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Counsel: State agencies withholding Flint water docs

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing – The special counsel leading an investigation into the Flint water contamination crisis said Wednesday he continues to face roadblocks from state agencies that are refusing to turn over requested documents.

Royal Oak Attorney Todd Flood, heading the criminal probe launched by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, declined to name specific agencies or specify whether the lack of cooperation extends to Gov. Rick Snyder’s executive office.

“I would say you can rest assured that if I don’t get from all agencies — governor included — what I need and what we have a right for, they’ll be in court,” Flood said.

The special counsel said he is seeking all government documents relevant to the Flint water crisis, including emails, text messages, voice mails and Power Point presentations.

“You can bet your bottom dollar I’m going to get all the documents,” he said, suggesting potential legal action. “If I have to use whatever tools I need to use, I will get all the documents.”

Snyder this week publicly released more than 300,000 pages of state employee emails related to the Flint crisis, the latest batch in what he called “an ongoing effort to increase transparency and make information more accessible to the public.”

Assistant attorneys general also represent the governor and state agencies in official matters, including document retrieval. Schuette has said there is a firewall to keep the investigation separate. Snyder has also hired outside legal counsel to work on various Flint-related matters.

“We greatly appreciate our attorneys in the Attorney General’s office and all of the laborious work they have done for the Governor’s office and all of the departments to produce hundreds of thousands of documents for Mr. Flood, as well as for the public,” Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said in a statement.

“We will continue cooperating fully with all investigations, as we have from the beginning.”

Flood discussed the criminal probe in Flint after Schuette announced a new civil lawsuit targeting engineering firms that worked with the city before and after it began using river water in April 2014.

The investigation has so far led to felony and misdemeanor charges against two state water regulators and a city official.

Schuette and Flood both said additional criminal charges may be filed in the near future but declined to say whether the charges could reach as high as the governor’s office.

“There are no targets, period. Nobody’s off the table. We’re just doing the job. Pretty much Joe Friday, straight ahead, find the truth. That’s the point,” Schuette said. “In terms of when charges may happen, I’d call it capital S, capital O, capital O, capital N. That’s soon, another tricky legal term. Soon.”

Schuette and Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton last month asked Snyder to halt an internal investigation into the state health department and raised concerns about the impact a state police probe of the environmental quality department could have on their own investigation.

The letter to Snyder was intended as a private correspondence, according to Leyton, but was released by the governor’s office. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade made a similar request.

“These internal investigations, many times statements are inadmissible,” Leyton said. “It creates all sorts of legal obstacles for prosecutors to deal with.”

Leyton said he and Flood have both had witnesses respond to investigative subpoenas by arriving with state- or city-paid attorneys suggesting they did not have to answer questions.

“You’re welcome to have a lawyer, but you do have to answer our questions, and anybody who’s telling you otherwise is obstructing our investigation,” Leyton said.

joosting@detroitnews.com