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Lansing — Senate Leader Mike Shirkey accused Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of lying Wednesday, saying she had initially "directed her team to deny" a story about her husband attempting to speed up the launch of his boat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"How can the citizens of Michigan trust the governor?" Shirkey, R-Clarklake, asked during a speech on the Senate floor. "What else is she willing to lie about if she lied about putting a boat into water?"

The Democratic governor's office pushed back Wednesday. Spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said the Republican Senate majority leader's remarks were "incorrect and unfair" and he owed the governor an apology.

"She has been completely honest about the situation and she never directed her staff to mislead anyone or to contact his office," Brown said.

A spokeswoman for Shirkey didn't immediately respond to a question Wednesday night about how Shirkey knew Whitmer directed her team to deny the Facebook post.

A day earlier, Whitmer publicly confirmed that her husband, Marc Mallory, had called a Northern Michigan dock company and mentioned his connection to the governor in his request to get his boat placed in the water.

Whitmer said the comment was a "failed attempt at humor" by her husband, which he regretted.

The call was revealed in Facebook posts from NorthShore Dock LLC. It came after Whitmer encouraged other Michigan residents to "think long and hard" before traveling to areas of the state where some business restrictions had been lifted, like Antrim County, where the governor and Mallory have a second home.

But before Whitmer on Tuesday confirmed the story, Senate Republicans said one of the governor's staff members — the person has not been identified — reached out to Shirkey's office on Saturday to request that a Facebook post by Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, about the alleged situation be removed.

The governor's staff said the post was inaccurate, and Barrett eventually took it down, Barrett has said. The interaction with Whitmer's office prompted the Republican senator to call the incident a "cover-up."

"That was an action taken on staff’s own initiative (regarding not posting about the governor’s family) based on an assumption that was obviously incorrect," Whitmer spokeswoman Brown said Wednesdayof the staff member reaching out to Shirkey's office. "When it became clear, the staff member called, explained and apologized."

Shirkey's office had previously declined to comment on the matter. But he spoke Wednesday about it for two minutes at the end of the Senate session.

"The governor lied," Shirkey said. "Not only did she lie, but she directed her staff to lie on her behalf in order to cover up her own lies. Yesterday, the governor went in front of cameras and admitted to the lie.

"She referenced the exchange as a failed joke. It would be nice if this governor was as quick to identify failed leadership."

Barrett said Wednesday that the governor's office hadn't apologized to him. The office also owes an apology to NorthShore Dock, he said.

"If I had not remained committed to seeking out the truth with this story then the governor's office would still be dismissing it as an internet hoax," Barrett said.

Since The Detroit News on Monday first reported the call to the dock company, Whitmer's office has contended that an employee reached out to Shirkey's team about the post because it involved a family member of the governor.

Brown said of Shirkey, "His inflammatory comments have the potential to continue to add heat to an already inflammatory situation concerning the safety of many."

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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