By Ed White, Associated Press
FLINT (AP) – Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is sticking by his congressional testimony about when he learned about a fatal outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease during the Flint water crisis, despite a senior aide’s new disclosure that he informed the Republican governor weeks earlier.
Some Democrats in Congress are pouncing on the conflict and urging the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate.
“One thing that all members of this committee — Democrats and Republicans — agree on is that witnesses testifying before us must tell the truth,” said U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Republican-controlled panel.
It’s a crime to lie to Congress if the false statement was made intentionally and was also “material — meaning, roughly, non-trivial,” said Darryl Brown, a professor at University of Virginia law school.
“It would definitely be material if a false statement about when he learned of the outbreak covered a period when the government could have done something and they didn’t,” Brown said.
On the other hand, it’s possible Snyder believes “he didn’t confirm Legionnaires’ or believe it himself until he heard something more definitive in January,” Brown said.
Nearly 100 Legionnaires’ cases, including 12 deaths, were reported in Genesee County in 2014-15 when Flint was using the Flint River for water. The outbreak wasn’t publicly announced until Snyder and his health chief held a news conference in January 2016. It was a remarkable sidebar to Flint’s ongoing disaster: a lead-contaminated water supply.
Snyder gave the same timeline when he was summoned to Washington in March 2016 to explain how his administration contributed to the Flint water mess.
“In terms of Legionnaires’, I didn’t learn of that until 2016. … That was clearly a case where the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services should have done more to escalate the issue, to get it visible to the public and to me,” Snyder told lawmakers.
His words suddenly are being revisited after Harvey Hollins, Snyder’s director of urban initiatives, told a judge Friday that he told the governor about Legionnaires’ during a phone call before Christmas 2015.
Snyder spokesman Ari Adler declined to comment on the apparent conflict. But he said the governor’s testimony was accurate.
“The governor testified under oath to Congress, and he stands by his testimony,” Adler told The Associated Press. “If Congress has any questions for him, if we get any questions from the committee, then we’ll respond to those as we always have.”
There was no immediate comment from the House committee Wednesday.
The Snyder administration’s handling of the Legionnaires’ outbreak has led to involuntary manslaughter charges against six people, including health department director Nick Lyon, who knew about the outbreak months before the governor. Prosecutors allege that a timely announcement could have saved lives.
Some experts have linked Legionnaires’ to Flint’s use of the Flint River. It’s a pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water and infect the lungs.
The governor hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing in the Flint water investigation, which goes beyond Legionnaires’ and includes how the city became poisoned with lead while it was being run by state-appointed managers. More than a dozen people have been charged.
In June, Attorney General Bill Schuette said many “angry, frustrated” people have urged him to go after Snyder. But he said he has no evidence of a crime.
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