GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Michigan's attorney general alleged Monday that his opponent in the governor's race didn't tell the truth about her handling of the prosecution of serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar, accusing her of an "integrity gap" that disqualifies her for the state's top job.
Republican Bill Schuette stepped up his criticism of Democrat Gretchen Whitmer after the first woman to publicly identify herself as one of Nassar's victims — Rachael Denhollander — also called into question Whitmer's account. Whitmer said last week that she "referred" the case to Schuette's office when she was an interim county prosecutor in 2016, vehemently denying a GOP online ad that says she "refused" to prosecute the former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor for sex assaults.
Schuette said the Nassar investigation was brought to him not by Whitmer but Michigan State University Police Chief James Dunlap, who has said Whitmer wanted to pursue child pornography — but not sex misconduct charges — against Nassar. Whitmer says Dunlap never brought her the police reports she would have needed to assess whether to file assault charges.
"What this really is is an integrity gap. It is an honesty gap, which disqualifies her (from) being governor of the state of Michigan," Schuette said at the Kent County Republican Party headquarters.
Whitmer, an ex-legislative leader who was appointed to lead the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office for six months after her elected predecessor resigned amid scandal, stood by how she managed the Nassar probe.
"My record is supported by both all publicly available evidence and the prosecuting attorneys I served with, and it's a shame that Bill Schuette and the Republican Party would distort that record in order to try to turn around his failing campaign," she said in a statement. "As a rape survivor, a prosecutor and an ally, I stand with the survivors who have asked him to stop weaponizing this case."
The candidates first sparred over the Nassar case on Friday, a day after the state GOP launched the explosive ad. Denhollander took to social media Saturday, saying Schuette was called in because a decision had been made not to prosecute assault claims, including those made by her and another accuser, Kyle Stephens. She also said Nassar victims should no longer be used as "political pawns" by either party.
"This decision was not based on the existence of multiple jurisdictions or in a desire on the Ingham County Prosecutor's part to move the case to the AG's office," Denhollander wrote. "The move to the AG's office was initiated by the MSU PD alone, and only after the determination by the Ingham County office to not pursue charges for any sexual assault."
Schuette said Denhollander's statement "speak volumes." Asked about survivors' complaints that the case is being politicized, he said he respects their perspective.
Whitmer and Dunlap met on Oct. 4, 2016, to discuss the Nassar case — which at that stage included a handful of sex misconduct complaints against the sports physician and the discovery of child porn on hard drives in a trash can at his Lansing-area home. He would ultimately plead guilty to porn charges in federal court and to sex assault counts in state courts, receiving decades-long sentences.
After the meeting, Dunlap called Schuette and sent a follow-up email thanking him for quickly agreeing to dispatch a team to discuss the case, adding that he was hopeful that the victims would now "get an advocate." Schuette responded: "I am your advocate. Looking forward to working with you."
Whitmer emailed Dunlap the next day, saying she was eager to read any police reports sent her way and pledging to execute additional warrants.
"I believe we share the dual goals of protecting the victim and ensuring we are successful in getting the maximum penalty for the defendant. And while I understand your desire to make an arrest as soon as possible, I hope you understand that we think it is important to flesh out the issues in the case now that the AUSA is involved," Whitmer wrote, referring to a federal prosecutor.
Dunlap responded on Oct. 6, telling Whitmer that he had met with the attorney general's office.
"They felt and I agreed that given the issues of multiple venues and the fact that we were asked to take the lead on other cases, the best decision would be for their office to handle the review of these cases," he said, noting "the professionalism of you and the office." That day, Schuette publicly announced that he had taken the case at Dunlap's request.
Dunlap has declined to speak about the early stages of the Nassar probe since making comments to The Detroit News last year that suggested she was hesitant to prosecute the doctor on allegations of sex misconduct. He said Friday that his office worked with the Ingham County prosecutor, the state attorney general and the U.S. attorney for western Michigan, and those efforts were successful "by all objective accounts."