William Forsyth, the former Kent County prosecutor appointed to investigate MSU’s handling of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, is serving under the direction of Attorney General Bill Schuette, not as an “independent special prosecutor,” as Schuette has described him, records show.
A Jan. 27 appointment letter, signed by Schuette, says Forsyth will “act as my representative” and “serve under my direction and at my pleasure.”
The letter, which appears to conflict with public statements by Schuette, was obtained by the Free Press on Wednesday under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.
The Michigan Democratic Party and others have questioned whether Schuette should be responsible for the MSU investigation while running for governor. State Democratic Chairman Brandon Dillon has called Schuette’s investigation a “tangled web of conflict and insatiable appetite for the political spotlight.”
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who, like Schuette, is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, said Wednesday the letter confirms “what we all feared: this investigation is not at all independent.”
House Minority Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, called on Schuette to recuse himself.
“I’ve heard time and time again from the attorney general that this was going to be an independent investigation,” Singh said. “But it’s very clear from this letter that this is not an independent investigation.”
Former Republican Attorney General Mike Cox said Forsyth is an experienced and well-respected prosecutor who can’t be bullied by Schuette or anyone else and he has as much independence as Schuette says he has, regardless of what his appointment letter says.
“The day they have a disagreement on this — if they ever do — Bill Forsyth can walk away and Bill Schuette has no control over him,” Cox said.
Forsyth issued a statement late Wednesday, through Schuette’s spokeswoman, that said: “I would not have taken the job of investigating what went wrong at Michigan State University if I didn’t have the independence to the job as I saw fit.”
Forsyth said Schuette “has granted me complete independence and has given me the full weight of the Department of Attorney General to assist in my investigation.”
Forsyth’s $175,000 contract, also obtained by the Free Press under FOIA, says “before any report is issued, the report must be submitted to the contract manager” — an assistant attorney general in Schuette’s office — “for review and approval.”
The contract says Forsyth may not make any public statements or news releases without prior approval from the AG’s Office.
Schuette’s appointment of Forsyth has generally drawn praise, as other attorneys and elected officials have praised Forsyth as experienced, honorable and methodical.
But Mark Totten, a law professor at MSU and the 2014 Democratic candidate for attorney general, said it is “profoundly misleading” for Schuette or anyone else to say Forsyth has any meaningful independence.
“Forsyth reports to Attorney General Schuette, who has the final say,” Totten said.