Congressman: Snyder ‘impeding’ Flint investigation

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder “has no memory” of deleting any early emails relevant to the Flint water crisis, but his written responses to Congressional committee questions “raise a whole new set of concerns about the accuracy” of his March testimony, Democratic U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland said Monday.

Snyder, responding May 9 to questions from the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, backtracked on his sworn testimony, saying statements by his attorney he had called “not accurate” are in fact “accurate,” a reversal he attributed to a misunderstanding.

Snyder attorney Mark Paoletta sent an email to Democratic staff on March 16 that the governor had preserved all emails since April 2013 due to an emergency-manager related litigation hold. Prior to that, the governor “periodically reviewed his emails and either put them in folders or deleted them,” he wrote.

But Snyder, testifying before Congress the next day, said his attorney’s email was “not accurate.” Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, sent an April 15 letter to Snyder asking him to answer follow-up questions submitted by Cummings’ and other lawmakers.

In a written response submitted last week, Snyder said he had “misunderstood the question” posed during the Congressional hearing to be about whether he had preserved all emails since the litigation hold, not before. The governor explained various steps the administration has taken to discover and provide emails related to the crisis.

“I have not, to my knowledge, deleted any relevant item after the litigation hold issued and in fact steps have been taken including backups, etc. to ensure that relevant documents are preserved,” Snyder said. “As to the date prior to that, I have no memory of deleting an email that would be relevant and think it would be unlikely that I did so.”

Flint, then under control of a state-appointed emergency manager, began serious discussions in early 2013 about leaving Detroit’s water system for a new regional authority that is buildings its own pipeline to Lake Huron. Then-state Treasurer Andy Dillon ultimately signed off on the move in April 2013. One year later, the city would begin using Flint River water as a temporary source.

Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, previously expressed “grave concerns” with Snyder’s testimony and suggested Monday that the governor is “impeding” the committee’s ability to “thoroughly investigate” the Flint crisis.

“The Governor’s written answers to the Committee raise a whole new set of concerns about the accuracy of his testimony before Congress in March,” Cummings said in a statement. “Now he has reversed his sworn testimony before the Committee and admitted that he did in fact delete some of his emails, and we may never know what they said.”

Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton reiterated the governor’s explanation that he had retained and produced all emails prior to April 2013. He was not required to preserve emails before that time but does not believe anything relevant was deleted.

“Continued cherry-picking of legal documents and partisan attacks do nothing to help the people of Flint,” Heaton said in an email. “In contrast, Gov. Snyder’s focus remains on all levels of government working together to help the people of Flint and support Flint’s recovery.”

Cummings and Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, have asked 15 current and former members of the Snyder administration to sit for transcribed interviews and provide documents related to the Flint water crisis.

None of them have agreed to interviews, according to a Democratic staffer.

The full committee’s March 17 letter to the governor asked him to detail steps he has taken to encourage staffer response and requested that he draft a letter directing all current employees to cooperate.

Snyder, however, indicated that he would not do so.

“Whether the employees agree to transcribed interviews should be a decision between them and their legal counsel, and I would not direct any individual to take actions against the advice of their legal counsel,” the governor wrote.

The governor also responded to various questions regarding Flint water emails and meetings involving his top aides, including former Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore and Urban Initiatives director Harvey Hollins, who met with a Flint water coalition in July 2015 and were told “lead is the issue,” according to the committee letter.

“While Mr. Muchmore and I discussed concerns of Flint pastors generally, I do not recall if we discussed this meeting specifically,” Snyder said. “I do know that concerns about lead were being raised in the summer of 2015, and that the DEQ and DHHS response at the time were that the water met water quality standards and that the blood lead levels were consistent with past history.”

State Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, sent a Jan. 15 letter to Muchmore indicating that his community was “on the precipice of civil unrest” due to various water concerns, including brown coloration. The letter did not mention lead.

The committee letter asked Snyder if he had discussed the letter with Muchmore and how he responded.

“I do not recall discussing this letter specifically, although I do recall discussing the issues of the water quality a number of times generally,” Snyder wrote.

“One of the things the state did in response to the issue generally this was pay for an evaluation of the water system by Veolia, which identified water main breaks and iron corrosion as likely sources of discoloration, and noted possible responses that might address this in part but not completely.”

The March 2015 report from the Veolia consulting firm to Flint Emergency Manager Gerald Ambrose recommended spending $50,000 to add corrosion control chemicals to the Flint River water, but it did not mention potential lead contamination.

Flint returned to Detroit water in October and began adding extra corrosion control chemicals in hopes of recoating and restoring damaged pipes, an ongoing effort in the city.

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