Former Michigan House Speaker Tom Leonard nominated for U.S. attorney, raising questions on Inman case

By: - August 15, 2019 9:55 am

Speaker Tom Leonard gives his goodbye speech to the Michigan House as Gov. Rick Snyder looks on, Dec. 20, 2018 | Michael Gerstein

Updated 11:26 p.m. with comment from Sen. Debbie Stabenow

President Donald Trump has nominated former state House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) to serve as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan.

Tom Leonard

That nomination raises questions about whether Leonard will recuse himself from one of the district’s most high-profile cases — its prosecution of state Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg) for bribery, a crime which he allegedly committed while Leonard was House speaker last year.

In a statement posted to Facebook, Leonard wrote, “Since becoming a prosecutor in Genesee County, my heart has been to work with law enforcement to keep our citizens safe. I look forward to working with the White House and the Senate as we work through the confirmation process.”

Leonard will be subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate, and will be the first attorney in the Western District to be confirmed since Trump’s inauguration. Andrew Birge, who has worked with the district office for almost 20 years, has held the post since 2017.

The Western District is prosecuting Inman for attempting to sell his vote to the Carpenters’ union that opposed the 2018 repeal of Michigan’s prevailing wage law. In court filings, it was revealed that Leonard’s chief of staff, longtime GOP operative Dan Pero, urged Inman to vote in support of the repeal, which he ultimately did.

Facing term limits in 2018, Leonard ran an unsuccessful campaign for state attorney general against Democrat Dana Nessel. Leonard also is currently the defendant in a civil lawsuit in the Western District that alleges he used his position as speaker to urge the firing of a lobbyist, Nathan Medina, a former legislative staffer.

Leonard’s appointment is the latest example of the Trump administration’s elevation of Michigan Republicans, including Trump’s personal endorsement of businessman John James in his unsuccessful 2018 campaign against U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing).

Trump also selected former Michigan Republican Party Chair Ronna McDaniel as chair of the national Republican Party, and endorsed former state Attorney General Bill Schuette in his unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial bid.

A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) told the Detroit News that “Senator Peters has deep concerns about Mr. Leonard’s tenure in the Michigan House of Representative, including as Speaker, and if his experience and record are appropriate for serving as a U.S. attorney.”

A spokesperson for Stabenow said the senator “has strong concerns over Mr. Leonard’s nomination,” and that “As part of her constitutional duty as U.S. senator, she will be thoroughly reviewing his background and qualifications.”

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Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson

Derek Robertson is a former reporter for the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.