Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel held her first public briefing on Thursday. She briefed reporters on three major investigations that were passed to her from her Republican predecessor, former Attorney General Bill Schuette, including the state’s investigation into Michigan State University’s internal handling of the Larry Nassar scandal.
The last update on the investigation was given by Special Independent Counsel William Forsyth, who issued a scathing preliminary report in December that cited MSU as uncooperative and alleged the school had stonewalled the investigation.
The December report accused MSU had a culture of “circling the wagons” as a measure of self-protection. Investigators requested over 6,500 documents that MSU continued to claim as protected under attorney client privilege, as well as for the Board of Trustees to formally waive attorney client privilege to be questioned by investigators.
Now, the MSU Board of Trustees has three new members as well as a new acting president who have pledged their dedication to greater transparency. However, MSU is still withholding upwards of 6000 documents. Nessel appealed to the board members throughout the briefing, reiterating she remained hopeful.
“Full and complete cooperation of MSU frankly continues to be a challenge. And the irony, of course, is that the trustees themselves are the ones who asked for the investigation. And yet, they have made the work of our department extraordinarily difficult.”
East Lansing District Judge Richard Ball determined of the roughly 6000 outstanding documents requested by AG investigators, 177 were not protected by attorney client privilege. However, MSU successfully argued that 29 should remain protected. Meaning, the AG’s investigators have seen under 150 of the requested documents.
Nessel admonished that, “If MSU really wants to get to the root of the problem, it must right the ship. And it would make sense for the MSU board of trustees to waive that privilege and to produce the information that we have consistently sought out, not just the documents that they want us to be able to see.”
She continued, saying “And I would like to remind the board of their fiduciary obligation to the people of this state. That means the board of trustees has an obligation to act in the best interest of the people of this state, not MSU’s donors and not it’s brand image.”
The Attorney General also announced her office will be investigating the circumstances of George Perles’ December resignation. The inquiry comes after the Detroit Free Press reported that a $200,000 gift pledge Perles had made to MSU was cleared around the time of his retirement from the Board of Trustees.
Nessel also announced that the AG’s office will be taking over the Eaton County investigation into John Geddert, a former U.S. Olympic Gymnastics coach the owner of Twistars, a gym where many athletes trained and Nassar volunteered.
She cited Eaton County’s lack of resources, as well as jurisdictional issues as the reason her office would be taking over the criminal investigation. Nessel also said the bond many survivors had cultivated with attorneys and investigators at the AG’s office over the course of the investigation into MSU was important.
Nessel said she hadn’t ruled out subpoenaing Former Interim President John Engler. She said she has requested an interview with him, and is in contact with his attorneys.
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