Michigan's attorney general looks to interview Engler about MSU

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Monday directed her office’s MSU investigation team to interview former Michigan State University Interim President John Engler.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has directed her MSU investigation team to interview former Michigan State University interim President John Engler, her office said Thursday. 

Nessel made the request Monday before Engler stepped down amid controversy. Her office had already contacted MSU to try to set up the interview and the attorney general is “counting on him to honor the request despite his resignation,” said spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney.

Nessel was concerned by the “lack of transparency and overall cooperation” by MSU under Engler, Rossman-McKinney said. 

Engler, citing the advice of counsel, has refused to hand over certain MSU documents in the Larry Nassar investigation based on client-attorney privilege. Nassar had sexually assaulted young women for decades while an MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor, and is effectively serving a life sentence in prison.

MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said Thursday she just became aware of the request to interview Engler.

"I don't see why he wouldn't comply with it," Guerrant said, adding that Engler is in Texas for the interment of his father-in-law.

Engler submitted a letter of resignation on Wednesday that the Board of Trustees accepted on Thursday. 

During last Friday's editorial board meeting with The Detroit News, Engler said a judge has reviewed all of the documents and there are 29 that MSU is withholding. If the judge rules that MSU should give them to investigators, "we are happy to turn those over." 

“There is no issue in those documents, but we are sure resisting the idea that insurance companies should get access to that information at a time when we are in litigation with them,” Engler said.

Nessel’s office is continuing its investigation of MSU and its role in the Nassar scandal after special prosecutor William Forsyth stepped down when his contract expired at the end of last year. Forsyth had been appointed by former Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Christina Grossi is the lead assistant attorney general in the ongoing probe and is working with chief investigator David Dwyre.

The investigation under Forsyth led to criminal charges against former President Lou Anna K. Simon along with Kathie Klages, the former head MSU women's gymnastics coach, and William Strampel, the former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine. Simon's preliminary hearing will be held this month.

Forsyth's December report on the investigation noted the university had repeatedly stonewalled the investigation "it pledged to support."

“Given the change at MSU,” Nessel’s office may approach the university again for documentation that had previously been withheld during the investigation, Rossman-McKinney said. She said Nessel’s office is “hoping for a renewed commitment to transparency.”

The change in the interim presidency and changes in the board membership “provides an opportunity to revisit some of our earlier requests that were denied or argued as privileged or we were told they didn’t exist,” Rossman-McKinney said.

When asked whether MSU’s general counsel Bob Young, an Engler appointee, would prove a roadblock to that task, Rossman-McKinney said she couldn’t speculate.

MSU Trustee Joel Ferguson on Thursday denied allegations that MSU stonewalled the investigation and said the university has cooperated throughout the process. He said each trustee cooperated when interviewed by investigators.

“This is Forsyth giving a rationale of why he couldn’t find anything on us,” Ferguson said. “It’s a nonissue.”

Rossman-McKinney said the university initially withheld or redacted 7,651 documents.

The university voluntarily released 1,000 documents after Schuette's office challenged the denial in court. Of the remaining 6,651 documents, 177 were ruled not privileged and went to the attorney general.

MSU objected to the release of 29 of the 177, keeping them tied up in court longer.