Snyder disputes lack of staff cooperation on Flint

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Washington — In a Wednesday evening interview with The Detroit News, Gov. Rick Snyder disputed suggestions his administration is not cooperating with the House Oversight committee’s Democratic members.

Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, has said 15 past and current members of his administration refused requests to sit for interviews or provide documents. It was an issue that Cummings raised at the end of Thursday’s Flint water crisis hearing before the U.S. Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The governor said he did not even know who all had been invited until Cummings and Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, sent him a Wednesday letter expressing concern. He noted that seven of the requests involved people no longer working in the administration, “so they make their own decisions.”

Snyder pointed out he has already made public more than 40,000 pages of executive staff and department emails and said he will follow up with committee staff “to understand what they’re looking for and what could be done, because I think I’m trying to be very cooperative.”

The governor also disputed Cummings’ Tuesday suggestion that he was “reluctant to come” before the committee and only volunteered to testify after he was “pressured” by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Only House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, could have issued a subpoena for Snyder to testify.

“I had a call with the chairman and thought it would be a good thing to come,” Snyder said Wednesday evening. “Again, I appreciate the fact there are multiple investigations going on. I want people to get to the bottom of this.”

The governor prepared for Thursday’s hearing by reviewing six large binders containing relevant documents and was grilled by attorneys at the DLA Piper law firm in Washington, D.C., in a mock question-and-answer session.

“It’s given me an opportunity to go look at a lot of information I had never saw or wasn’t shared with me, to give me better insights into what took place in other exchanges and environments,” Snyder said of his preparation.

The Republican governor downplayed criticism of the state’s emergency manager law. While he acknowledged that his appointees signed off on some decisions ahead of the crisis, he said the most concerning issue was a lack of common sense by “career bureaucrats” in the state environmental department who did not require corrosion control additives in the Flint River water.

“$150 of chemicals a day being added could have prevented this, most likely,” Snyder said. “And the part that drives me crazy, if you look at this, is they technically believed they were following the Lead and Copper Rule.”

But Snyder admitted under questioning during Thursday’s hearing that “it would be a fair conclusion” to say Michigan’s emergency manager law failed in Flint. “In this instance ... you wish they would have asked more questions,” he said.

Snyder is urging the federal government to update what he called the “dumb and dangerous” rule and said he will also pursue state legislation to go above and beyond water testing requirements.