LANSING, Mich. — Attorney General Dana Nessel took her first news conference as an opportunity to ask Michigan State University to help the state with its investigation into how the institution handled the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.
The state was asked by Michigan State University to do an independent probe. Nessel said the university was standing in the way.
“A full and complete cooperation of MSU, frankly, continues to be a challenge,” Nessel said Thursday.
Michigan State did not disclose 7,500 documents to the AG’s office, Nessel said. The state took the university to court, which led to 1,000 documents getting voluntarily turned over to Nessel’s investigation. Michigan State’s stance was that the documents in question are protected under attorney-client privilege.
Lansing Judge Richard Ball oversaw the document dispute and was tasked with reviewing the facts included in the documents and making the determination what should be released to the Attorney Generals’s office.
Nessel said Ball declared 117 documents were not privileged and should be turned over. Out of those 117 documents, the university said 29 should be withheld or redacted and Ball agreed.
“Of the more than 7,500 documents MSU originally withheld, we are never going to see roughly 6,000 of those,” Nessel said. “They have fought us every step of the way. It’s time for Michigan State University to do the right thing.”
Attempts were made to get a comment from the University of Board of Trustees Chairwoman Dianne Byrum. Neither requests were met.
Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees Dan Kelly spoke about the documents in question following the regular Board of Trustees meeting Feb. 15.
“The attorney-client privilege does not apply to facts,” Kelly said. “I’m not hiding anything and I don’t believe the University is. It’s very difficult, I know we will be constantly questioned whether we are trying to hide something, we’re not.”
Nessel took to the podium and made a plea to the trustees to voluntarily hand over the documents in question.
“I’m making a personal plea to the Board of Trustees at MSU,” Nessel said. “If you care about transparency and getting to the root of this issue, let us have those documents.”
Nessel’s predecessor, former Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette had special prosecutor William Forsyth in charge of the MSU probe. Before Schuette left office at the end of 2018, Forsyth gave an update on the case.
“[Forsyth’s] report noted it would require additional work before it was completed,” Nessel said.
The Attorney General added that she still wants to speak with former interim Michigan State University President John Engler.
“The thing that was peculiar to me was the only one who hadn’t been interviewed yet was John Engler,” she said.
The embattled former leader was asked to resign for his post in January 2019 after making insensitive comments about survivors.
“He stepped up to be the interim President and when you do that, you accept the responsibility to be open and transparent,” Nessel said.
Engler replaced former President Lou Anna Simon when she stepped down after Nassar’s sentencing.
Nessel said her staff is working on getting an interview scheduled with Engler, but has been unsuccessful thus far.
“We are still in negotiations with John Engler’s personal attorney,” she said.
The state’s probe is also extending to former Michigan State University Trustee George Perles, according to Nessel. Perles resigned before the end of 2018 with enough time for then-GOP Gov. Rick Snyder to appoint a replacement.
Snyder tapped health care industry Nancy Schlichting as Perles’ replacement. After he left, it was discovered that a balance owed to the university by Perles after a donation pledge was wiped out.
Nessel said that activity was under review.
Also included in the Nassar probe is the investigation into former Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddart. He once owned Gedderts' Twistars USA Gymnastics Club, Inc. in Dimondale. In February 2018, the Eaton County Sheriff said multiple people came forward with complaints about Geddart. An undisclosed number of potential victims are being investigated, Nessel said.
Some women have said in previous court proceedings that Nassar sexually abused them at the Twistars gym; others have claimed physical abuse by Geddart.
Nessel would not comment on the nature of claims her office is handling, but said the decision to take over the case was a matter of logistics.
“The fact of the matter is, when you have a case that you believe involves multiple victims over several years, it might just be easier,” she said.
She added that many survivors of Nasaar’s abuse have already formed bonds with some attorneys in the AG’s office who have handled other Michigan State University related cases.
Nessel and the Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) agency recently issued citations against two Michigan State University athletic trainers, Destiny Teachor-Hauck and Lianna Hadden, for allegedly giving false statements to investigators about their knowledge of sexual abuse of students by Nassar.
“We’ve made it clear before and we’re making it clear again: lying to law enforcement officers engaged in an investigation is unacceptable,” Nessel said. “Teachnor-Hauk’s and Hadden’s unethical conduct and lack of good moral character deserves serious review by their licensing board.”
According to LARA, both trainers were independently interviewed by the Department of Attorney General Special Agents on June 11, 2018. Both trainers denied that any student had ever advised them of concerns with Nassar or his treatment, the complaint detailed.
“The investigation determined that both licensee’s statements to investigators on June 11, 2018 were untruthful and evidence of a lack of good moral character, which is a violation of the Public Health Code,” read LARA’s complaint.
Thursday, Nessel said she felt it was to move forward with a sanction on their licenses.
“I have confidence in those cases so we will be moving forward,” she said during the news conference.
Three criminal cases are ongoing involving people once affiliated with Michigan State during the Nassar scandal; Simon who faces felony charges for allegedly lying to police about what she knew about Nassar and when; former Michigan State University women's gymnastics coach Kathie Klages who faces one felony and one misdemeanor for lying to police; and former Michigan State College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean and Nassar's former boss William Strampel who faces two counts of willful neglect of duty.
Nessel said those cases will continue and said she needs cooperation with MSU to continue getting justice for the survivors involved with Nassar’s decades of abuse.
“It’s time for Michigan State University to step up and do the right thing,” Nessel said.
Follow Political Reporter Mikenzie Frost on Twitter and Facebook. Send tips to email@example.com or (517) 897-4861.