Release of 'confidential' transcripts concerns Flint water investigators

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Prosecutors involved in Flint's water investigation believe someone illegally provided confidential interview transcripts featuring aides to former Gov. Rick Snyder to a media outlet.

VICE News cited transcripts of interviews with multiple former officials, including Richard Baird, in a wide-ranging April 16 expose on the Snyder administration handling of lead-tainted water in Flint. Then, on Thursday, the Detroit Metro Times published another story by the reporters of the VICE piece with the full transcripts of the Baird interviews.

A new prosecution team appointed by Attorney General Dana Nessel continues to investigate the water crisis. Courtney Covington, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, said the prosecution team has "grave concerns about the unauthorized disclosure of investigative subpoena transcripts."

Special Advisor to Governor Rick Snyder Rich Baird speaks during a press conference held by Mayor Karen Weaver on July, 25, 2017 in Flint City Hall.

"Investigative subpoenas are, by statute, confidential, and their release without a court order is a violation of the law," Covington said. "Such conduct obstructs the investigation that the people of Flint are entitled to and threatens to jeopardize our pursuit of justice."

However, she wouldn't comment on whether prosecutors were investigating the leak.

The transcripts detail interviews between Todd Flood, who previously led the Flint water prosecution team under former Attorney General Bill Schuette, and Baird from February and March 2017.

Baird was previously Snyder's transformation manager. Snyder and Schuette left office at the end of 2018.

The interview transcripts featuring Baird are marked "highly confidential." And in one of the documents, Flood specifically tells Baird, "This is confidential. It's that simple. So I keep it confidential."

The transcript  "doesn't go anywhere" and is "sealed into an evidence room upstairs," Flood adds at another point.

Citing VICE's reporting, Metro Times alleged "prosecutors were investigating alleged attempts by Baird to pay off sick, publicly outspoken Flint residents with offers that included state-funded medical treatment, expanded Medicaid and home infrastructure replacements for pipes and water heaters damaged by Flint River water."

Randall L. Levine, Baird's attorney, said in a statement to The Detroit News on Monday that claims in the articles about Baird "are false based upon presumption and wrongly place him in a false light."

Baird had been informed that he was not a target of the government’s investigation, Levine said. And Baird voluntarily appeared for the interviews and did not claim privilege as he had nothing to hide, the attorney said.

As for the release of the transcripts, Levine said it "appears the only way such documents could have been leaked would be by the government, which is extremely troubling."

"By law, confidential information obtained by the prosecution including testimony and documents secured pursuant to investigative subpoena cannot be available for inspection or divulged and are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act," Levine added.

One year ago this month, Nessel's office removed Flood from leading Flint water prosecution.

Special Prosecutor Todd Flood questions a witness during the preliminary exam in this Wednesday, November 1, 2017 file photo, in front of Genesee County 67th District Court Judge David Goggins.

On Monday, Flood said he had no idea how the transcripts of his interview with Baird became public. But he acknowledged their release was "absolutely" an illegal act.

"I share the concerns of unauthorized disclosures of confidential material," Flood said in a statement. "I am not in a position to know why someone would do such a reckless act to disclose protected material."

Last year, Nessel removed Flood from the prosecution team. Nessel ordered criminal charges dismissed from the past investigation.

Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym  Worthy are now leading the prosecution team. On April 17, they promised criminal charges are still coming and that the criminal statute of limitations and the coronavirus pandemic will not stop them.

VICE says its new reporting into the Flint water crisis spanned "a year and a half across the state of Michigan."

Staff Writer Leonard Fleming contributed.