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MSU board chair hired her own lawyers for Tucker accuser leak investigation

October 26, 2023
Chairperson Vassar the Board of Trustees Meeting at the Hannah Administration Meeting on Sep. 8, 2023.
Chairperson Vassar the Board of Trustees Meeting at the Hannah Administration Meeting on Sep. 8, 2023.

Michigan State University board chair Rema Vassar has retained outside counsel to represent her in the ongoing investigation into who at the university may have leaked the identity of Brenda Tracy, the woman accusing fired football coach Mel Tucker of sexual harassment, according to university documents.

While the lawyers are representing Vassar as an individual, the university is paying the fees.

MSU’s president, athletic director and the other board members did not retain outside counsel for the leak investigation, according to a public records request response from MSU.

Questions about Vassar’s alleged lack of compliance in the investigation have been central to an ongoing attempt to oust her as board chair.

Sunday evening, trustee Brianna Scott released a letter calling for Vassar’s removal from the board for, among other things, refusing to allow investigators to review the contents of her cell phone for their investigation.

That’s a cause of concern for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the only person who can remove a sitting trustee from the board.

She said Wednesday that her office has been “closely watching” MSU’s board and evaluating removing Vassar over Scott’s allegations. Specifically, she said Vassar’s handling of the leak investigation troubles her.

“It’s alarming to me that any trustee would not fully comply with an investigation about a victim whose name was inappropriately and perhaps unlawfully leaked,” Whitmer said. “I’ve got a lot of questions, and I think Spartan nation has questions.”

Whitmer’s not alone. Michigan senator Debbie Stabenow and former Gov. James Blanchard released statements Tuesday calling for Vassar’s removal and taking specific issue with her handling of the leak investigation.

The lawyers representing Vassar — from the global law firm Quinn Emanuel — are the same ones who conducted a $1.6 million dollar investigation for MSU’s board earlier this year, looking into the ousting of controversial former business dean Sanjay Gupta.

The four attorneys on her case are billing between $841 and $1,585 an hour to represent her in the investigation, according to the agreement between Vassar and the firm.

The lead attorney representing Vassar in her dealings with the leak probe is Crystal Nix-Hines, the former U.S. ambassador to UNESCO.

Nix-Hines also led the Gupta investigation for MSU’s board and provided them with $41,289 in “crisis management PR” consulting in Fall 2022.

Vassar retained the lawyers on Sept. 16, according to the agreement.

That’s three days after the board received a draft statement from Tracy accusing “someone associated with the MSU board” of leaking her identity to local media, forcing her to come forward with the allegations against Tucker publicly.

Scott’s letter alleges that the board also got even more specific information, saying it was a current trustee who first leaked Tracy’s identity. The letter does not disclose the source of that information.

Vassar has denied being the leak. In a statement released Monday night, she said she “had no involvement in the alleged leak and (was) not aware of any trustees knowing the identity of Brenda Tracy prior to its public dissemination.”

She did not return calls or answer text messages seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

A copy of the agreement letter between Vassar and the lawyers obtained through a public records request to MSU obscures Vassar’s identity with redactions. Other university documents reviewed by The State News confirm that Vassar is the person they’re representing.

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