The gubernatorial campaign stumble by Attorney General Bill Schuette, a ham-handed attempt to hide $7.2 million worth of Virgin Islands property he inherited and sold, has all the makings of a John Yob political sneak attack.
Schuette’s chief GOP opponent, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, sprung the attack during a campaign debate on Thursday, but it seems unlikely that Calley dug up the details on his own.
It would seem that Yob, an infamous Republican operative who is advising the Calley camp, has his fingerprints all over this spectacle. Yob, who owns a Virgin Islands home and is apparently scoping out additional property to establish a bar on the island of St. John, was in a perfect position to carry out this offensive.
I wonder if Yob learned of the property ownership and sales by Schuette and his two sisters, dug a little deeper and discovered connections to the attorney general’s staff, and then sat on the information, waiting for the right time for Calley to use the ammunition to maximum effect.
At the only bipartisan debate among gubernatorial candidates on the 2018 schedule, the lieutenant governor blasted Schuette – the candidate who bills himself as strongest on above-board personal transparency — for hypocritically engaging in multi-million dollar real estate transactions out of the public eye.
Schuette fell for this surprise attack hook, line and sinker, almost as if he had sunk to the bottom of that gorgeous Caribbean bay on the Virgin Island of St. John where he and his sisters have been wheeling and dealing in luxurious oceanfront property.
The AG had previously claimed that all of his assets were put into a blind trust in 2011 to avoid conflicts of interest. As a result, he told the press recently, he has no personal finances to disclose other than what’s on his 2016 tax return – no assets or perks or freebies.
Asked about Virgin Islands real estate documents after the debate forum, Schuette told a Detroit News reporter he had “no idea” what Calley was asserting. The GOP frontrunner offered similar denials when asked if he sold property in the Virgin Islands or is the registered agent of a corporation that did so.
“I don’t even know what he’s talking about,” said the candidate, who has called for strict financial disclosures in gubernatorial campaigns.
Jordan Gehrke, a spokesman for a pro-Calley super PAC and a longtime Yob partner, accused Schuette of lying to the News, saying “the state’s top law enforcement officer needs to come clean.” Stu Sandler, a spokesman for a pro-Schuette super PAC, made an attempt at a Donald Trump-style retort. He accused “Lyin’ Brian Calley” of “making up lies because he is so far down in the polls.”
Yet, Schuette’s phony denials about creating one-man corporations to handle these lucrative Virgin Island sales were compounded by the fact that documents signed by top aides to the AG show three property transactions were witnessed and notarized by employees in Schuette’s office.
In all, Schuette and his siblings sold several parcels on an island peninsula from 2012-16 for $7.2 million.
Calley did not claim that Schuette had engaged in scandalous, illegal activities. The LG did not harp on the fact that Schuette inherited the lucrative properties from his late stepfather, who was a top executive at Dow Chemical Company.
“What I’m pointing out here is the hypocrisy of saying we should require financial disclosure,” Calley said. “His excuse for not following his own recommendation is that he put all the assets in a blind trust, does not know anything about them so cannot disclose them, when clearly that’s not true.”
What I think is true is that nothing about this story will play well for Schuette with working class voters in places like Bay City or Macomb County or Wayne County’s Downriver area.
As usual, the cover-up is worse than the … well, in this case, let’s be clear — it’s the phoniness of it all.