Schuette vows justice for Flint at convention

Chad Livengood, and Jonathan Oosting

Cleveland — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette used his time on the national stage Monday to promise justice for Flint residents and recognize court officers killed last week in Berrien County.

In a three-minute speech at the Republican National Convention, Schuette described Flint as a city “poisoned by lead” and recounted visiting a pastor who had hand wipes for congregants because they feared using their showers.

“Pregnant moms and mothers of newborns still should not bathe or drink the water, and that’s not right, but I will make it right,” said Schuette, whose office is investigating the water crisis and has charged two state regulators and sued two water engineering firms that did work for the city.

“The families of Flint have not received justice, but I can promise you this: Justice is coming to Flint,” he said.

The Midland Republican, who also serves as chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, drew cheers as he honored recently slain law enforcement officers, including two bailiffs killed last week by a criminal suspect at the Berrien County Courthouse.

“Scripture says blessed are the peacemakers, but the truth is we are all peacemakers, and peace starts with us,” Schuette said.

“Wherever we may lie, from Detroit to Dallas, from Berrien to Baton Rouge, we can start by acknowledging and honoring the peacemakers among us.”

Schuette, considered a likely gubernatorial candidate in 2018, is the only Michiganian scheduled to speak at the Republican convention, which will conclude Thursday with the official nomination of New York businessman Donald Trump as the party’s nominee for president.

“Bill Schuette did a great job. I think his message resonated,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said after the speech.

Schuette’s staff handed out blue Bill Schuette “#onduty” shirts to Michigan delegates who gathered on the floor to hear his speech.

Before the speech, a potential Democratic gubernatorial rival criticized Schuette for endorsing Trump.

“In stepping up to the podium today, Attorney General Schuette is endorsing all that Donald Trump’s Republican Party now stands for,” U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, said in a statement. “How Bill Schuette can look himself in the mirror and defend such divisiveness and hate baffles me.”

After his brief speech, Schuette said he discussed the Flint water crisis to make it clear “if you’re a big shot, if you’re important, you cannot slide out” and escape prosecution.

“That’s not going to happen in Michigan,” Schuette told reporters. “In Michigan, the system’s not rigged. We’ve got one system of justice that applies to everybody.”

Schuette declined to say whether his investigators have interviewed Gov. Rick Snyder, who is not attending the convention this week but hosting Michigan delegates for a Thursday mid-day brunch.

“I’m not going to get into the specific people that we’ve had in investigative subpoenas,” Schuette said. “Fair question. But I really can’t give answer.”

To date, Schuette’s office has charged two state Department of Environmental Quality water regulators and a city of Flint utility worker with alleged crimes related to Flint’s use of Flint River water without adding corrosion controls to prevent lead from leaching into the water. Schuette also has sued two engineering companies he claims “botched” Flint’s water treatment processes.

Schuette said his remarks about Flint were not meant to counterbalance potential comments by Democrats and Hillary Clinton at next week’s Democratic National Convention about the water crisis festering under a Republican governor’s administration.

Clinton was highly critical of Snyder’s handling of Flint’s water contamination in the run-up to Michigan’s March 8 primary, which she lost to Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“Who knows what the Democrats might do,” Schuette said. “I think what is wrong is that some people view Flint as some chess board — people trying to gain political advantage and view the families of Flint as pawns.”

Schuette later told The Detroit News he “absolutely” still plans on handing down more charges this summer as the Flint probe continues.

Yvonne Whitbeck, chair of the Ingham County Republican Party elected as a delegate to former presidential candidate and current Ohio Gov. John Kasich, praised Schuette for what she called a “great” speech.

The attorney general would make a good gubernatorial candidate if he decided to run, Whitbeck said, but she also described herself as a big a fan of Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who may too seek the Republican nomination in 2018.

“I love them both. It would be very difficult,” Whitbeck said.

Barbara Bookout of Grand Rapids, a delegate and supporter of Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, said Schuette deserves credit for addressing the Flint crisis even if it could be a political liability for Republicans.

“As attorney general, it’s his job to get to the bottom of that,” she said.

Twitter: @JonathanOosting