MSU pressures Engler to interview with AG's office

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Dianne Byrum, chair of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, is pushing John Engler to be interviewed by the Attorney General's Office.

Michigan State University trustees chair Dianne Byrum has put pressure on former Interim President John Engler to interview with the attorney general's office in the Larry Nassar investigation, adding that his attendance at MSU sporting events is a distraction that "has not helped the situation."  

But Engler's lawyer countered that Engler is willing to be interviewed by the AG's office. According to Seth B. Waxman, the office has not contacted Engler since it canceled the last scheduled interview. He added that Engler's attendance at sporting events "has no connection to the investigation."

In an April 9 letter to Engler, Byrum said, "We cannot emphasize enough how important this interview is in our continued cooperation with the Attorney General’s Office and our desire to wrap up the investigation."

"When you came to the university early last year, you pledged your cooperation with then-lead investigator William Forsyth," Byrum wrote. "In your Feb. 5, 2018, letter to Forsyth, you said, 'In all matters, including the various pending investigations, my policy will be that of full cooperation. ... Spartan nation needs the full truth, and I, as Interim President, assure you we will all fully cooperate in your investigation.'"

Byrum added that MSU agreed with recent statements by Attorney General Dana Nessel that Engler needs to cooperate and to make her interview request a priority.

"Further delay in getting the interview completed is not acceptable," Byrum wrote. "Additionally, the distractions caused by your attendance at MSU events, such as basketball games, and the resulting media coverage, has not helped the situation. We know you love this great university. However, the university expects and demands you obtain a swift resolution to this situation."

Nessel requested an interview with Engler in January around the same time he resigned under pressure after a year at the helm of MSU in the wake of the scandal involving serial pedophile Nassar.

Michigan State University Interim President John Engler answers questions from The Detroit News Editorial Board and reporters in the Tony Snow conference room at The Detroit News in downtown Detroit on Friday, January 11, 2019.

The interview has become a source of contention between the university, the AG's office and Engler, with all sides pointing to others to explain why the interview has not occurred.

In an April 12 response to Byrum, Engler's lawyer, Waxman, questioned the premise of her letter.

"Your letter seems to be predicated on the assumption that Mr. Engler was unwilling to cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation," Waxman wrote. "This is incorrect. Mr. Engler at all times offered, and made himself available, to meet with the Attorney General’s Office."

Waxman wrote that the AG's office initially suggested that the interview could be held in Washington, D.C., and at no time did either Engler or he state that Engler was unwilling to be interviewed in Michigan.

"An interview was scheduled for March 28, 2019, in Washington, D.C.," Waxman wrote. "However, on March 19, 2019, the Attorney General’s Office unilaterally canceled the interview and asserted with no basis whatsoever that Mr. Engler was refusing to cooperate. We have not heard from the Attorney General’s Office since then.

Waxman added that Engler’s attendance at MSU events, including basketball games, "has no connection to the investigation." 

"Mr. Engler loves MSU," Waxman wrote. "He obtained his undergraduate degree from the school and served as Interim President during a difficult time in the school’s history. So, to allege that he has not cooperated with the investigation misstates the record and fails to recognize the patent bias and unprofessional conduct the Attorney General’s Office has demonstrated in connection with this matter."

In a statement, AG spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said the office informed Waxman on many occasions that its representatives would only travel to Washington if Engler was not going to be in Michigan any time in the near future. 

"It is unfortunate that Mr. Waxman, who is being paid for with University funds, continues to misrepresent the nature of the conversations he has had with the Office of the Attorney General," Rossman-McKinney said. "After the interview in D.C. was canceled we made it clear to Mr. Waxman that if Mr. Engler wished to voluntarily appear for his interview in Michigan, he could contact our chief investigator, with whom Waxman had previously communicated.

"We urge Mr. Engler to step up and speak for himself rather than his attorney," she said. "If he truly wants to cooperate, he should come to Michigan for his interview.”