By Steve Neavling
The top ranking Democrat on the U.S. House committee investigating the Flint water crisis slammed Republican leadership for refusing to hold Gov. Rick Snyder accountable for his role in the poisoning of thousands of residents.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings wrote in a strongly worded letter that the Republican-led House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is jeopardizing the investigation because of partisan politics.
“There is no legitimate basis for treating governors differently based on their political parties,” Cummings wrote Monday to committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. “Governor Snyder and his staff are central figures in the decision-making process that led to the poisoning of Flint residents, and the Committee owes it to these residents to conduct a comprehensive and bipartisan investigation.”
Chaffetz refused to call on Snyder to testify at a previous Congressional hearing on the Flint water crisis and declined to request any documents from the governor.
Cummings pointed out that the committee demanded more than 100,000 pages of documents from the Democratic Oregon governor over the state’s healthcare exchange.
“By declining to send any document request at all to Governor Snyder, the Committee is creating the perception of a double-standard in which it has requested documents from a Democratic governor, but not from a Republican governor,” Cummings wrote.
Snyder responded Monday that he will release more records, including e-mails dating back to 2011. It’s unclear whether he’ll release e-mails between his former spokeswoman Sara Wurfell and spokesman of the Department of Environmental Quality, Brad Wurfell. The two are married, and their communication may shed light on how much the DEQ shared with the governor’s office about the elevated levels of lead that poisoned residents and are believed to have caused a deadly spike in Legionnaires’ disease.
Snyder has blamed the DEQ for failing to properly handle the crisis, though records indicate the governor was aware of the health hazards and failed to act.
Cummings also criticized Darnell Earley, who was the emergency manager of Flint when the drinking water was switched to the Flint River. Earley refused to testify at the first hearing and hired a lawyer.
“Mr. Earley obstructed our Committee’s investigation, evaded our requests for his testimony, and recently made inaccurate public statements about your actions and the Committee’s work in an op-ed,” Cummings said.
Earley and Snyder now say they will testify.
Also on Monday, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers approved a petition to recall Snyder over the water crisis.
Snyder was delivered another blow Monday when Dennis Schornack, who retired as the governor’s senior advisor on transportation issues, told the Free Press that the governor bungled the water crisis because “of a single dimension for decision making; thinking that if it can’t be solved on a spreadsheet, it can’t be solved.”
Schornack said the governor has lost control of the crisis, and if voters get a chance to oust Snyder, “he’s dead.”
Snyder also is under investigation by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, which said state officials could be charged with manslaughter if they violated laws that resulted in the deaths of Flint residents.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.