Snyder addresses search warrants, says he turned over phone at end of term
Lansing — Former Gov. Rick Snyder spoke out Tuesday evening about search warrants executed in an ongoing state investigation into the Flint water crisis, saying he had already turned over his cell phone and other electronic devices to the attorney general as he left office.
Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who is leading the Flint probe under new Attorney General Dana Nessel, secured search warrants for state storage areas to seize old state-owned cell phones, iPads and laptops of more than five dozen state officials, including items that had been used by Snyder.
An Ann Arbor Republican known for his mantra of “relentless positive action,” the former governor tweeted that he was “dialing back the RPA a bit today” to clear up what he called "sloppy and misleading" news coverage about the search warrants.
“I gave my phone and all that stuff to the AG’s office before I left office,” Snyder wrote on a verified Twitter account with more than 66,000 followers. “Why the AG’s office is executing a search warrant on itself I cannot say.”
Snyder’s personal attorney, Brian Lennon, echoed the former governor's comments in a lengthy statement Tuesday night, calling recent media reports “misleading at best.” He couldn't be immediately reached for clarification of his comments but said the former governor had "intentionally and voluntarily" turned in his cell phone to the attorney general's office when his term ended.
Lennon, who had declined comment Monday, insisted his firm and the attorney general’s office had previously worked cooperatively to produce and review documents from Snyder, who has never been charged with a crime and has publicly apologized for state oversight errors that contributed to the Flint water crisis.
Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney responded to the former governor's statement late Tuesday, saying: "Mr. Snyder knows darn well why search warrants are being executed. It’s the pursuit of justice for the people of Flint, pure and simple.”
As The Detroit News reported Monday, the search warrants were issued in May to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget and the Attorney General's Office. They sought the devices of 67 current or former state officials, including the former governor.
The search warrants were issued, in some cases, for items already obtained by former special prosecutor Todd Flood, who had been appointed by former Attorney General Bill Schuette. They illustrate the complicated interplay of changing administrations, new investigative leadership and the challenges of a conflict wall separating the criminal and civil sides of the Flint water crisis litigation.
Citing a May court filing, the Associated Press reported Tuesday that Snyder’s attorneys and Flood had fought as recently as September over the former governor’s compliance with an investigative subpoena that had been issued more than two years earlier.
Hammoud said Monday the warrants stemmed in part from the discovery of "substantial potential evidence that was not provided to the original prosecution team" in its investigation of Flint’s lead-contaminated water and a 2014-15 outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
Snyder’s attorney said his legal team has reached out to Hammoud “several times” since January and offered to “explain the history of the document production and the agreements" reached with Flood, who was ousted from the investigation in late April.
But “we have not received any response to those offers,” said Lennon, who works for the Warner Norcross firm.
Lennon also criticized previous claims Hammoud had made alleging a "trove of documents" discovered in a state basement as she sought to delay a criminal trial for ex-Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, who is facing involuntary manslaughter and other charges.
“We agree with the statements from career assistant attorneys general, which were filed in the Nick Lyon case, regarding the many misstatements made about the document productions and Warner’s role in those document productions,” he said.
Lennon also took issue with what he called “continued false statements, both in court and to the press, that the Governor’s private attorneys have somehow compromised or impeded the (solicitor general's) investigation in any way.”
“We have not,” he said. “ We have cooperated and made every effort to continue that cooperation.”
Some of the evidence sought in the recent search warrants had already been obtained by Flood, but other items were never received by the investigative team, Rossman-McKinney said Monday.
The items previously obtained by Flood's team had been stored in a specific section of the Attorney General's Office under former Attorney General Bill Schuette. Hammoud, who took over criminal prosecutions in the Flint water crisis in January, obtained the warrant to better search that division of the office, according to the Associated Press.
A warrant signed May 19 lists all content from Snyder’s cell phone, iPad and computer hard drive collected by the state as the Republican governor prepared to leave office in late 2018. The document indicated that an iPhone 6 Snyder previously used had already been searched, with non-privileged information turned over to the Office of Special Counsel.
Investigators are also seeking devices used by several former state officials that were encrypted in a way that prevented data extraction in the past, including an iPhone 5s used by ex-Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant and an iPhone 6 used by Lyon.