- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday temporarily halted civil and administrative investigations into how a state agency contributed to Flint’s lead-tainted drinking water crisis, after being warned they are hampering state and federal criminal probes.

Snyder’s office released letters from state Attorney General Bill Schuette and U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade raising concerns about an already-concluded state police investigation of the Department of Environmental Quality’s role in the lead contamination of the city’s tap water. Schuette also complained about an ongoing inquiry targeting the state Department of Health and Human Services that is being conducted by the state auditor general and the department’s inspector general at the governor’s request.

In a letter dated Wednesday, also signed by Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, Schuette said the investigation could have a “chilling effect” on the criminal probes.

“Although we are sure this is unintended, the result may effectively be an obstruction of justice,” they wrote.

In a May 19 letter, McQuade asked an assistant state attorney general to take “all necessary and appropriate steps” to limit the distribution of a report summarizing the DEQ’s administrative probe because employees were advised that they could be fired if they refused to answer state police investigators’ questions. She warned that under a U.S. Supreme Court case and subsequent cases, statements obtained from the workers might be deemed by a judge to be “compelled” and therefore barred from being used in a criminal prosecution.

“The more broadly the compelled statements are distributed, the more difficult it will be for us to ensure that the statements have no impact on any subsequent criminal prosecution,” McQuade wrote.

Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said he notified the state attorney general’s office before publicly requesting the DHHS probe 2 ½ months ago.

“No agency has raised any concerns with our office before now,” she said.

But to cooperate “fully” with prosecutors, Snyder temporarily stopped the inspector general investigation. At Snyder’s request, the auditor general also decided to no longer interview DHHS staff or ask them for information until further notice.

Charges already have been filed against two DEQ employees and a Flint municipal official. The city employee - utilities administrator Mike Glasgow - struck a deal, pledging cooperation in exchange for pleading no contest to willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor. The state is paying the DEQ officials’ criminal defense bills, Stephen Busch and Mike Prysby, with the cap currently set at $50,000 each, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Snyder, a Republican, has apologized for his administration’s failures related to the ongoing water emergency. The disaster stems from lead pipes contaminating the water supply after Flint switched from a metropolitan Detroit system to improperly treated Flint River water in 2014 while under state management.

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Follow David Eggert on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert

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