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Schuette: Whitmer 'failed by not telling the truth' about Nassar prosecution

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Attorney General Bill Schuette talks with reporters at the Kent County GOP headquarters in Grand Rapids on Sept. 24, 2018.

Grand Rapids — Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette said Monday that new comments from a prominent victim show Democratic rival Gretchen Whitmer is lying about why her office did not lead the prosecution of serial molester Larry Nassar.  

“Whitmer failed to get the job done,” Schuette said in a press conference at Kent County GOP headquarters in Grand Rapids. “She failed also by not telling the truth.”

Whitmer was interim Ingham County prosecutor in 2016 when Nassar victims initially began coming forward and her office helped secure search warrants that led to a federal child pornography conviction. Schuette, the attorney general, ended up prosecuting the Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics sports doctor on sexual assault charges in Ingham and Eaton counties, while federal prosecutors tried him on child pornography charges.

Rachael Denhollander, the first victim to publicly accuse Nassar, said Saturday that MSU police took the initial handful of cases to Schuette’s office “only after the determination by the Ingham County office to not pursue charges for any sexual assault.”

In doing so, she called corroborated comments by MSU Police Chief Jim Dunlap that Whitmer has denied and called “patently false.” Dunlap told The Detroit News last year that Whitmer had wanted to focus on child pornography charges rather than the sexual assault cases that could be “much more difficult to take to trial.”

Whitmer, the former state Senate minority leader who was sexually assaulted decades earlier as an MSU student, held an emotional press conference in Lansing on Friday asking Schuette and the Michigan Republican Party to take down an online ad saying she "refused" to prosecute Nassar, calling it a “callous, craven” lie. She was joined by several Nassar victims who asked the GOP to stop politicizing the case. 

But Whitmer did not tell the truth in that press conference when she said she referred the cases to Schuette, the attorney general said Monday, reiterating that MSU Police brought the matter to his office.

“What this really is is an integrity gap. It’s an honestly gap, which disqualifies her from being governor,” Schuette said.

Whitmer responded Monday by saying she stands by her work as Ingham County prosecutor "and the part I helped play in bringing Larry Nassar to justice." 

"My record is supported by both all publicly available evidence and the prosecuting attorneys I served with, and it's a shame that Bill Schuette and the Republican Party would distort that record in order to try to turn around his failing campaign," she said in a statement. "As a rape survivor, a prosecutor and an ally, I stand with the survivors who have asked him to stop weaponizing this case."

As The News reported, Dunlap met with Whitmer and the Ingham County prosecutors Office in October 2016 to discuss the case. Shortly after the meeting, he emailed Schuette to discuss the case and thanked him for sending out his team so quickly. “I am hopeful they will now get an advocate,” he said of the victims.

A day later, Whitmer emailed Dunlap through a staffer and said her team “remained eager to read any and all police reports you send our way.” Dunlap told Whitmer he agreed "the most important issue is insuring that the victim/survivors get the most successful outcome" and said "the professionalism of you and the office has not gone unnoticed."

Ingham County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Lisa McCormick said Saturday that MSU Police never sent a request to charge Nassar. As evidence, she emailed The News a screenshot of the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office record management system that did not include any mention of the case in 2016.

Denhollander, in her weekend statement, said MSU had provided her file and those of “several other survivors” to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office at some point to determine if the statute of limitations would allow for prosecution. “I have the email communication where the ability to prosecute under the current statute of limitations was determined,” she wrote.

Denhollander said she spoke out to set the record straight, not to make a political statement. "We, and our stories, are not political pawns to be used by either side of the aisle," she said. "I sincerely hope that this will end."

Her attorney, John Manly, said Monday on Twitter that Schuette "is now clearly using Nassar as a tool to get elected. It's shameful and reflects poorly on him and the office he holds. Sexual molestation is not a partisan issue."

Manly had issued a warning to the Whitmer campaign over the weekend: “If I were Ms. Whitmer’s staff I would be very careful here about calling my client a liar. Say she’s not telling the truth again. I dare you.”

Asked about comments from Denhollander and other victims who say they do not want to see the case become a political issue, Schuette said he has “great respect” and regard for Denhollander and “all the survivors" but made no vow to stop using the case in his campaign.

The Michigan Republican Party has denied claims of  politicization, saying the Nassar case is “"an important part of Gretchen Whitmer’s record that voters deserve to know.”