Nassar Survivors Endorse Former U.S. Attorney Miles, Nessel Camp Swings Back
LANSING — Rolling into the final hours of what has devolved into a contentious brawl between former U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles and civil rights attorney Dana Nessel for the Democratic nomination for Michigan Attorney General, Miles held a press conference Thursday to condemn Nessel over her record on sexual assault and harassment.
He was flanked by two survivors of sexual assault by the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Miles told the Capitol Press Corps that he was there to "support survivors," and went on to announce his support for bipartisan legislation that would extend the statute of limitation on child sexual assault to 30 years.
"I fully support the new efforts to reform our laws to better protect children and bring abusers to justice," he said. "I believe every victim should have their day in court even if it takes many years to get there. I understand that there are many, many reasons that it could take a long time and every case is different."
Morgan McCaul, one of the present Nassar survivors, said she was at the press conference because Nessel "does not wholeheartedly support these bills drafted by Nassar survivors and sponsored by state senators, for fear of false allegations and challenging defense attorneys to do their job."
That's the same spin Miles' campaign operatives have been putting on the comments Nessel made in a Monday interview with the MIRS podcast team in Lansing. Except, it's not fully accurate. It doesn't adhere exactly to what Nessel said in that interview, and it's proven by looking at its recording or transcript.
Nessel said she had "concerns" about the legislation, but that she, "Would want to look at it further before making a decision as whether I would support it or not."
Her concerns about the legislation stemmed from the fact that, if passed, it could result in decades-old allegations surfacing in court, forcing defense attorneys and defendants to prove something did or did not happen long ago. She also pointed out that, while rare, false allegations of sexual abuse do happen.
Lori Weingarden, a 30-year veteran of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office handling child abuse and childhood sexual abuse prosecutions, released a statement through the Nessel campaign echoing the same concerns as Nessel about the proposed legislation.
She said charging a case 30 years after it happened "is not ethical or fair to the defendant."
Jennifer Ann Smith, the other survivor present at the press event, dismissed those concerns, noting that prosecutors would still be required to meet the same burden of proof to bring charges and pursue a criminal prosecution.
However, in addition to slamming Nessel for not supporting the legislation fully, McCaul criticized Nessel over excerpts from Nessel's law firm's website. To do this, McCaul used reporting from a Deadline Detroit article, and in her statement, McCaul quoted a section of the website and attributed it to Nessel as a quote.
This criticism is inaccurate, because in a Thursday statement by Nessel's law firm partner, Christopher Kessel, he said the passages in question "were written solely by me."
"In my zeal to tout these victories I have clearly used language that some found offensive," Kessel wrote in the statement released by the Nessel camp. "I do sincerely apologize if any of my posts did offend anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault. That was never my intention."
However, Miles' campaign team members said Nessel is responsible for Kessel's posts because as a business owner she has to take responsibility for everything the firm does. But in Kessel's statement, he clarified that the Nessel and Kessel firm was actually a joint venture, with each attorney running their own business, fighting their own cases and reaping the financial benefit solely.
The firm's website became an issue Tuesday night when Deadline Detroit posted a story about it. That was a day after the Miles campaign officials tried to get Between The Lines to pick up the story by using a copy-and-pasted section of a Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) opposition research book on Nessel.
The move to use another party's opposition research against a primary opponent of the same party is unprecedented, political consultants have said in background interviews. For their part, the Miles campaign has been using social media to deflect that it used the RAGA work by noting that the information on the Nessel and Kessel website has been publicly available for months on that website.
When asked about the use of RAGA materials during his press conference, in which both McCaul and Smith said they "endorsed" Miles for Attorney General, Miles himself refused to answer.
"This isn't about politics today, this is about the survivors and their stories and their need for healing as well as the reform of legislation going through the legislature," he said. "So that's what we're here to talk about today."
Jen Eyer, spokeswoman for the Miles campaign and a vice president at Vanguard Public Relations firm in Lansing, stood behind reporters on Thursday and when that question was asked, shook her head no.
When approached after the event to clarify if her head shaking was a denial. Eyer responded, "I'm not talking to you, actually." She promptly left the Vanguard offices.
Miles' refusal to answer, combined with Eyer's leave BTL with the decision to publish the pitch email to clarify for the public the accuracy of the reporting.
Eyer was the campaign official "shopping" or distributing the RAGA information earlier in the week.
While Miles and his team continue to duck questions about the use of the Republican research information, Miles' partisans have taken to social media to accuse the Nessel campaign of using a similar opposition research book on Miles for a mailer it sent to Democratic voters this week.
The Nessel camp denies the allegation.
When Miles team members are pressed for evidence to support the claim, they go silent. When compared with the mailer, a BTL review of the RAGA opposition book on Miles that was allegedly used by Nessel's camp did not find any substantive evidence that the information reported was drawn from the RAGA.
It remains unclear when the RAGA opposition book was first published on that group's website, however, an inspection of the page in Chrome revealed it was last modified March 23.