Here's why the Larry Nassar scandal has become part of the gubernatorial race
The Michigan Republican Party released a pair of ads in recent days in support of gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette, highlighting his role in the prosecution of serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar.
The online ads, which Schuette claimed as of Friday he had not seen, feature Lee and Mark Weick, the parents of a survivor of Nassar’s abuse. The Weicks have known Schuette since their children went to pre-school together over 20 years ago, and they praise Schuette in the ads for “giving a voice to survivors.”
The ads fulfilled a forecast set forth last winter by many news outlets, including The New York Times, which predicted the Nassar case would play a central role in the gubernatorial race. Schuette, in his capacity as Michigan’s Attorney General, charged Nassar for criminal sexual assault. Democratic nominee Gretchen Whitmer, who condemned Schuette for politicizing the Nassar case since the release of the ads, was also involved in the Nassar case, though her role seems to be more disputed.
Schuette refused to respond directly to the ad on Friday. But he said that Whitmer did not refer the case to his office. Instead the Michigan State University Chief of Police did.
Whitmer says she didn’t refuse to prosecute Nassar.
At the time, Schuette said his office was in the best position to prosecute the case because it involved multiple counties.
Whitmer says Schuette and Republicans should not politicize this case.
“I’ve had it with these guys who want to use this Nassar case as a political gimmick for their own sick political gain,” she says.
Schuette plans to speak about the issue at a campaign event Monday.
Questions over who should prosecute
Whitmer served as Ingham County’s interim prosecutor in 2016. Her office originally secured search warrants for Nassar’s home, where police found a collection of child pornography. According to Whitmer, the police provided her with enough information to justify issuing a search warrant, but she says she was not provided with police reports that would allow her to issue an arrest warrant for sexual assault. Whitmer says that kind of warrant was not requested by the police.
According to Whitmer, who has spoken openly about her own experience as a survivor of sexual assault, she would have prosecuted Nassar on assault charges if she had been able to, but she claims her office was not the appropriate one to handle the charges. Because the crimes Nassar was accused of occurred in multiple different counties, she thought the state attorney general — who happened to be Bill Schuette — should take on the case.
But MSU police chief Jim Dunlap has a different account of what happened. On October 4, 2016, Whitmer met with Dunlap and several other state investigators. According to Dunlap, Whitmer said at the meeting that she wanted to charge Nassar for the child porn because it would “relatively easy to convict on,” whereas sexual assault allegations could be “much more difficult to take to trial.”
Dunlap contacted Schuette hours after the meeting. Dunlap and Schuette’s email correspondence from that day was obtained by Gongwer News Service.
“These cases have captured the public and these victim/survivors deserve a review,” Dunlap wrote. “I am hopeful now they will get an advocate.”
Schuette wrote back: “I am your advocate. Look forward to working with you.”
Gongwer also obtained a partially-redacted email exchange between Dunlap and Whitmer from the following day. In the emails, Whitmer wrote she was “eager to read any and all police reports you send our way,” and that she believed she and Dunlap “share the dual goals of protecting the victim and ensuring we are successful in getting the maximum penalty for the defendant.”
Dunlap responded on Oct. 6, explaining why he decided to turn to Schuette after his initial meeting with Whitmer.
“They felt and I agreed that given the issues of multiple venues and the fact that we were asked to take the lead on other cases, the best decision would be for their office to handle the review of these cases,” Dunlap wrote. He went on to thank Whitmer for her work on the case so far and to commend her for her professionalism.
A Dec. 2017 article from The Detroit News brought the issue further into the spotlight. In an interview with The News, Whitmer said she would have moved forward on the assault charges if she’d been given the police reports necessary to do so.
“That was the only issue,” Whitmer told The Detroit News. “My office was ready to move forward on any and all alleged crimes. The MSU police department ultimately took the charges to the Attorney General’s and U.S. Attorney’s offices because of jurisdiction.”
In the wake of The Detroit News’ article, several politicians and commentators spoke out about the dispute, saying Whitmer’s decision not to charge Nassar with sexual assault showed poor leadership. Whitmer responded to critics in an essay she published on Medium.
“My office swiftly executed search warrants at Dr. Nassar’s home that recovered hard drives containing the evidence that led to the first wave of convictions against Dr. Nassar on federal child pornography charges,” Whitmer wrote. “But it quickly became clear that Dr. Nassar committed crimes in multiple jurisdictions, including communities outside of Ingham County, and therefore engaging state and federal prosecutors was in the best interest of the victims.”
Whitmer goes on to write that while she disagrees with Schuette’s politics, she does feel his office was the correct one to handle the charges because of the multiple jurisdictions the crimes occurred in. She also thought it was the best way to protect survivors.
“It was without question the right thing to do in the best interest of victims seeking justice, first and foremost. Further, consolidation of these cases into the Attorney General’s office was the right move for the victims of Dr. Nassar because it only required these courageous young women to relive and retell their horrifying experiences once, rather than in multiple courtrooms across multiple counties.”
But after Schuette’s campaign ad aired last week and reignited the debate of Whitmer’s involvement in the Nassar case, Nassar survivor Rachael Denhollander posted a statement to her Facebook page affirming Dunlap’s account of the events.
According to Denhollander, the file outlining her allegations against Nassar was provided to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office by the MSU Police Department.
“It is accurate that the Attorney General’s office was called because a decision had been made not to prosecute any sexual assault claims, including mine and Kyle Stephens’, along with all other files, as of October 2016,” Denhollander wrote.
She went on to deny that Whitmer had any role in the decision to take the sexual assault charges to Schuette’s office, and also rejected the notion that Schuette’s office was merely a more appropriate place to pursue the charges.
“This decision was not based on the existence of multiple jurisdictions or in a desire on the Ingham County Prosecutor’s part to move the case to the AG’s office. The move to the AG’s office was initiated by the MSU PD alone, and only after the determination by the Ingham County office to not pursue charges for any sexual assault.”