Democracy Watch: Federal Lawmakers Push to Re-Open Flint Water Probe Amid Accusations of State Stonewalling
On the same day that Gov. Rick Snyder gave short shrift in his State of the State speech to the ongoing Flint crisis his administration created, U.S. Reps. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., continued applying pressure in an attempt to hold accountable those responsible for the poisoning of a city’s water supply.
In a Jan. 17 letter to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Cummings and Lawrence reiterated their request that the committee’s “prematurely closed” investigation into the cause of the Flint water crisis be “immediately” re-opened.
In their letter, Cummings and Lawrence expressed concern over Snyder’s alleged stonewalling of the committee’s investigation and raised questions about the truthfulness of statements made by former Flint emergency managers Darnell Earley, Gerald Ambrose and Edward Kurtz.
As for Snyder, the representatives urged Chaffetz to allow committee members to “debate and vote on a motion” to subpoena the governor to “compel the production of key documents that he has been withholding from the Committee for the past year, including evidence relating to his destruction of emails.”
As the result of Snyder’s obstruction, the letter stated, “the Committee is still unable to answer critical questions about what the Governor knew about the crisis as it unfolded, why he did not act on concerns about water quality even while his inner circle sounded repeated alarms, and why families in Flint continue to subsist on bottled water almost a year after he declared an emergency.”
In response to MLive’s queries about allegations made in the letter, the governor’s office issued a statement saying that it had “complied fully and provided the committee with hundreds of thousands of pages of documents at its request, and the committee completed its work on the matter last term."
Regarding the former EMs, the letter raised concerns that Earley, Ambrose and Kurtz all “may have mislead” the committee, either in testimony presented directly to the committee or in statements made to committee staff members conducting interviews.
After noting that the Michigan Attorney General’s office has filed criminal charges against 13 state employees – including Earley and Ambrose (both of whom have pleaded not guilty) – Cummings and Lawrence requested that the committee refer Earley, Ambrose and Kurtz to the Department of Justice for “potential federal criminal prosecution” to determine if they committed perjury, made false statements or otherwise obstructed the investigation.
(Last year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit launched a criminal investigation into the origins of the Flint water crisis.)
In their letter, Cummings and Lawrence also took Chaffetz to task for not living up to the commitment he made to the people of Flint.
“When you traveled to Flint on March 12, 2016, you said you wanted to know ‘who knew what and when and what did they do,’” the two wrote. “Unfortunately, prematurely closing the investigation last month without obtaining key documents and hearing from dozens of officials contradicts this promise.”
Back in Lansing, Snyder paid scant attention to Flint in his annual State of the State speech on Tuesday. Last year, the city’s plight dominated the governor’s annual address. This year it was barely a blip in the hour-long speech.
“Flint made up only about two minutes of the governor's remarks,” the Metro Times reported. “That's less time than he gave to applauding Michigan's dairy industry (the state, apparently, boasts some of the country's most productive cows) and shouting out a pork company for choosing Michigan to process a daily 10,000 hogs.”
That dearth of sufficient attention paid to his hometown elicited a sharp rebuke from U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., who represents Flint.
“Governor Snyder has failed Flint families,” Kildee said in a statement. “It is disgraceful that a city of 100,000 people still doesn’t have clean drinking water and the Governor could barely devote two minutes of his State of the State to Flint. Just two minutes dedicated to Flint? Really? This is an ongoing emergency– people in my hometown are still drinking bottled water and using filters. The Governor is either completely aloof or simply doesn’t care about Flint.
“Shame on the Governor for not using tonight to outline additional steps that he is going to take to ensure clean drinking water in Flint. I will not rest until the Governor and the state step up to do more to help the city recover from this man-made crisis.”
Curt Guyette is an investigative reporter for the ACLU of Michigan. He can be contacted at 313-578-6834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.