Emails: Attorney General Schuette talked politics with staff in workday call
LANSING — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette scheduled a phone call with state employees to discuss "presidential politics" during work hours and later dangled financial incentives to those who secured the most endorsements for Jeb Bush, according to emails from 2015 that surfaced Tuesday a week before the gubernatorial primary.
A scheduler for Schuette, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, used her personal email to set the Monday, Aug. 17 conference mid-afternoon call with his top aides and others.
On Wednesday, Sept. 2 and Sunday, Sept. 6, Schuette sent follow-up emails, outside of business hours, encouraging the staffers to land more endorsements for the former Florida governor and enticing them with gift certificates worth between $50 and $250.
The emails were first disclosed by the Detroit Free Press and later obtained by The Associated Press.
Schuette's main GOP rival, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who has been accusing the attorney general of wrongly using taxpayer resources for political and personal business, said of the emails: "It's clear that Bill Schuette is in serious legal jeopardy for misuse of his office in advancement of his political ambition. His nomination would put Republicans at risk up and down the ballot."
Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said non-state resources were used to aid Bush, calling the development "another attempt at more political theatre" just before the primary.
"Presidential elections are exciting times for people interested in politics, and the attorney general used his personal email and personal time to offer opportunities to assist in efforts — efforts that were less than successful," she said. "Jeb got clobbered."
She said state employees who participate in activities unrelated to their state job during work hours are expected to take time off or use their lunch hour, and a super political action committee supporting Schuette called Calley a "hypocrite."
A political operative who provided the emails to the AP did not say how they were obtained. But last week, a lawyer for a Democrat who has sued Schuette for allegedly operating a "political enterprise" out of his state office mailed out 37 subpoenas directing people to produce documents by this Thursday.
At Schuette's request, Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray on Tuesday halted all discovery, including the subpoenas, until he decides the attorney general's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Schuette on Monday asked for a protective order delaying the subpoenas or quashing them "because they are overbroad, non-compliant with the court rules and harassing." His filing said about one-third of the subpoenas went to individuals who have never been employed by the attorney general's office.
Mark Brewer, a former Michigan Democratic Party chairman who is representing the plaintiff Hugh Madden, the communications director for liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan, had said Madden would be "severely prejudiced" by being unable to secure documents to challenge Schuette's motion to dismiss the case.
It appears the plaintiff has already obtained at least some information regardless. Progress Michigan said it will release emails Wednesday showing "unprecedented amounts" of political activity by attorney general employees on state time.
After the Bush-related emails were disclosed, the Better Jobs Stronger Families super PAC backing Schuette's candidacy accused Calley of "cherry-picking emails" and "working with Democrats to undermine" Schuette "right before Calley loses this primary."
Executive director Stu Sandler said Calley, who filed a public-records request to obtain Schuette's work calendar and then criticize his work ethic last week, has refused to release his own calendar or a promised summary. Calley's office is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Sandler released an email showing Calley's state-paid executive assistant emailed the secretary of state about a Calley campaign finance committee issue during work hours in July 2017.
"It's time to stop the double standard," Sandler said.
The Democratic Governors Association, however, said the latest revelation is part of a "pattern of corruption," noting past reports that Schuette hired GOP activists for state jobs and used state staffers to notarize or witness his private real estate transactions.