Health

Michigan Governor Accused Of Withholding Documents Related To Flint Water Crisis From Congress

CREDIT: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R)

On January 26, Democratic Reps. Elijah Cummings (MD) and Brenda Lawrence (MI) sent a letter to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) requesting a number of documents related to the current water crisis in Flint. But his office has “completely ignored” that request so far, Cummings said in a letter on Monday.

He sent the most recent letter to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, requesting that Chaffetz send a letter to Snyder “under the full authority of the Committee” compelling him to release all of the documents.

In their original request, Cummings and Lawrence gave Snyder’s office a deadline of February 11, but in Monday’s letter, Cummings noted Snyder’s “blatant refusal to cooperate.” The governor’s office did not return a request for comment as to why the documents haven’t been released or whether he plans to cooperate.

So far Snyder has released a batch of emails he sent and received himself related to the Flint water crisis from 2014 and 2015 but not going back further, as well as emails and documents that were made available to various state departments. Snyder’s communications aren’t subject to FOIA requests, as he is protected by executive privilege. But as Cummings notes, “[A]ny claim of executive privilege to withhold documents from Congress would be a surprising turn of events that directly contradicts the Governor’s own promises of accountability to the people of Michigan.”

In his letter on Monday to Chaffetz, Cummings writes, “I believe that the Committee must obtain information from all levels of government — local, state, and federal — in order to conduct a responsible and complete investigation.”

The initial request Cummings and Lawrence made in January included a wide array of documents related to the crisis, including all emails sent and received by Snyder, his staff, former state treasurers and their staff, and former Flint emergency managers and their staff related to the drinking in Flint beginning in January 2013; all documents related to drinking water in Flint as well as all testing results and public complaints about water quality sent or received by the former director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and his staff as well as employees of the state Department of Health and Human Services going back to April 2014; and all emails related to the decision to switch the city’s water supply from Detroit sent and received by the former director of the Flint Department of Public Works going back to January 2011.

There may be some reason to suspect there is important information in the documents that have yet to be released. Emails obtained by the Flint Journal sent by city health officials in April 2014 showed that they were concerned that Snyder’s administration purposefully delayed the results of lead testing in the schools’ drinking water twice. A different email exchange between a principal Snyder adviser and an official the DEQ obtained by Progress Michigan indicated that the administration was made aware of a significant uptake in Legionnaires outbreaks in March 2015, potentially related to the water switch, even though Snyder previously said he wasn’t made aware until early this year. And yet other emails obtained by Progress Michigan showed that a state agency brought water coolers into a state building in Flint in January of 2015 out of concern over water quality, a year before bottled water was made available to residents.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has been holding hearings related to the crisis in Flint, although Snyder himself was not originally asked to attend. Chaffetz has now requested that Snyder appear before a hearing in March. There are numerous other investigations into the crisis, including from the Department of Justice, FBI, and Michigan’s attorney general.