LANSING, Mich. – Democrat Gretchen Whitmer on Friday tearfully denied Republicans’ allegation that she refused to prosecute disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar for sexual assaulting gymnasts and other victims before the charges were brought by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, her GOP opponent in this year’s race for governor.
Whitmer, who was Ingham County’s interim prosecutor in 2016 and is a rape survivor herself, said Schuette’s office appropriately took over the case because Nassar had committed crimes across county lines.
“I’ve had it with these guys who want to use this Nassar case as a political gimmick for their own sick political gain,” she said from inside the Lansing courthouse where Nassar was sentenced. “I’m here because Bill Schuette and his party’s weaponizing of the Nassar case is callous, it’s craven and it’s a complete lie when it comes to my record.”
Whitmer was joined by Democratic county prosecutors and at least three Nassar victims who called for the state GOP to pull a digital ad that it launched on Thursday, days after Schuette began airing TV ads in which the parents of a victim praise his prosecution of the former physician at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics.
The state GOP’s internet ad says Whitmer “says she wants to protect our families, but she doesn’t tell you that she refused to prosecute Larry Nassar on sexual assault charges.”
It appears to be a reference to MSU Police Chief James Dunlap’s statements in the Detroit News suggesting that Whitmer wanted to proceed with a child pornography case against Nassar, but not sexual assault charges.
Whitmer has said that Dunlap never brought her the police reports she would have needed to assess whether to file assault charges. Schuette then took the case, and Whitmer said Friday that she supported the move because Nassar’s assaults against young female athletes and a family friend occurred in two counties. Schuette also has said his office was in the best position to prosecute because the case crossed into multiple jurisdictions and possibly across state lines.
“Here is the truth: My office, the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office, executed warrants that would produce the evidence that we needed to put Larry Nassar behind bars and stop his crimes,” Whitmer said.
She said a search of Nassar’s home resulted in the recovery of hard drives that were in a trash can, leading to his conviction on federal child porn possession charges and a 60-year sentence.
The Michigan Republican Party stood by its ad.
“Our ad correctly stated that Gretchen Whitmer had the opportunity to prosecute Larry Nassar for sexual assault but failed to do so. This is a statement of fact,” chief of staff Colleen Pero said in a statement. “Bill Schuette is a leader who took on this tough case and successfully prosecuted Nassar. Gretchen Whitmer did not. This is an important part of Gretchen Whitmer’s record that voters deserve to know.”
Schuette was expected to address the issue at his own news conference later Friday.
This is not the first time that Whitmer’s handling of the Nassar investigation has come up in the governor’s race. One of her Democratic primary opponents, Shri Thanedar, called for her to drop out for not charging Nassar.
Earlier this week, Schuette began running ads in which Mark and Lee Weick credit Schuette’s prosecution of Nassar. Their daughter Helena Weick, now 19, was sexually abused under the guise of treatment by Nassar when she was a 12-year-old gymnast. She was among some 200 women and girls to give victim-impact statements in Ingham and Eaton county courtrooms before he was sentenced to at least 40 years in state prison, which he would serve after the federal term.
“Bill Schuette is a person who stood up for what’s right,” Lee Weick says in one ad.
Dunlap, the MSU chief, declined Friday to speak to the Associated Press about the early stages of the Nassar probes. He instead issued a statement: “Throughout the Nassar investigations, we worked with the Ingham County Prosecutor, the Michigan Attorney General, and the United States Attorney for the Western District of Michigan. Those efforts were meant to achieve the best possible outcome for the survivors of Larry Nassar and by all objective accounts those efforts were successful.”
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