Snyder halts internal Flint probes after prosecutors object

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Posted: May 26, 2016 1:59 PM
Snyder halts internal Flint probes after prosecutors object

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday called for an end to civil and administrative investigations into how two state agencies contributed to Flint's lead-tainted drinking water crisis, after being warned they are hampering state and federal criminal probes.

Snyder's office released letters from state Attorney General Bill Schuette and U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade raising concerns about a finished state police investigation of the Department of Environmental Quality's role in the lead contamination of the city's water supply. Schuette also complained about inquiries targeting the state Department of Health and Human Services being conducted by the state auditor general and the department's inspector general at the governor's request.

In a letter dated Wednesday, also signed by Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, Schuette said the investigations could have a "chilling effect" on the criminal probes.

"Although we are sure this is unintended, the result may effectively be an obstruction of justice," they wrote.

In a May 19 letter, McQuade asked the state attorney general's office to take "all necessary and appropriate steps" to limit the distribution of a report summarizing the DEQ's administrative probe because employees were advised that they could be fired if they refused to answer state police investigators' questions. She warned that under a U.S. Supreme Court case and subsequent cases, statements obtained from the workers might be deemed by a judge to be "compelled" and therefore barred from being used in a criminal prosecution.

"The more broadly the compelled statements are distributed, the more difficult it will be for us to ensure that the statements have no impact on any subsequent criminal prosecution," McQuade wrote.

Charges already have been filed against two DEQ employees and a Flint municipal official.

Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said he notified the state attorney general's office before publicly requesting the DHHS probe 2 ½ months ago.

"No agency has raised any concerns with our office before now," she said.

To cooperate "fully" with prosecutors, Snyder has temporarily stopped the inspector general investigation. He does not have the authority to order the auditor general to suspend his investigation, but has asked him to do so, Heaton said.