Opinion: A comprehensive Flint water investigation is warranted

Bill Schuette

When I served as attorney general, I initiated investigations into alleged crimes that affected hundreds of people, including children.

From left, Defendants Liane Shekter-Smith, Corrine Miller, and   Nancy Peeler listen to their defense attorneys. 
Defense attorneys and special prosecutors for six individuals charged in the Flint Water Crisis stand in front of 67th District Court Judge Tracy Collier-Nix during a brief hearing, Tuesday morning, August 9, 2016.

I am referring to the MSU-Nassar investigation and the Catholic Church investigation.

Dozens of lawyers and investigators have been and are working on both of these important cases. Their job: to follow the evidence, determine what laws may have been broken, and hold accountable those who committed crimes or failed to act to protect the health, safety and welfare of the victims, many of whom are children.

No one is claiming that the investigation into Nassar was political. (By the way, I put Nassar behind bars for the rest of his life.) No one is claiming that the Catholic Church investigation is criminalizing mistakes that were made by bishops and priests. And no one is arguing that too much money, time and personnel are being wasted on these investigations. Everyone agrees that the Department of Attorney General is right to conduct these investigations, to get to the truth, deliver justice and hold people accountable.

So why is Flint different?

Some may say the difference is that I went outside the department to hire lawyers and investigators in Flint. But remember: That decision was made by the department’s internal ethics officer. Because the department had already begun to defend the State of Michigan from civil claims made from the Flint water crisis, the ethics officer ruled that there was a conflict of interest in using department employees to also prosecute the case, because they had been privy to information the State was using to defend itself. Thus, I had no choice but to go outside the department.

One look at the team assembled dispels any suggestion of politics: Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton (a Democrat, whom I ran against for attorney general in the 2010 election), former Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Todd Flood, former Chief Judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals Bill Whitbeck, former Ionia Circuit Court Judge David Hoort and Andy Arena, the former special agent in charge of the Detroit office of the FBI. A top-notch team. Impeccable credentials.

How is it political when a Republican attorney general investigates a Republican administration, using a Democrat county prosecutor to assist in the investigation? What advantage was there to initiate an investigation against the sitting governor, the leader of his own party, who had won two elections statewide? If anything, the most political decision would have been not to investigate Flint at all. Look the other way? Not on my watch.

There has never been a shred of evidence to suggest anything political during the entire Flint investigation. The suggestion that politics played a role in Flint is unsupported by a single fact.

The facts are that thousands of children were exposed to lead poisoning and an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease resulted in at least 12 deaths. An entire city was affected by lead leaching into the drinking water. Who would argue that no investigation is warranted?

The Flint, Michigan Water Study, Virginia Tech Research Team, lab, Water and pipes from Flint, MI

I have no idea where the Flint water crisis investigation will end, or what charges may or may not be brought now. But I am confident that, given all that the men, women and children of Flint have suffered, an investigation into what happened was absolutely warranted, and the investigation that I was proud to be a part of was always conducted above board and by the book. The families of Flint deserved nothing less.

Bill Schuette is the former Michigan attorney general.