James Madison College Student Senate passed a resolution calling for Perles' resignation, while the Associated Students of Michigan State University informally discussed the issue, according to The State News, MSU's student newspaper. 

The State News report also included a comment from Katherine “Cookie” Rifiotis, the student body president, that she had not yet met Perles at a trustee meeting because he has been sick.

Perles was elected to the Board of Trustees in 2007 and 2014, according to MSU. His current term expires Jan. 1, 2023.

Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican who is running against Whitmer, could not be reached for comment Friday.

But in his role as the state's top law enforcer, Schuette's office brought charges against Nassar for first-degree criminal sexual conduct that led to him admitting guilt in two courts. 

After judges sentenced Nassar for those crimes, plus possession of child pornography, Schuette said a thorough investigation needed to be launched "from the president's office down" at MSU.

"My department in this investigation will find out who knew what and when, who took action, who failed to take action, what did or did not happen and what should have happened," Schuette said in January.

Schuette appointed William Forsyth as independent investigator in the MSU case. His investigation has led to four criminal charges against William Strampel, the former dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, and two criminal charges against Kathie Klages, the longtime head MSU gymnastics coach who two gymnasts allegedly told about Nassar in 1997.

The Attorney General's investigation into MSU is ongoing.

Meanwhile, AG officials said they were reviewing the Davis allegations.