In fact, he knew before there were any adverse health consequences, and he knew tht there WOULD be adverse health consequences, which makes him a murderer.
During the inauguration of his successor, outgoing Michigan Governor Rick Snyder needed a favor.
At the January 2019 event, Snyder approached Karen Weaver, who was then the mayor of Flint, a city of nearly 100,000 people that was still reeling from financial decay and a toxic-water crisis. He asked whether she could meet with Congressman Elijah Cummings.
“You have a lot of influence with him,” Weaver remembered a worried Snyder saying to her about Cummings. At the time, Cummings was the incoming chairman of the powerful U.S. House Oversight Committee.
Throughout the water crisis, Cummings led the charge as Congress demanded Snyder and his administration provide more information about what he knew about the poisonous water that ravaged the impoverished majority-minority Rust Belt city after it switched water sources to the corrosive Flint River in 2014, and when he knew it. More specifically, Cummings pushed for more information on when Snyder first learned of the lethal Legionella pneumophila bacterial outbreak in Flint. Snyder testified to Congress that he first became aware of Legionella in January 2016 and held a press conference the next day. Flint residents didn’t believe the governor; their doubt intensified after Harvey Hollins, the director of the state’s Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives office, contradicted the governor, testifying to Congress that he informed Snyder about Flint’s Legionella outbreak in December 2015.
Back at the inauguration, Weaver said, Snyder asked her to get Cummings to “back off” from investigating him, emphasizing that he wanted to move on with his life as a private citizen. He said “it would go a long way” if the request to the congressman came from her, Weaver recalled to VICE. Weaver’s former spokesperson, Candice Mushatt, as well as two other sources, confirmed that she had described the governor’s request to them after it occurred. (Snyder did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story).
After a VICE investigation spanning a year and a half across the state of Michigan, overwhelming evidence indicates Snyder had good reason to worry.
Hundreds of confidential pages of documents obtained by VICE, along with emails and interviews, reveal a coordinated, five-year cover-up overseen by Snyder and his top officials to prevent news of Flint’s deadly water from going public—while there was still time to save lives—and then limit the damage after the crisis made global headlines.
All told, the waterborne bacterial disease may have killed at least 115 people in 2014 and 2015, and potentially more whose pneumonia wasn’t officially considered Legionnaires’ disease, the illness caused by Legionella. In addition to the outbreak, Flint’s water supply was contaminated with lead and other heavy metals, harmful bacteria, carcinogens, and other toxic components. This wreaked havoc on Flint residents, leaving them with a laundry list of illnesses, including kidney and liver problems, severe bone and muscle pain, gastrointestinal problems, loss of teeth, autoimmune diseases, neurological deficiencies, miscarriages, Parkinson’s disease, severe fatigue, seizures, and volatile mood disorders.
VICE has learned that prosecutors leading the criminal investigation secretly subpoenaed key members of Snyder’s inner circle, including chief of staff Dennis Muchmore, Snyder’s “fixer” and top adviser Rich Baird, and state treasurer Andy Dillon, as they built a case against the governor. Documents reveal the governor’s chief legal counsel, Beth Clement, knew Snyder’s top officials were subpoenaed by prosecutors, suggesting Snyder knew as well (a spokesperson for Clement, now a judge, said she couldn’t comment on a case pending in any court). The aggressive investigation into Snyder may explain why the governor’s office’s legal fees, paid for by state taxpayers, came to at least $8.5 million in the years after the water crisis made national headlines.
Snyder and his administration were investigated by a team led by special prosecutor Todd Flood from 2016 to 2019. The team concluded that the administration had “committed conspiracies of ongoing crimes, like an organized crime unit,” a source with knowledge of the probe told VICE.
But before a case against Snyder could develop, the state’s newly appointed attorney general, Dana Nessel, fired top prosecutors and investigators pursuing the case.
Investigative subpoena documents obtained by VICE, along with details from sources with knowledge of the Flint water criminal prosecution, reveal that:
- Snyder was warned about the dangers of using the Flint River as a water source a year before the water switch even occurred.
- Snyder had knowledge of the Legionella outbreak in Flint as early as October 2014, six months after the water switch—and 16 months earlier than he claimed to have learned of the deadly outbreak in testimony under oath before Congress.
- communication among Snyder, his top officials, and the state health department spiked in October 2014 around the same time state environmental and health officials traded emails and calls about the Legionella outbreak in Flint.
According to sources familiar with the criminal investigation, as well as Flint residents VICE spoke to, during those 16 months, Snyder’s top advisor, Baird, attempted to pay off sick Flint residents to keep quiet and silenced a whistleblower sounding alarms over the city using the Flint River while there was still time to save lives. And Snyder himself “punished” Weaver, Flint’s mayor, she said, after she repeatedly refused his administration’s requests for her to declare the water safe in Flint to residents.
