Governor Snyder calls off Flint investigation

Gov. Rick Snyder called off an internal State Police investigation of the Flint water crisis today after letters from the Attorney General stated that multiple investigations could hinder progress in solving the public health crisis. 

Carlos Osorio/AP
A view of the Flint Water Plant water tower in Flint, Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder is calling for a halt of administrative investigations into how two state agencies dealt with the Flint drinking water crisis after being warned they are hampering state and federal criminal probes.

Months after news of the Flint, Mich., water crisis broke, there's still something fishy going on in the state of Michigan.

In response to written requests by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has suspended an internal state investigation into what happened during the Flint water crisis.

Attorney General Schuette wrote to Snyder yesterday, requesting that the governor cease a Michigan State Police investigation into the Flint crisis. Schuette also requested that the Michigan Auditor General Doug Ringler and Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Alan Kimichik stop their investigation into the state's Department of Health and Human Services.

"Although we are sure this is unintended," wrote Schuette, "the result (of the internal investigations) may effectively be an obstruction of justice."

Schuette and Leyton launched their criminal investigation in January, at the same time that the State Police investigation began.

According to Schuette, these internal state investigations have complicated the Attorney General's ability to gain an accurate picture of what occurred during the Flint water crisis.

The State Police investigation has already concluded, but Snyder moved quickly to suspend that investigation. Suspending the Auditor General and Inspector General's investigation proves to be more tricky, however.

Michigan's Auditor General Doug Ringler was appointed by the legislature, which means that Snyder does not have the authority to suspend that investigation.

"We do not have the authority to order the Auditor General to suspend his investigation," said Anna Heaton, spokeswoman for the governor, "but the governor has made the request, since he made the initial request to ensure an outside entity was conducting a thorough and unbiased review of the department."

Although Ringler and his office were supposed to have completed their investigation by mid-month, they told the governor earlier in May that they would need about two more months to complete their investigation.

Snyder initially asked Ringler and Kimichik to investigate the Department of Health and Human Services and its handling of the Legionnaire's disease outbreak and elevated lead levels in Flint children's blood tests.

Snyder requested that Ringler end his investigation, but it is unclear what will happen next.

"We are evaluating the letters right now and developing an appropriate course of action," the Office of the Auditor General told The Christian Science Monitor by email, when asked for comment. 

Another letter, sent by US Attorney Barbara McQuade, indicated that State Police investigators told Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees that they may be fired if they did not answer investigators questions, thereby compromising the investigation.

Evidence gathered under these conditions may not be considered valid in a court of law.

"We further understand that the MDEQ employees were informed that their statements could be used for administrative purposes," wrote US Attorney McQuade, "but not in any subsequent criminal investigation."

With previously gathered evidence potentially inadmissible in a criminal case, investigators say guilty parties may go unpunished.

The governor's office has stated that despite the letters' concerns about the "chilling effect" the state's internal investigations could have on the Attorney General's investigation, no outside entity had previously expressed concerns.

Governor Snyder has taken a strong stance on Flint related issues in recent days, potentially in response to accusations that his initial response to the crisis was lackadaisical at best. 

In January, the Monitor reported that the Flint crisis was potentially indicative of a larger issue – the problem of a state run like a business. Concerns about human health were shuffled aside as the state's prevailing concern, cutting costs, remained a high priority. After the crisis was made public, and citizens and legislators heightened accusations against the governor for his apparent lack of concern, he became more serious about addressing the problem, launching investigations such as the Michigan State Police's investigation to seek the roots of the crisis. 

Snyder announced in April that Michigan would soon have the most stringent lead testing standards in the nation, in an effort to avoid another public health crisis. Yet some residents say that the state's response remains ineffective. 

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