Truth Squad | Michigan Republicans, Schuette mislead on Nassar

In an online ad, the Michigan Republican Party accuses Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer of refusing in 2016 to prosecute Larry Nassar, a former Michigan State University physician accused of molesting hundreds of girls and young women. GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette’s office eventually convicted Nassar of the crimes.

The prosecution of sports doctor Larry Nassar has triggered fresh attacks in the Michigan governor’s race, with just over a month until Election Day. Truth Squad rates the accusation Misleading.

THE CLAIM

In an online ad, the Michigan Republican Party charges that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer "refused” to prosecute Larry Nassar for sexual assault in 2016 when she served as interim prosecutor in Ingham County:

“Michigan families cannot trust Gretchen Whitmer. … She says she wants to protect our families, but doesn’t tell you that she refused to prosecute Larry Nassar on sexual assault charges.”

Nassar was later charged and convicted by Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office for his assaults on female adolescent, college and Olympic athletes during physical exams and treatments.

Truth Squad rating categories

Truth Squad has reduced the number of rating categories to the following:

  • FAIR: The ad or statement is generally accurate and fairly and credibly presents the speaker’s position on the issue at hand.     
  • MISLEADING: While individual parts of the ad or statement may be accurate, it reaches a conclusion or leaves an impression about an issue or candidate that is misleading in important respects
  • FOUL: The ad or statement contains one or more material factual errors

Schuette, Whitmer’s GOP opponent, has repeated the charge at press conferences in cities around the state. The criticism gained even wider circulation when Rachael Denhollander, one of the most prominent of Nassar’s victims and the first to publicly accuse him of sexual assault, adamantly vouched for the conclusion that Whitmer had decided not to pursue a sexual assault prosecution in a Facebook post.

THE FACTS

The charge reprises an accusation first leveled last December by Michigan State University Police Chief Jim Dunlap. He told The Detroit News that Whitmer’s office wanted to prosecute Nassar on open-and-shut charges of child pornography, but was hesitant to move forward on sexual assaults because they would prove challenging to a jury. So Dunlap said he took the cases to Schuette, who immediately accepted and later won convictions that will, practically speaking, keep Nassar in prison for life.

Whitmer, herself a survivor of sexual assault, has vigorously denied Dunlap’s account on two fronts. She says she could not have moved forward on a decision to prosecute the assault charges until Dunlap’s office supplied police reports. She produced an email showing she made that request the day after an October 2016 meeting with the chief.

She and Lisa McCormick, Ingham County’s chief assistant prosecutor, also say they had concluded at the time that the assault cases were probably a better fit for the AG’s office since women were coming forward from multiple counties across Michigan.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer defended her record as interim Ingham County prosecutor, a role that included the early investigation of the case against convicted sex offender Larry Nassar, a former Michigan State University physician.

Truth Squad first addressed this issue in January, concluding then that the police chief had failed to substantiate his allegation that Whitmer was reluctant to address the assault cases. Truth Squad wrote then:

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.

Today, the facts surrounding Whitmer’s role in the decision to prosecute remain about as cloudy as they did in January. Notes, if they exist, from the disputed October 2016 meeting, in which top officials from both agencies discussed the prosecution strategy,  have not been publicly released.

Dunlap, the police chief, has declined to provide additional evidence to support his remarks last December. Schuette, meanwhile, mocks Whitmer’s explanation for deferring to the Attorney General’s office. But when Schuette first agreed to review the matter, his own office put out a press release declaring that the emergence of victims from multiple jurisdictions put his office “in the best position to effectively investigate and prosecute this case.” Meanwhile, Dunlap’s email correspondence with Whitmer’s office from October 2016 also cited multiple venues as a factor in taking the case to the state.

At first blush, Rachael Denhollander’s Facebook post seemed to add a new dimension to the dispute. Denhollander, an attorney who in June appeared in a campaign ad for Schuette’s then-Republican rival for governor, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, said she had knowledge, including firsthand, of how decisions were made during the investigation.

She states as fact that Chief Dunlap went to the Attorney General “only after [emphasis hers] the determination by the Ingham County office to not pursue charges for any sexual assault.”

But Denhollander did not attend the Oct. 4, 2016, meeting between MSU police, the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office and the FBI, according to a list of attendees provided by the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office. So any knowledge she has of that pivotal meeting comes from the police officials who worked on the case and attended the meeting, not from being there herself, as she herself concedes in her statement.

Denhollander declined to elaborate on her statement to Truth Squad.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette criticized Gretchen Whitmer, his Democratic rival for governor, on her record as interim Ingham County prosecutor related to her role in the early investigation of the case against convicted sex offender Larry Nassar, a former Michigan State University physician.

