Flint tes­ti­mony ‘truth­ful,’ gov says

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY MICHAEL GERSTEIN Detroit News Lans­ing Bu­reau

Gov. Rick Sny­der again told a con­gres­sional over­sight panel Thurs­day that he first learned in Jan­uary 2016 about Flint’s Le­gion­naires’ out­break even af­ter a top aide last week con­tra­dicted the Re­pub­li­can gover­nor’s prior tes­ti­mony.

“My tes­ti­mony was truth­ful and I stand by it,” Sny­der wrote House Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Govern­ment Re­form Chair­man Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and rank­ing mem­ber Eli­jah Cum­mings, D-Mary­land.

He re­newed his Flint time­line af­ter the over­sight panel sent a let­ter ear­lier in the day urg­ing Sny­der to clar­ify when he first learned of the Flint area Le­gion­naires’ out­break that killed 12 peo­ple and sick­en­ing dozens of oth­ers.

Gowdy and Cum­mings de­scribed a “dis­crep­ancy in rec­ol­lec­tion” between his con­gres­sional com­ments last year and tes­ti­mony in court last week from Sny­der’s ur­ban af­fairs aide Har­vey Hollins, who said he in­formed Sny­der of the out­break in De­cem­ber 2015.

“Mr. Hollins’s ac­count of when you be­came aware of the dis­ease cases is dif­fer­ent from your tes­ti­mony to the Com­mit­tee,” the let­ter said. “In or­der to re­solve this dis­crep­ancy in rec­ol­lec­tion, please sup­ply the Com­mit­tee with any ad­di­tional rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion you have con­cern­ing the date upon which you first learned of the Le­gion­naires’ dis­ease.

“If nec­es­sary, you may also choose to amend or sup­ple­ment your tes­ti­mony. In the in­ter­est of re­solv­ing this mat­ter ex­pe­di­tiously, pro­vide a re­sponse no later than Oc­to­ber 25, 2017,” the let­ter said.

Sny­der re­sponded within hours, writ­ing he does not “be­lieve there is any rea­son” to of­fer the com­mit­tee more in­for­ma­tion — although he “will con­tinue to fully co­op­er­ate” with it.

The gover­nor noted that his of­fice has al­ready sup­plied “tens of thou­sands of pages of doc­u­ments” in ad­di­tion to doc­u­ments from the state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, health and en­vi­ron­men­tal de­part­ments.

Wayne State Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor Peter Hen­ning said it’s un­clear what ex­actly Hollins told Sny­der last year be­cause the ur­ban af­fairs aide did not pro­vide many de­tails in court.

“We don’t know what the gover­nor was told and the de­gree of de­tail that the gover­nor re­ceived,” said Hen­ning, a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor.

Per­jury cases are in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to prove be­cause a court has to de­ter­mine that de­fen­dants knew they lied un­der oath, he said, adding that there can be am­bi­gu­ity about the truth.

“It’s de­grees of truth or fal­sity and the speci­ficity of the state­ment and the proof that the de­fen­dant knew that it was false,” Hen­ning said. “It’s a very hard thing to prove — what a de­fen­dant knew.”

In 2014-15, a Ge­ne­see County out­break of the deadly form of pneu­mo­nia ended up killing 12 and sick­en­ing 79 res­i­dents. Sny­der in­formed the pub­lic about the res­pi­ra­tory dis­ease out­break at a hastily ar­ranged Jan. 13, 2016, press con­fer­ence in Detroit.

“In terms of Le­gion­naires’, I didn’t learn of that un­til 2016,” Sny­der told the House com­mit­tee on March 17, 2016. “… That was clearly a case where the Michi­gan Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices should have done more to es­ca­late the is­sue, to get it vis­i­ble to the pub­lic and to me.”

When spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Todd Flood asked if Hollins was telling the truth about in­form­ing Sny­der of the is­sue in De­cem­ber 2015, Hollins said last Fri­day: “I took an oath.”

A Sny­der spokesman would not say Tues­day whether Hollins was mis­taken.

The aide’s com­ments came dur­ing the pre­lim­i­nary ex­am­i­na­tion for Michi­gan Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Di­rec­tor Nick Lyon, who is ac­cused of in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter in the death of

85-year-old Robert Skid­more of Ge­ne­see Town­ship and ob­struc­tion of jus­tice by de­lib­er­ately fail­ing to warn the pub­lic about an out­break of Le­gion­naires’.

The let­ter from Gowdy and Cum­mings out­lines the cri­te­ria for per­jury, quot­ing the law that “a wit­ness com­mits per­jury if he or she, ‘hav­ing taken an oath … will­fully and con­trary to such oath states or sub­scribes any ma­te­rial mat­ter which he does not be­lieve to be true.’”

It would be­come a crime if Sny­der “know­ingly and will­fully” made a state­ment “know­ing the same to con­tain any ma­te­ri­ally false, fic­ti­tious, or fraud­u­lent state­ment,” the let­ter said, quot­ing the statute.

“Ei­ther Gov. Sny­der or one of his top aides is not telling the truth,” U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, DFlint Town­ship, said in a Thurs­day state­ment.

Last Fri­day, Cum­mings is­sued a state­ment say­ing he was con­cerned the gover­nor “may have mis­led the Over­sight Com­mit­tee and the peo­ple of Flint.” But Sny­der spokes­woman Anna Heaton said Wed­nes­day the ad­min­is­tra­tion wouldn’t be “re­spond­ing to po­lit­i­cal press releases.”

For­mer House Over­sight Chair­man Ja­son Chaf­fetz, RU­tah, ended the com­mit­tee’s in­quiry late last year. Chaf­fetz re­tired ear­lier this year and joined Fox News as a con­trib­u­tor.

The con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony falls out­side Michi­gan At­tor­ney Gen­eral Bill Schuette’s Flint in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“I can­not com­ment on that is­sue or their hear­ings, pe­riod,” Flood told The Detroit News on Thurs­day. “I have to fo­cus on my case, not that is­sue.”

mger­stein@de­troit­news.com Staff Writ­ers Melissa Nann Burke and

Leonard N. Flem­ing con­trib­uted

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