Weeks after refusing to even look into allegations of wrongdoing in the Flint water crisis, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) announced on Monday that he is appointing a special counsel to investigate the situation. Schuette said that he has selected former prosecutor Todd Flood, a donor to both Schuette and Gov. Rick Synder (R), to determine whether anyone broke state law.
Snyder has been criticized for his administration’s handling of the crisis, which has left tens of thousands without safe drinking water and may have caused irreversible damage to Flint children, including allegations that they did nothing even after learning the water was not safe to drink. A class-action lawsuit filed by Flint residents alleges that both Snyder and the state government breached their contract to provide drinkable water and of violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act by saying it was safe.
Schuette, whose office is also responsible for defending Snyder in the class action suit, vowed to establish “an ethics-based conflict wall between him and his investigation team, and the team defending the governor and state departments against Flint water-related law suits.” As part of this effort, he appointed Flood to be special counsel and former Detroit FBI Chief Andrew Arena to assist the investigation.
Flood vowed to “provide Michigan residents with an impartial answer to the question of whether any state laws were broken.” But his own impartiality could come into question. According to National Institute on Money in State Politics data, Flood contributed $3,400 to Schuette’s 2010 campaign and $6,800 more to his 2014 re-election effort. He also gave $1,000 to Synder’s 2010 campaign committee and $2,000 for his 2014 race.
Flood said at the announcement press conference that he has contributed to both parties over the years and that despite his financial support for Snyder, “I don’t have a bias or prejudice one way or another.”
In his State of the State address on Tuesday, Snyder took some responsibility for the lead poisoning crisis. Though the governor promised to voluntarily release his emails — which are not public under Michigan’s disclosure laws — he released a heavily redacted and apparently incomplete set of electronic messages.
As recently as December, Schuette dismissed calls for a probe into the lead-contaminated drinking water in Flint. Asked in September by state Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) to “investigate and determine if the City of Flint and/or the State of Michigan and its agents have culpability and responsibility for this unfortunate problem,” the Attorney General replied that “given the multiple reviews by federal and state agencies, and the pending and potential federal court actions, we do not believe it necessary to conduct an additional investigation.”