Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield wasn’t charged last week for bilking a half-million dollars from people who wanted to see the House Republicans keep a majority in the 2020 election.
The married couple that Chatfield hired to manage his secret accounts, which paid for his plane flights, hotel rooms and meals, were charged. The attorney general found Rob and Anne Minard were double billing receipts, skimming off the top and otherwise pocketing money they weren’t entitled to keep.
Partisans are crossing their fingers. They’re praying the Minards will cut some deal that implicates Chatfield, and that it’s the former speaker taking a police mug shot.
They’re likely to be disappointed.
Chatfield likely won’t be charged with anything — not campaign finance-related and not for the sexual assault being alleged by his sister-in-law. I’ll explain later why.
But first off, the obsession in today’s political climate with cheering for the absolute reputational ruin of political figures, through criminal prosecution or impeachment, is unhealthy and dangerous.
Who is to blame for the comingling of legal transgressions and political hyperbole? It doesn’t matter. Both sides do it.
This is what matters. The United States is a country built on laws. Using politics to blur our faith in the justice system becomes an excuse to use anything to blur our faith in the justice system.
Don’t like that so-and-so is being charged? “Well, the system is rigged anyway.”
Whether it’s Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Bill Schuette or Dana Nessel, going after any public official with dubious evidence in order to pile on top of any unfortunate situation fuels mob anger.
“Lock ‘em up?”
Cheering for the incarceration of political advisories is what happens in third-world dictatorships, not the greatest free country in the world.
Let’s move back to Chatfield. The former speaker was accused by his sister-in-law, with whom he openly admits he had an affair, of sexual assault that dates back to when they were teenagers living in a Christian compound Up North.
Her story was carried in numerous publications, but her credibility was called into question when pages of her journal emerged that didn’t mention Chatfield as being among the many other people in her life who she said caused her trauma. She also wrote about how she wanted to write a book, make a movie and become a millionaire but didn’t know what the subject of her tome might be.
Chatfield, an ultra-conservative legislative leader, admitted to having the affair. That’s first-rate hypocrisy. Moving this into a criminal case of “grooming” without more evidence or collaboration would be setting up a failing case, particularly with this diary hanging out there.
It’s been two years. Nessel said she’s not finished investigating. The team looking into this is different from those looking into any financial improprieties. But the longer we move away from the initial allegation, the odds of anything coming from this first claim get longer.
Next, state investigators raided the Minards’ home this past February, after claims of financial impropriety arose in the course of the sexual assault investigation. They began looking into Chatfield’s bank accounts more than year ago.
Authorities found enough information to criminally charge the Minards a combined 21 times. But they didn’t charge Chatfield? What does that tell you?
Chatfield could shake down people for contributions like nothing this town has ever seen before or since. But the Minards always managed the funds these bucks went to. My sources tell me Rob Minard would brag to contributors that Chatfield had no idea what was going on with these accounts.
Everybody had their own lane in Chatfield’s office. That included Chatfield, himself. Witnesses will attest to this.
Nessel didn’t signal last week that more charges were coming out of this. Quite the contrary. She said the charges were the first step in “what I hope will lead to substantial accountability for those who violate our laws” and a “a massive culture shift away from the way Lansing currently operates in the dark.”
This sounds like a call to legislators to start opening up 501(c)4s to public scrutiny, as if her job — in this case, anyway — may be done.
(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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