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Schuette: Snyder’s lawyers withholding Flint documents

Chad Livengood, and Jonathan Oosting

Lansing — Attorney General Bill Schuette on Tuesday said Gov. Rick Snyder’s private attorneys have been withholding documents from his Flint water crisis investigators an accusation the governor’s office quickly denied.

“The attorneys with the Department of Attorney General are handling themselves in an exceedingly exceptional fashion,” Schuette said in a wide-ranging interview with Capitol reporters. “But it’s the governor’s private attorneys who were not providing sufficient information.”

The Republican attorney general did not rule out taking legal action against the GOP governor’s office to get the documents sought by Royal Oak attorney Todd Flood, Schuette’s special investigator leading a wide-ranging probe of the Flint water crisis.

“I think it will be worked out,” Schuette said. “And if it’s not worked out, it will be solved. ... If we don’t get the documents that we require, then we’ll solve the problem otherwise, other ways.”

Flood first publicly complained last week that unnamed “agencies” were not fully cooperating with his requests for all government documents relevant to the Flint water crisis, including emails, text messages, voice mails and Power Point presentations. After state-appointed emergency managers oversaw Flint’s switch to the Flint River in April 2014 for its drinking water, lead eventually contaminated the city’s untreated water and resulted in switching back to the Detroit water system in October 2015.

Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said Tuesday the governor’s office turned over “hundreds of thousands of pages” of records to Flood on separate occasions in March, April, May and June.

“It is puzzling, therefore, to hear the attorney general suggest we are not cooperating,” Adler said in an email.

Schuette said his assistant attorneys general who represent Snyder’s office “had nothing to do” with the withholding of records. The state’s chief law enforcement officer would not elaborate on the specific documents Flood’s team has been unable to obtain.

“Requests were made for information; information and documents were not forthcoming,” Schuette said. “It was the governor’s private attorneys who were not providing the documents.”

Snyder’s office has $1.2 million in contracts with two private law firms to provide additional legal representation for the governor and his staff in the investigations and civil lawsuits related to Flint’s water contamination beyond the regular assistant attorneys general assigned to the governor’s office.

“We are taking this situation very seriously and are working with the Attorney General’s Office to fully comply with all investigations,” Adler said.

Schuette declined to say whether any staff in the governor’s office have been interviewed by Flood’s team.

“We’ll hold each and every person whose accountable. Whether it’s negligence, whether it’s criminal conduct, we’ll hold them accountable,” Schuette said. “That’s what this investigation is all about.”

Snyder denied Monday his office was withholding documents from Flood’s investigators.

“We’ve been working hard to cooperate fully,” Snyder told reporters after an education budget bill signing ceremony in Commerce Township. “Actually, we’ve been working with the attorneys general that represent us on responses and such, so we’re going through that whole process.”

The governor pointed to the voluminous amounts of records related to Flint’s water problems that his administration has released to investigators and the public.

“Look at the amount of documents we’ve produced,” Snyder said. “Literally we’ve produced hundreds of thousands of documents, and again it’s a huge product and we’re going to continue working to be cooperative.”

Schuette-Snyder relations

Snyder and Schuette’s frosty relationship has been getting colder in recent weeks as the Flint investigation has rolled on.

Last week, Schuette filed a civil lawsuit in Genesee County Circuit Court against Veolia North America and Lockwood Andrews & Newnam, two engineering firms hired by Flint to help the city use the Flint River as a temporary drinking water source.

Schuette said the two companies “botched” Flint’s water treatment and should be forced to pay millions of dollars into a trust fund to help pay for the long-term health care needs of Flint residents harmed by lead poisoning in the city’s water.

But Schuette filed the suit on behalf of the “State of Michigan” without consulting the governor, Adler said.

The attorney general normally gets the governor’s support before taking legal action on behalf of the state. In other cases, Schuette can bring a lawsuit on behalf of the “People of Michigan.”

The second-term attorney general said Tuesday his decision to bypass the governor was “the right decision.”

“This is an extraordinary time,” Schuette said. “This is probably the most significant investigation that’s happened in Michigan’s modern history.”

Flint legal bills mount

As Snyder and Schuette’s offices continue to wrangle over the Flint investigations, their legal bills are mounting.

The State Administrative Board’s finance and claims committee on Tuesday advanced Schuette’s request to nearly triple the initial $1.5 million contract he had with Flood’s law firm.

The full board will vote July 12 on Schuette’s request to add $3.4 million to the Flood Law PLLC contract, bringing the cost of Schuette’s investigation to $4.9 million.

The attorney general defended the cost of Flood and nearly two dozen attorneys and investigators working on the case.

“The point is, you’re not going to do justice on the cheap,” Schuette said. “The amount of money that we are expending to provide justice and truth and accountability is very small compared to the harm and the magnitude that people have experienced.”

Democrats have sharply criticized Snyder’s spending of $1.2 million on private attorneys from the Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker PLLC law firm in Detroit and Warner, Norcross & Judd LLP in Grand Rapids.

Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said Tuesday the governor’s office expects to need more money to pay for the private attorneys.

“We do anticipate a future increase in the amount for both contracts, but are still working with the firms on cost estimates, so we don’t have an idea of what an increase would be at this point,” Heaton said in an email.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood