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Commentary: Grand Jury Investigation

Yesterday should have been a day of ultimate triumph for Michigan Republicans. Mitt Romney became the first native Detroiter in history to be nominated for President of the United States.

His wife Ann, another native Michigander, gave a very moving  nationally televised speech to the Republican National Convention, and celebration should have been the word of the day.

But back in Lansing, a storm cloud is growing that threatens GOP control of the state House of Representatives, and possibly worse. Ingham County Circuit Court judges voted to create a one-person grand jury to look into criminal allegations involving Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, Roy Schmidt, the state representative who switched parties and conspired with Bolger in an attempt to rig an election, and possibly others.

No matter what happens, there is no way this can be good news for the GOP. What’s worse is that as in most scandals, this didn’t have to happen. Legal action could have been avoided if the party had taken quick action once the facts were known.

But they didn’t, and now they have a mess. The basic story is well known, thanks to a stream of text messages. Roy Schmidt, who had been a Democratic representative from Grand Rapids, decided to switch parties. Nothing illegal about that. But he didn’t want to face a tough election, so he conspired with Bolger to blindside his fellow Democrats by filing as a Republican on the very last day.

Worse, he recruited a phony candidate who didn’t even live in the district to file as a Democrat, to head off any real challenger running as a write-in. Through his son, he even offered to pay the ringer, a family friend and store clerk named Matt Mojzak, out of his campaign funds to get in the race. When Mojzak got cold feet, Schmidt offered to boost the payoff, something that to the untrained legal eye looks very much like what they call a bribe.

Schmidt also brazenly lied to the public about all this. House Speaker Bolger knew a lot about the scheme, though there is some question about whether he knew the candidacy was illegal.

But the Kent County prosecutor and the Michigan Attorney General, both also Republicans, declined to bring charges, something that seemed incredible. So Democrats asked the Ingham County courts to act, on the grounds that the conspiracy was hatched in Lansing. Republicans will charge this is politically motivated. But so was their entire scheme.

I can say that twenty years ago I knew the judge who was selected at random yesterday to be the grand jury, Rosemary Aquilina. Back then she was running State Senator John Kelly’s office. She was a hard-working, very intelligent single mother who struck me as scrupulously honest, fair, and essentially non-partisan.

But whether or not indictments follow, the publicity is bound to taint the GOP. Richard Nixon could have told them what kills you isn’t the alleged crime, it is the coverup. Had Schmidt resigned when all this came to light and Bolger stepped aside as speaker, there almost certainly would be no grand jury today. But they tried to tough it out.

You don’t have to be in Mitt Romney’s inner circle to know that this was one distraction his party didn’t need.