Nessel clarifies: Nassar investigation at 'impasse' with MSU

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Attorney General Dana Nessel clarified Wednesday that her investigation into Michigan State University's handling of complaints against serial molester Larry Nassar is at an "impasse" over the withholding of several thousand documents. 

Comments from Nessel's spokeswoman Tuesday confirming the suspension of the investigation were "inadvertently misleading," Nessel said Wednesday. Her office will continue to push for the release of the documents and any other information pertinent to the inquiry. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel.

"I remain deeply committed to finding the truth about who knew what about Larry Nassar at MSU," Nessel said Wednesday. "Our department has continued to make it clear — over and over again — that we are at an impasse with MSU as we continue to seek release of more than 6,000 documents the university continues to withhold from our office."

Five of eight university trustees have agreed to review personally the documents that have been ruled privileged by the university's attorneys and a district judge. After the review, trustees have said they may reconsider release. 

It's unclear how the trustees "can say with certainty that the information contained in those documents is not relevant to our investigation," Nessel said Wednesday.  "In fact, the depth and breadth the university has gone to in withholding those documents only increases our fervor to obtain them."

While parties remain at an impasse over those documents and the possibility of an interview with former interim President John Engler is uncertain, the office remains committed to investigating MSU's role in the Nassar scandal, Nessel said. 

University officials in a statement Tuesday said they appreciated the time and work invested in the investigation and vouched their cooperation with the attorney general's review. 

Additionally, Michigan State has invested significantly in "education and prevention efforts to make sure this can never happen again," said Emily Guerrant, a spokeswoman for the university. "Our hearts are with the survivors and their families as they continue their healing as well." 

Rachael Denhollander, one of the first women to publicly accuse Nassar of abuse in 2016, said Tuesday she was grateful for the attorney general's investigation but frustrated with MSU's unwillingness to release documents or conduct an independent review of the university's handling of the Nassar scandal.

"We have a publicly funded entity that is run with taxpayer dollars that is not accountable to the taxpayers," she said. "Millions of taxpayer dollars and they’re even shunning a law enforcement agency."

Four board members — chairwoman Dianne Byrum, Brianna Scott, Joel Ferguson and Melanie Foster — voted against an independent review that would have included the appointment of a special master to review the privileged documents. 

Former Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, announced the investigation into MSU in late January 2018, shortly after more than 150 women and girls gave victim impact statements during the Ingham County sentencing of Nassar, who is serving a de facto life prison term.

His announcement came several days after the MSU Board of Trustees asked the attorney general to investigate the university's handling of the incident. 

Three MSU officials were charged as a result of the investigation led by special prosecutor William Forsyth, including former School of Medicine Dean William Strampel, former gymnastics coach Kathie Klages and former MSU President Lou Anna Simon. 

Strampel was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail earlier this year, but the cases against Klages and Simon continue. 

Before he left the investigative team in December 2018, Forsyth said MSU had repeatedly stonewalled investigators and was more concerned about financial and legal considerations than victims and the public interest.