by Scott McClallen
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Wednesday released a 29-page report saying her office found “no evidence of criminal conduct” after an investigation into April allegations the state health department unlawfully contracted with a COVID-19 contact-tracing vendor associated with Democrat consultant Michael Kolehouse.
State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, requested the investigation in April after the controversy captured national news.
A team of three criminal investigators and four assistant attorneys general interviewed 17 individuals and reviewed thousands of emails, other documents, and statements as part of the investigation, according to Nessel’s office.
Nessel’s office “found no evidence of criminal conduct” and recommended “that any request for criminal charges arising from the procurement of the contract to perform contact-tracing for COVID-19 positive cases … be denied …”.
However, the investigators didn’t interview “three critical” players, including Andrea Taverna, who was “in charge” of the canceled contact tracing contract and previously refused to cooperate with an auditor general’s investigation; the state’s top epidemiologist Sarah Lyon-Callo; and Michigan Department of Health and Human Service (MDHHS) spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin.
All three “refused to provide any statements or further information to the Agents,” the report noted.
MDHHS Director Robert Gordon in August said the contact tracing contract was a mistake but wasn’t politically motivated.
MDHHS contracted with NGP VAN, which has overlapping leadership with Every Action VAN, the latter which describes itself as “the leading technology provider to Democratic and progressive campaigns.”
The no-bid contract was awarded to Kolehouse Strategies and NGP VAN but later switched to Kolehouse’s subsidiary Great Lakes Community Engagement and nonprofit fundraising vendor Every Action VAN, after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Communications Director Zack Pohl advised Taverna that NGP Van “could be a distraction” given its political ties, the report said.
Gordon said state officials didn’t want to delay contact tracing further, a crucial part of reopening the state’s economy.
“The decision had no political motive,” Gordon said. “The only goal in contacting this firm and working with them was to do the work and well.”
Nessel admitted there could have been better ways to secure the contract but said the mistake was a result of rushing the process instead of intentional malfeasance.
“I appreciate the concern raised by Sen. Runestad but I also appreciate the reality under which this contract was pursued,” Nessel, a Democrat, said in a statement.
“With the benefit of hindsight, there may have been a better way to accomplish the Department’s ultimate purpose but we found no evidence of criminality. Instead, it appears the imperfect process used here was mainly a result of the Department’s attempt to get a contact-tracing program underway as quickly as possible in light of the dire public health crisis.”
Runestad told The Center Square that “it appears to be a thorough report” but noted the investigation was “limited only to criminal activity and not an in-depth review of civil or ethical violations.”
Runestad said the three witnesses had a right to not cooperate but suggested subpoenaing those witnesses to gather more information.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.