Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder contends he wasn't aware of the full extent of the water crisis in Flint until October 2015, although his top aide was concerned about ignoring the city's citizens eight months earlier.
In newly released emails, Dennis Muchmore, Snyder's chief of staff until late last year, expressed his concern multiple times throughout 2015 that he felt like the state was ignoring Flint residents who were complaining about their water.
In a Feb. 5, 2015, email, Muchmore warned against ignoring complaints about drinking water and said the state was looking "pretty stupid."
"Since we're in charge, we can hardly ignore the people of Flint," Muchmore said. "After all, if [General Motors] refuses to use the water in their plant and our own agencies are warning people not to drink it, another expressing continuing concern over quality, and the differential between what we now collect and what we would pay [the Detroit water system], we look pretty stupid hiding behind some financial statement."
The email was sent to the governor's two top spokesmen and the spokesmen for the Michigan Department of Treasury and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. At that time, the state was concerned about fecal coliform in the water that had caused multiple boil water advisories in late 2014.
It wasn't immediately clear in the state government then that lead was getting into Flint's drinking water. An Environmental Protection Agency official would raise concerns about leaded water in a Flint home to state officials later that month.
A month after that Feb. 5, 2015, email, Muchmore again expressed concern about what the state was doing for Flint as complaints about drinking water mounted.
"We've got to do something for people in Flint because it's right to do more than it works financially," Muchmore wrote to a top public relations consultant in Michigan. "We've got to work on getting them water they can trust but there is no easy solution. This is a tough one, as everyone's position is correct, just not easy."
In March 2015, the Flint City Council voted to rejoin the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department but didn't have the power to do so because the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. Concern was growing in the city about the water coming out of the taps.
About a year before that vote, the city had switched its water sources from the Detroit system to the Flint River. As would become clear in the ensuing months, the Flint River is acidic and its water caused lead to leach off pipes and into drinking water.
State and federal bureaucrats dragged their feet in responding to the mounting complaints, as past email dumps have shown, and the concerns of the people in Flint generally fell on deaf ears. By summer 2015, the complaints about the city's water system had escalated to a dull roar.
But state officials mostly ignored the complaints, to Muchmore's dismay.
"I'm frustrated by the water issue in Flint," he wrote to the top environmental official in Michigan. "I really don't think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving from the [Department of Environmental Quality] samples.
"These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we're just not sympathizing with their plight)."
Although Muchmore, Snyder's top aide, emailed other top officials multiple times about his worries, Snyder maintained Friday that he didn't know the full extent of the crisis until taking action in October 2015.
Snyder told reporters that he acknowledged there were red flags, but there wasn't anything directly to point to that showed the extent of the crisis. He said "it didn't happen" when asked if the city's water crisis was elevated to his desk.
"You just wish it could have been identified better, and that's part of the problem we had," Snyder said. "There were red flags here ... We didn't connect all the dots that I wish we would have."
It's a claim that Brandon Dillon, head of the Michigan Democratic Party, finds dubious.
Dillon told the Washingon Examiner Friday that no one in the Great Lakes State believes Snyder could have remained truly ignorant of the extent of Flint's water issues given the amount of communications his top aides were having about the crisis.
"It's totally beyond the realm of possibility," Dillon said.
Dillon called on Snyder to drop his legal exemption to Michigan's Freedom of Information Act to give outside groups the chance to see all of his emails, not just ones released by the state.
"It's clear that they're still cherry picking emails they want people to see, as bad as they are," he said. "He should just release everything."