What follows is the full, never-before-told story behind the cover-up of a government poisoning tens of thousands of innocent people—and the ongoing, six-year-old crisis.
But that latter proposal wasn’t free of flaws either. Genesee County, which Flint is part of, was the majority owner of the proposed KWA; oddly, the county’s elected drain commissioner, Jeff Wright, doubled as KWA CEO. Wright had a checkered past: In 2005, he was accused of laundering funds during his 2000 drain commissioner campaign; he ultimately wasn’t charged and denied the allegations, but the FBI did seize his campaign records. Years later, Wright became an FBI informant.
In March 2013, more than a year before the Flint River switch, Stephen Busch, a supervisor with MDEQ’s drinking water division, emailed other environmental officials in preparation for a call about Flint’s water options with state treasurer Dillon, Busch, and MDEQ director Dan Wyant. Busch warned that continuous use of the Flint River would pose “an increased microbial risk to public health” along with an “increased risk of disinfection by-product (carcinogen)” to Flint residents.
In the investigative subpoena interview between treasurer Dillon and special prosecutor Flood obtained by VICE, Dillon didn’t deny that Busch repeated his email’s warnings on the call they had the same day. Soon after the call, a source familiar with the details of the Flint water criminal investigation told VICE that Dillon and MDEQ director Dan Wyant—whom, VICE learned, prosecutors interviewed—briefed Governor Snyder in person on Busch’s warning about the hazards of the Flint River.
By the time Snyder received Busch’s October 2014 memo about the potential for a dangerous bacteria to be in the water, Flint residents had already been poisoned for six months.
“The source of the outbreak may be the Flint municipal water,” state epidemiologist Shannon Johnson wrote in an email to colleagues on October 13, 2014. This was the same day General Motors announced it would discontinue using the Flint River because high levels of chloride in the river water corroded its parts. A state health spokesperson told VICE that Johnson couldn’t answer questions “due to the ongoing criminal investigation.”
“He’s a fixer, he’s an old-fashioned fixer,” a source familiar with the criminal investigation told VICE. Baird’s M.O. was “by any means possible: threaten, coerce, whatever, to fix these things for Snyder.”
Baird’s “fixing” for Snyder expanded as the water crisis unfolded, allegedly descending into identifying Flint residents who could damage Snyder—and trying to pay them off.
By 2017, Flint resident Adam Murphy had become ill with seizures, memory loss, and double vision. Things grew so bad he could no longer work as a millwright welder. His then-wife Christina developed severe skeletal and muscle pain. Their newborn son Declan’s umbilical cord blood tested positive for lead in 2016 (the CDC cites no safe lead level for children).
Angry and desperate for help, Adam unleashed his rage at a water-crisis town hall in January 2017. A police officer removed him from the event and said she’d connect him with a top state official who could help his family, Christina recalled to VICE. Adam’s outburst received attention in the Flint Journal and the Detroit News.
Weeks later, Baird, an imposing man with broad shoulders and white-grey hair, stood in the Murphys’ living room, bizarrely flanked by former Army National Guard colonel Scott W. Hiipakka, a state trooper, and Sheryl Thompson, an official from the state health department, according to Christina. Baird was there representing Snyder, or as he told them, his “best friend.” He told the Murphys that the Snyder administration would fully pay for a medical treatment for Adam called chelation therapy, which injects agents into the body to bind to heavy metals like lead and extract them.
The Murphys weren’t the only Flint family Baird allegedly tried to silence, according to sources familiar with the details of the criminal investigation.
According to Mays, Baird approached her in May 2018, not-so-subtly trying to pay her off.
“Rick and I are out at the end of the year, so we have nothing to lose,” Mays recalled Baird saying. Baird allegedly said he was so tired of Flint residents’ complaining and lacking appreciation for all Snyder had done for them that he unilaterally, without the governor knowing, decided to end free water-bottle sites throughout Flint.
Mays told VICE she offered Baird to shower in her home as a demonstration of how unsafe the water still was. She also emphasized the need for transparent, non-state or EPA-funded water testing.
Baird’s response wasn’t subtle, according to Mays. “How about I do this: If I come in and replace your interior plumbing, your fixtures, the water heater, and your service line, would that make you happy and would that make you quiet?”
She didn’t flinch: “I just looked at him and said ‘If you do that for everybody,’” she remembered. “He turned beet red.”
Unfortunately, it does appear that the Snyder coverup will work, because the statute of limitations will expire in just a few months.