CONCLUSION

Whitmer served as Ingham County’s prosecutor for six months in 2016. It was under her direction that the office issued a search warrant that recovered hard drives containing images of child pornography from Nassar’s trash, leading to a 60-year federal sentence.

“She did her job as a county prosecutor in terms of finding (and) using search warrants appropriately and finding evidence that allowed us to prosecute at the federal level for child pornography charges,” Pat Miles, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan at the time, and a fellow Democrat, told Truth Squad in an interview. “She did not go soft on Larry Nassar.”

The successful criminal prosecutions by Schuette’s office on behalf of hundreds of young women followed.

As we first noted in January, those raising the allegations that Whitmer declined to pursue sexual assault allegations have the burden of proving them. That remains true today. And it remains possible, as it did then, that more evidence could surface that challenges Whitmer’s version of events.

Until then, Truth Squad rates the accusation that Whitmer “refused” to prosecute Nassar on the accusations of sexual assault as Misleading.

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Comments

Matt
Wed, 10/03/2018 - 9:28am

At what point are the citizens of this state going to stop feeding into this lowly based type of political campaigning. Any accusation can be levied and used to trash a person and it is not their responsibility to prove they are innocent, the accuser must concretely prove the guilt. Nassar was prosecuted, convicted and sentenced. To use this case to further a personal career or make a person governor is sickening. The fact that both of these individuals did their jobs is not something that should be bragging rights...it is a minimal expectation of a public servant. The bottom line is that John Adams and George Washington warned us to never become a two party system. The revenge factor for events and the forming of parties in direct opposition of one another will and has caused tremendous gridlock in our governmental process. I am not a republican nor a democrat and since I do not agree with the platform of either party I am left without a true representative party. We need a viable and capable third party in our system to allow for true alignment to beliefs and platforms for citizens to experience. Many items today are no longer black and white, we need shades of gray to consider.

Trifle
Wed, 10/03/2018 - 9:31am

Well done, Bridge. You are the only news organization which carefully examines issues such this one. (Please tell me if I'm wrong.) But for you, Michiganders would have to rely on the barely-touches-the-surface reporting by MLive, or local news outlets, most of which focus on the weather, motor vehicle accidents, petty crime, overdoses, and business advertising presented as news reports.

Michealene Risley
Wed, 10/03/2018 - 9:53am

I am so sorry but the idea that Bill Schuette put's winning above anything else should make us all sick. She was not given police reports, she sent it to the right party to prosecute. She is a victim of sexual assault for darn sakes. This is PATHETIC.

Rick
Wed, 10/03/2018 - 11:15am

A dumb voter is a Republican voter. It's that simple. And why the Republicans hate education and science; harder to deceive an educated voter with lies.

Jigger
Fri, 10/26/2018 - 7:35pm

I couldn't agree more

Richard Cole
Wed, 10/03/2018 - 11:48am

Whitmer did exactly the right thing by making sure a warrant was issued that allowed her staff to search the garbage that revealed the Nassar child porn on the hard drives he was trying to get rid of. She and the Feds got him put away for the first 60 years. The rest is history unless you are Repubs willing to exploit and deceive to get elected.

Richard Cole
Wed, 10/03/2018 - 11:49am

Whitmer did exactly the right thing by making sure a warrant was issued that allowed her staff to search the garbage that revealed the Nassar child porn on the hard drives he was trying to get rid of. She and the Feds got him put away for the first 60 years. The rest is history unless you are Repubs willing to exploit and deceive to get elected.

Richard Cole
Wed, 10/03/2018 - 11:49am

Whitmer did exactly the right thing by making sure a warrant was issued that allowed her staff to search the garbage that revealed the Nassar child porn on the hard drives he was trying to get rid of. She and the Feds got him put away for the first 60 years. The rest is history unless you are Repubs willing to exploit and deceive to get elected.

Richard Cole
Wed, 10/03/2018 - 11:52am

PS. Bridge should be careful in showing false and misleading ads under equally false and misleading headlines. Those readers who don’t read the full article may be misled into believing a false narrative. And thanks, as always, for the great reporting.

10x25mm
Wed, 10/03/2018 - 12:28pm

Somehow you failed to mention that Dean William Strampel - Nassar's protector at MSU - gave Whitmer's campaign $ 3.300 as a thank you gift in 2017. Whitmer has never repudiated or returned Strampel's largess.

10x25mm
Wed, 10/03/2018 - 2:25pm

Good. Still should have been mentioned in this article.

Jigger
Fri, 10/26/2018 - 7:37pm

I am sorry you didn't have the opportunity to attend college. It's never too late

Michael Butcher
Thu, 10/04/2018 - 4:10am

MSU police chief Dunlap has since announced his retirement.