Former Whitmer Aide Hired by Biden Stonewalls Legislative Probe

Aide helped steer lucrative contact tracing contract to Dem data firm

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September 1, 2020

A former top aide to Michigan Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer—who has since been hired to help lead Joe Biden's campaign in the state—is stonewalling a legislative probe into his role in steering a lucrative coronavirus contract to a Democratic consulting firm.

Ed Duggan, a former state employee now serving as Biden's Michigan political director, rebuffed a call from Republican legislators to testify before Michigan's Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic. The committee was created to examine the state's handling of the virus after Whitmer awarded a no-bid contact tracing contract to a Democratic campaign vendor recommended by Duggan.

"Today, former Whitmer administration employee Ed Duggan notified our committee that he's refusing to testify about his participation in a highly suspect political no-bid government contract," state lawmakers Matt Hall and Aric Nesbitt said in a Friday statement. "Citizens expect accountability, so hopefully his current employer, Joe Biden, will require Ed Duggan to testify and provide the people of Michigan answers."

The contract would have seen Democratic political consultant Mike Kolehouse and liberal data behemoth NGP VAN collect sensitive health data from thousands of Michigan residents. Internal emails show that Duggan introduced Kolehouse to top health department officials in late March, describing the liberal operative as someone who "does some organizing and can help on some efforts." Whitmer rescinded the contract in April amid concerns that she was using the pandemic to boost the Democratic Party's data operation.

The Biden campaign hired Duggan, despite his role in the controversy, as its Michigan political director in late June, touting his role as a former "special adviser" to Whitmer. Duggan is also the son of Detroit mayor Mike Duggan (D.). Whitmer, a former VP hopeful who serves as a Biden campaign co-chair, defended the decision to employ Kolehouse by claiming that those awarding the contract did not "have a political bone in their theoretical body."

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Criticism over the contract came as Whitmer's national profile skyrocketed amid a public feud with President Donald Trump, which led to vice presidential nominee rumors. While Whitmer was passed over for the role, she has continued to campaign extensively for Biden. The Michigan Democrat was named one of four national campaign co-chairs after endorsing Biden ahead of the state's March primary. She has since joined Biden on a number of virtual campaign events.

Whitmer previously claimed she would "absolutely" allow administration officials to testify before the committee during a May press conference. Her office quickly walked back the pledge, noting that the committee "does not have the power to compel testimony" and that state officials would "do their best to accommodate requests to participate." Whitmer, like Duggan, has refused an invitation to testify.

"The COVID-19 outbreak has ushered in unprecedented times for our state, altering lives and livelihoods. Many people feel like they don't have a voice as decisions are being made," Hall said at the time. "Our committee has allowed people to have a platform to make their voice heard, so I am disappointed the governor will not offer Michigan residents the clarity they need and deserve by testifying before our select committee."