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Commentary

Public call for Snyder to stop Flint investigation is astonishing

Jack Lessenberry

Something happened yesterday that left me flabbergasted.

Federal, local and state officials ganged up on Governor Rick Snyder and told him his efforts to investigate the mess in Flint were hampering their attempts to do so, and told him to knock it off.

And the Snyder administration basically put its tail between its legs, whimpered, and said “okay.” Anna Heaton, one of his spokespersons, put out a press release that plaintively, or peevishly, concluded, “No agency has raised any concerns with our office before now,” but then added that the governor was asking the office of the Auditor General and the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services to suspend their investigations.

One of the many odd things about this is that so many different agencies ganged up together to do this to the governor publicly. I’ve written a book with former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley about his life and career.

In his time, when a governor did or was about to do something he considered inappropriate, he would go and privately warn the chief executive before he would even think of going public.

We live in a different era now. That state Attorney General Bill Schuette was willing to publicly embarrass a governor of his own party wasn’t surprising. The men have never liked each other, and Schuette desperately needs to separate himself from Snyder if he is to have any chance of getting elected governor himself.

What was surprising is that Schuette did so in a coordinated strike with U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, who is presumed to be a Democrat, and that Schuette was joined by Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, who is not only a Democrat, but the man Schuette defeated to win the attorney general’s job six years ago.

This has to be mortifying to the governor, who has been having a terrible year. Plainly, the state attorney general’s office felt blindsided by what now looks like the governor’s ham-handed efforts to investigate Flint, a crisis of his own making.

The attorney general’s main spokesman said his department only learned of the governor’s inquiry into the Department of Environmental Quality on April 20 – and then only because Mr. Snyder mentioned it in a press conference.

Again, it seems incredible to me that the governor would launch such a probe without consulting or at least informing the relevant authorities, but it would appear he sees government as a series of independent, if not warring, fiefdoms.

That’s bad enough, but both state and federal authorities said the governor’s freelance probes could have done considerable damage to their own ongoing criminal investigations.

The governor then backed off; he had no choice. When the attorney general’s spokesman was asked if all this was a warning to Snyder that obstruction of justice charges were possible, he declined to answer, which really was an answer.

What’s also disturbing is that these leaders still haven’t figured out that they need to talk to each other. When Anna Heaton was asked if the governor had communicated with the attorney general, she said the press release to the news media was the response.

Well, that’s how we “negotiate” with North Korea.

But you’d think two officials elected to look after the interests of our state could do better.