Government officials working to cover up questionable behavior is as old as politics itself but it’s rare to catch them boldly doing it in real time. That, however, is exactly what Progress Michigan staff did during a recent investigation into what appears to be improper use of private emails to do government business and possibly doing political work while at work on taxpayer time. This investigation is being done as part of Progress Michigan’s new project, Great Lakes Beacon.
From their original reporting:
The Great Lakes Beacon has obtained an e-mail sent by Schuette’s Director of Public Affairs, Rusty Hills, from his personal Gmail account, sent during work hours after the attorney general held a press conference announcing new charges in his office’s Flint Water Crisis investigation, this time against Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, and the state’s Chief Medical Executive, Eden Wells, among others, for their alleged roles.
Hills, who has previously served as Schuette’s campaign manager, sent an e-mail on June 14th to “Interested Parties” roughly two hours after Schuette announced the charges in a press conference. And while Schuette has not yet declared himself a candidate of any sort, he is widely seen as a potential contender for the GOP’s gubernatorial race in 2018.
Though the content of the e-mail tracks Schuette’s Flint messaging, the fact that Hills appears to have used his personal Gmail account for the matter raises many questions: Who received the e-mail? Was it political or campaign-related? If so, why is Hills cultivating Schuette donors and/or campaign staff during work hours at taxpayer expense? And if the e-mail was about state business, why wasn’t a government e-mail account used?
This past Monday, June 19th at 11:34 a.m., Progress Michigan reached out to Attorney General Bill Schuette’s staff to inquire about a memo sent during the work day using a private email account. A half hour later, they emailed Hills and Schuette’s spokesperson Andrea Bitely asking them to comment.
What happened next is pretty incredible. Bitely responded to the email at 1:34 p.m. saying that the memo in question was “public”. “The memo you are referring to is a public memo shared as a supplementary explanation of the AG’s announcement Wednesday,” she told them. “As such, I am happy to provide you with a link to where this is housed on the Department website (link to pdf provided), alongside the press releases, report and other public documents here: (link to Flint-related materials provided).”
Here’s when things got “interesting”. From reporting by Great Lakes Beacon:
[M]etadata analysis of the PDF link provided shows the page was created on Monday at approximately 12:49 p.m. by Beth Nurenberg, who appears to be an analyst for the Department of Attorney General.
That means a reproduction of Hills’ memo was created and posted merely 25 minutes prior to Bitely’s response, and nearly an hour and half after the Beacon first requested comment.
Upon the discovery of the Monday creation of the document, the Beacon responded, via e-mail at 1:31 p.m., to Bitely with more questions regarding when the document was posted online at the address provided and why Hills was using a personal e-mail in the first place, as well as a request for the recipients of the e-mail that Bitely said was a “public memo.” Bitely has not yet responded.
The multiple webpages leading to the document in question appear to have been modified throughout the Beacon’s attempted discussion with the AG’s office.
There was an intermediary page with a link to the actual PDF of Hills’ memo, which when first viewed said “memo to interested parties” and was timestamped in the metadata as Monday, June 19, 2017, at 1:12 p.m. It then reverted back to “letter to interested parties” with a metadata timestamp of Monday, June 19, 2017, at 1:03 p.m. It has since reverted back to “memo.”
So, to sum it up, once Schuette’s staff knew they had been caught red-handed improperly using private emails to conduct government work and, possibly, political work while on the clock, they began to edit a so-called “public” online document to cover their tracks. Progress Michigan staff tracked in real time the editing of the documents. If you click through to their documentation, you can see screenshots of the real-time editing of the memo.
Schuette’s office has still not responded to questions about why this supposedly public work was being done using private emails, something Schuette himself was caught earlier this year.
The two top Republicans who will run for governor in Michigan in 2018 are AG Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. Calley is forever yoked to the politically toxic Gov. Rick Snyder. Calley is running on a “clean up government” platform, an apparent effort to clean up the government run by his own Party and that he was the Number Two official of for the past 6+ years. Bill Schuette is exploiting the Flint Water Crisis to propel his own candidacy and to put as much distance as possible between himself and the corrupt Snyder administration. In the process, his staff appears to be engaging in potentially illegal behavior and then clumsily attempting to cover it up once they got caught.
The Republicans running our state are, without question, a hot mess of corruption and illicit, self-dealing behavior. It’s going to be up to us, the voters, to clean things up in 2018 by replacing them with honest government officials who are working in the best interests of Michiganders and not for their own personal gain.