April 16, 2020

Six years after the city of Flint, Michigan, began using a toxic water source that sickened its residents, VICE uncovered payoffs, the silencing of a whistleblower, a shady financial deal, a coverup, and the former governor who presided over it all.

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).

What Snyder didn’t know then was that Cummings and Weaver had already spoken after Democrats won control of the House in the 2018 midterm election. Weaver said Cummings disclosed his plan to compel Snyder back to Congress for additional questioning. He wanted her there. But Cummings’ death in October 2019 prevented that from occurring.

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.

The complete article can be accessed here.

Cohen Milstein is Co-Lead Counsel in In re Flint Water Cases (E.D. Mich.)