Schuette, Snyder spar over Flint water investigations

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Mackinac Island — Attorney General Bill Schuette says his letter to Gov. Rick Snyder asking the governor to halt internal state investigations of the Flint water crisis while he completes a criminal probe was meant to be a “private” correspondence.

In an interview at the Mackinac Policy Conference, the state’s chief law enforcement officer declined to say whether Snyder’s public release of the letter may have harmed his investigation further.

“I’m not going to get into that,” Schuette told The Detroit News. “I’m just saying I wrote a private letter, and they chose to release it publicly and that was their decision, not mine.”

Snyder’s office released the May 25 letter from Schuette and Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton without sending a reply or giving the Attorney General’s Office a heads-up, Schuette spokesman John Sellek said.

“And they still haven’t replied,” Sellek said.

The dust-up over the letter is the latest sign of growing tensions between two Republican officeholders.

Snyder Chief of Staff Jarrod Agen said the governor’s office treated the letter like any of the other thousands of pages of records they have voluntarily made public related to Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis.

“In the interest of transparency, we’ve been releasing emails, letters and correspondence regarding Flint because people want to know what’s happening,” Agen said Friday.

On May 25, Schuette and Leyton sent Snyder a letter asking that he halt a state auditor’s investigation of the Department of Health and Human Services’ role in Flint’s water crisis. Auditor General Doug Ringler, who answers to the Legislature and not Snyder, quickly agreed to suspend his investigation pending the outcome of Schuette’s probe.

Schuette, Leyton and U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said the Michigan State Police’s earlier administrative investigation of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality could hurt criminal prosecutions because employees were compelled to give statements or face employment sanctions. The compelled statements could be thrown out in criminal trials.

“We don’t want to have the guilty go free because of a procedural concern with a civil investigation that was bumping into the criminal investigation,” Schuette said Thursday while attending the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual conference.

On Jan. 15, Schuette launched his investigation of the Flint public health emergency. Ten days later, Schuette appointed attorney Todd Flood to lead the probe along with Andy Arena, the former head of the Detroit Federal Bureau of Investigation office.

A Michigan State Police investigator began her probe on the same day Schuette added Flood and Arena to his investigative team, according to a copy of a state police report obtained by The Detroit News.

Schuette has complained he was left in the dark about the state police’s investigation until April, even though Snyder announced it in late January during a news conference.

“I had not been informed about that, which I thought was a bit awkward,” Schuette told The News. “I’m a professional, a gentleman on this stuff.”

Snyder’s office released the Schuette-Leyton letter on May 26 as well as a letter McQuade’s office sent the Attorney General’s office saying the compelled statements could have a “substantially negative effect on our criminal investigation moving forward.”

In an interview with The Detroit News Editorial Board, Snyder appeared miffed by Schuette’s contention that the state police’s administrative investigation and the auditor general’s probe he publicly requested in mid-March would hinder the attorney general’s criminal probe.

“I got his letter, and I was very public in announcing that I was asking them to do that,” Snyder said Wednesday in an interview. “I thought the most appropriate opportunity to bring that topic up would have been as soon as I announced it.”

Asked if Schuette’s moves looked political, Snyder replied: “I’m not going to comment on that.”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood