Michigan Truth Squad: Gretchen Whitmer’s role in Larry Nassar case

Gretchen Whitmer

November 6: Gretchen Whitmer projected winner in Michigan governor race

Related: Truth Squad | Ads unfairly attack Whitmer on healthcare, missed votes
October 2018 update: Truth Squad | Michigan Republicans, Schuette mislead on Nassar
August 2018 update: Gretchen Whitmer wins Democratic primary for Michigan governor

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer touts her record as Ingham County prosecutor in restoring integrity to an office that had been rocked by a sex scandal, and in her commitment to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

Fighting sexual assault is an issue critical to Whitmer, and a very personal one. In 2013, on the floor of the Michigan Senate, she shared a story of being raped while in college as lawmakers debated legislation that would require the purchase of an insurance rider to cover abortion services, even in cases of rape or incest.

But her tenure as county prosecutor has come under fire recently, with a law enforcement official alleging she was reluctant to prosecute a Michigan State University physician, Larry Nassar, who molested more than 100 girls and young women under the guise of performing sports treatments or examinations.

Former Michigan State University physician and USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar has been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges. He still faces sentencing for molesting more than 100 girls under the guise of performing treatment as a sports physician.

The Nassar case could follow Whitmer and Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette (also a candidate for governor) throughout this year’s campaign, should they win their respective primaries. Schuette’s office ultimately charged Nassar with criminal sexual conduct for incidents in Ingham and Eaton counties; sentencing is happening this week.

The claim

“As Ingham County Prosecutor,” Whitmer says on her campaign website, “I implemented a new domestic violence unit, and am committed to bringing together university officials, law enforcement, students, and legislators to end sexual assaults on college campuses.”

But her claim of being a protector of assault victims has been challenged by an account from Michigan State University Police Chief Jim Dunlap, who told The Detroit News in December that Whitmer wanted to focus on the child pornography charges against Nassar — which ultimately were charged at the federal level — instead of also pursuing sexual assault cases against Nassar, because child porn would be “relatively easy to convict on.”

Whitmer strongly denies she waffled on pursuing the assault claims.

The facts

After a lengthy career in the Michigan Legislature, including as Senate Minority Leader, Whitmer served as Ingham County prosecutor for six months in 2016 following the resignation of longtime prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III. Dunnings pleaded guilty to prostitution-related charges after investigators found he’d paid multiple women for sex over several years.

She created a domestic violence unit within the prosecutor’s office and assigned an assistant prosecutor to work on those cases, according to Ingham County.


And she became involved in the Nassar case. Nassar, a former MSU physician and USA Gymnastics team doctor, recently was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges. He faces sentencing this week on state charges for sexually molesting more than 100 girls or young women during sports examinations.

Whitmer has called for an independent investigation into MSU’s handling of the Nassar case, as well as for MSU President Lou Anna Simon to resign.

Then, in December, Dunlap, the MSU police chief, suggested in media reports that Whitmer was willing to take the easier road to prosecuting Nassar, by charging him with child porn and avoiding the more difficult-to-prove allegations of sexual abuse collected by police investigators.

“She told us in a meeting that her decision was to move forward on the child sexually abusive material and not the criminal sexual assaults,” Dunlap told The Detroit News. “The big issue is we wanted to move forward on the (assault) cases and not settle for the (pornography) case.”

Dunlap did not respond to multiple messages from Truth Squad about his characterization of that meeting. An MSU spokesman declined to comment, referring questions to Dunlap.

Whitmer told Truth Squad in an interview that police provided enough information to gain her office's support for the search warrant of Nassar's home, which led to the discovery of the child pornography.

But she said the department never provided more detailed police reports that would support the issuance of an arrest warrant for assault. She said the police never requested such a warrant, which she said is a necessity before a prosecutor can proceed.

"Before any prosecutor can bring charges, the police have to bring police reports and make a warrant request, an arrest warrant request," Whitmer said. "(The) Michigan State police department never brought police reports to the Ingham County prosecutor's office, nor did they make an arrest warrant request. They decided to go to the attorney general for that because (of) the fact the crimes took place in multiple counties."

Whitmer said it was after her October 2016 meeting with Dunlap that Dunlap went to the state attorney general's office.

"We were talking about jurisdiction and strategy, and the decision to go to the attorney general came as a result of that," she said.

The state attorney general, not the county prosecutor, was the right office to pursue charges because the alleged assault incidents took place in more than one county, she said.

Lisa McCormick, chief assistant prosecutor for Ingham County, confirmed Whitmer’s account of events to Truth Squad.

“I just absolutely disagree” with Dunlap’s characterization, McCormick said. “I don’t know how we could ever be reluctant to charge anyone when he never provided us with the police reports.”

McCormick said the office never received police reports, warrant requests or witness lists from MSU’s police department that would have allowed county prosecutors to determine appropriate charges.

“There is no way for a prosecutor to charge someone without the warrant request, the witness list and the police report,” she said, adding: “It would be unethical to do otherwise.”

In a 2016 email exchange between Whitmer and Dunlap, first requested under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act by Gongwer News Service, and provided to Truth Squad, Whitmer told the chief her office was “eager to read any and all police reports you send our way.”

“I believe we share the dual goals of protecting the victim and ensuring we are successful in getting the maximum penalty for the defendant,” she wrote on Oct. 5, 2016. “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 (U.S. attorney’s office) is involved.”

Dunlap responded the next day: “As we discussed, I wanted to have the opportunity to look at the best approach regarding these cases including the Office of Attorney General. I met with their office this morning and we discussed the issues of continuity and multiple jurisdictions. 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. It is our intent to have the federal issues remain with the US Attorney.”

According to Gongwer, and emails provided to Truth Squad by Schuette’s office, Dunlap had emailed Schuette on Oct. 4, 2016, writing of victims in the case: “I am hopeful now they will get an advocate.”

Schuette wrote in response: “I am your advocate. Look forward to working with you.”

Schuette ultimately would lead the state criminal case against Nassar that resulted in convictions on criminal sexual conduct charges.

“It quickly became clear that Dr. Nassar committed crimes in multiple jurisdictions, including communities outside of Ingham County, and therefore engaging state and federal prosecutors was in the best interest of the victims,” Whitmer wrote in an essay published on Medium.

“I’m certainly no fan of our politically-driven Attorney General, but when a case grows beyond the jurisdiction of a county prosecutor, justice is best served by handing the case over to the statewide Attorney General’s office to prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law,” she wrote. “It was without question the right thing to do in the best interest of victims seeking justice, first and foremost. Further, consolidation of these cases into the Attorney General’s office was the right move for the victims of Dr. Nassar because it only required these courageous young women to relive and retell their horrifying experiences once, rather than in multiple courtrooms across multiple counties.”

Whitmer said in the essay that she disagrees with people who say she should have filed the sexual assault charges while in county office because it would have been a good political maneuver.

“To those, I would ask that you stand in front of Dr. Nassar’s victims and tell them that,” she wrote.

The rating: ACCURATE

Gretchen Whitmer is running for governor in no small part on her background as an advocate for sexual assault victims. The allegations by the MSU police chief raised questions about the fierceness of that advocacy in the day-to-day workings of the prosecutor’s office.

The publicly available emails and interviews with those close to the Nassar investigation seem to support Whitmer’s version of events. Dunlap made the explosive allegations; the burden remains with him to support them. He did not respond to requests for comment from Truth Squad about his email exchanges or statements to The Detroit News.

Both Whitmer and Schuette have said publicly that because the sex crimes were committed in multiple jurisdictions, the state Attorney General’s Office was the right office to handle their prosecution.

Clearly, there is always the possibility that more emails or other evidence will emerge that cast doubt on Whitmer’s version of events. We can only go on the documents that have emerged to date.

While Dunlap appears to portray Whitmer as a dithering bureaucrat, the available evidence suggests something else entirely: a prosecutor who put the interests of justice and sexual assault victims ahead of her own political ambitions by allowing the attorney general to spearhead the cases rather than seeking to prosecute through her own office.

Whitmer’s mantle as an advocate for sexual assault victims remains intact.

More coverage

Truth Squad: Brian Calley’s claims on Michigan’s economic gains

Truth Squad: Bill Schuette’s track record as Michigan Attorney General

Truth Squad: Abdul El-Sayed promises single-payer healthcare


Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:

ACCURATE ‒ No factual inaccuracies in the statement and no important information is missing

MOSTLY ACCURATE ‒ While the statement is largely accurate, it omits or exaggerates facts, or needs some clarification   

HALF ACCURATE ‒ Truths are interspersed with mistruths, or the speaker left out significant facts that render his/her remarks misleading in important respects

MOSTLY INACCURATE ‒ The major point or points made are untrue or misleading, even while some aspects of the claim may be accurate

FALSE ‒ The statement is false, or based on false underlying facts

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Averil baron
Thu, 01/18/2018 - 9:25pm

Most acts of child and teen sexual abuse are never reported to the police, criminal background checks are largely ineffective at identifying individuals who may have already sexually abused a child.

I used to check people who are close to my kids with Seekverify: https://thedimesaver.com/seekverify/

Eric Paul Walter
Fri, 01/19/2018 - 9:06am

Jeez, this posting has the makings of one that will not age well. How do you grade something as "ACCURATE", when you say the following:

"Clearly, there is always the possibility that more emails or other evidence will emerge that cast doubt on Whitmer’s version of events. We can only go on the documents that have emerged to date."

At best, this piece is inconclusive. Further, I can't say I would blame anyone for refusing to speak with something called "The Truth Squad". Pick a better name if your planning on running campaign pieces like this one again, it will help everyone in the long run.

Bing Ding Ow
Sat, 02/03/2018 - 9:27pm

Lindsey, IMHO, this is the "truth" --
Whitmer (D) could have brought the LOCAL charges. That's Law School 101. She did not. Period.
She followed Stuart Dunnings III (D), who held that position for 20 years, before being convicted of sex crimes. Dunnings (D) also did nothing.

Bang Ding Ow
Sun, 09/23/2018 - 8:12pm

"The New York Times" on this very topic, shows what a rookie and amateur Ms. Whitmer is --

"Amanda Thomashow, a recent graduate of Michigan State University, made up her mind in April 2014. She was going to report Lawrence G. Nassar, a prominent doctor who treated star gymnasts.
"He had sexually assaulted her during a medical exam weeks before, she soon told a campus police officer, who listened and took notes for close to an hour. The police eventually delivered the results of their investigation to the office of Stuart Dunnings III, the longtime prosecuting attorney in Ingham County, Mich.
"On three separate occasions, the university’s police force said, they asked Mr. Dunnings’s office to bring charges of criminal sexual conduct against Dr. Nassar in Ms. Thomashow’s case. And three times, they said, their request was denied.
"Mr. Dunnings’s office was one in a long line of agencies that failed to take action against Dr. Nassar, who was eventually convicted of sexually assaulting girls and women under the guise of medical treatment. More than 250 have accused him of abuse, and emotional sentencing hearings in January and February drew national attention."

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 11:15am

I am confused by the accusations made against Gretchen Whitmer that she could have or should have acted more than she did. Especially since the Truth Squad discovered that the accuser MSU Police Chief Dunlap made unfounded unsubstantiated accusations and made no effort to clarify his unsubstantiated accusations to the Truth Squad. It appears that MSU is trying to redeem itself by spreading misleading allegations of guilt wherever they can. In this case the smoke has no credibility and the MSU Police Chief should realize that slander without substance is not lawful nor productive. Its just political.

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 3:09pm

William Strampel was certainly grateful to Whitmer for her inaction.

Patricia Battersby
Wed, 07/18/2018 - 1:45pm

This article descibes what appears to be a misunderstanding of the Prosecutor's job. When the Police bring evidence in the form of Police Reports, etc., to the Prosecutor, the Prosecutor determines if venue is correct, whether probable cause exists, whether the case can be proven in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt. Even if the Police Chief thought there was a credible case, without evidence the Prosecutor may not act. It is to Prosecutor Whitmer's credit that she carried out her duties in a responsble manner despite what must have been a clamor to indict.

Bang Ding Ow
Sun, 09/23/2018 - 8:08pm

" .. It is to Prosecutor Whitmer's credit that she carried out her duties in a responsble manner despite what must have been a clamor to indict .."
How very odd, "The New York Times" clearly explains what a mess that office was --
IMHO, it shows Ms. Whitmer was grossly over her head, in that job. Shame on her.

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 9:23am

The article you pointed to was talking about another prosecutor: "Stuart Dunnings III, the longtime prosecuting attorney in Ingham County, Mich..."