LANSING – In case you missed it, in what’s shaping up to be a “radioactive” “caustic” and “brutal” Republican Senate primary in Michigan, accusations of “outright deceit” and “skullduggery” are in the news today as James Craig accuses Mike Rogers’ campaign of attempting to bribe him to stay out of the race.
Read The Messenger’s reporting on Republicans’ chaotic and messy primary below:
The Messenger: Private Power-Player Phone Calls Roil Michigan’s GOP Senate Race: ‘These Things Get Ugly’
- Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig was still going over his plans to jump into Michigan’s Republican Senate primary when he got a call Tuesday from a top consultant he once considered hiring.
- It was 2:40 p.m. and Katie Walsh Shields wanted to discuss the difficulties of running statewide in Michigan. She said she’d love the chief to stay out and instead support her candidate, former Rep. Mike Rogers. Soon after, Shields had a similar telephone conversation with a consultant who plans to manage Craig’s campaign.
- Both sides agree on that much.
- But opinions – and accusations – starkly diverge otherwise, a sign of the caustic primary contest to come.
- Where Shields describes her calls as a friendly check-in, Craig accuses Shields of offering him “lucrative or financially beneficial” terms to stay out of the race and said that she also hinted there would be consequences if he jumped in because “these things get ugly.”
- Craig’s adviser, August Atencio, said Shields was more direct and menacing with him.
- “Omg Katie Shields offered Chief money to get out of the race,” Atencio texted a consultant allied with Craig at 2:56 p.m., according to a time-stamped copy of the contemporaneous message furnished to The Messenger. A moment later, he texted, Shields coincidentally called. They spoke for five minutes, call logs show.
- At 3:06 p.m., he sent another text to the consultant.
- “Threatened my career,” he wrote with a laughing-crying emoji. “They’re f-cking terrified.”
- Shields denies making any threats or offering any money or thing of value in any quid pro quo. She accused the two men, who spoke to The Messenger within two hours of talking with her, of trying to get cheap media attention for Craig, who ran a troubled campaign last year when his name was stricken from the ballot in his gubernatorial race due to fraudulent campaign petitions collected by a shady vendor. (There is no indication that Craig knew of the fraud, and several other Republicans were disqualified for related reasons.)
- The controversy – a literal she said/they said with a contemporaneous text message thread underscoring the men’s interpretations of the calls – provides a rare on-the-record glimpse into the often secret talks between rivals in big political races. It also suggests what’s in store for Michigan once Craig challenges Rogers: a brutal Republican primary where once-friendly allies are already accusing each other of skullduggery and outright deceit.
- Into this crucible stands Craig, a Black Republican former police chief – a relative rarity in the GOP – who has already attracted national attention. He’s positioning himself to win the endorsement of Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, to mount an outsider campaign against Rogers.
- Michigan is also the home of RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, who has taken a keen interest in the primary for both personal and political reasons. On the phone call with Craig, Shields name-dropped McDaniel, a longtime ally. A spokesperson for the RNC said McDaniel has been in regular contact with all of the announced and potential Republican candidates, including Craig and Rogers and is staying neutral in the primary.
- But Tuesday’s call showed how radioactive the primary can become. Big campaigns with major candidates are always a crucible of pressure-cooker tactics. Rarely, though, do high-profile would-be candidates like Craig go on record along with their top adviser to accuse rivals of calling them in this way.
- “This was unethical. It was foul,” Craig told The Messenger. “Now, I wouldn’t call it a bribe. I’m not saying she broke the law. But when I ran for governor [last year] I never experienced anything like this.”
- Craig said the situation reminded him of an uncomfortable conversation he once had with a corrupt Detroit city council member who was trying to find out from the chief if he was under investigation. Craig said he gave no information to the politician and promptly called the FBI.
- To bolster his case about what Shields was suggesting, Craig and Atencio shared their call logs and recollections of what happened in a reconstructed transcript of each conversation based on their fresh memories and discussions with each other immediately after the talks.
- Call logs show Walsh called Craig at 2:40 and spoke for five minutes. He then called Atencio almost immediately after, at 2:46 p.m., to discuss what happened. The two spoke for more than eight minutes at which point Walsh called Atencio.
- Atencio also shared the image of text messages he sent to the allied consultant, a third party, before and after the calls with Shields to memorialize what he and the former chief thought at the time. The consultant, reached by The Messenger, declined to comment on the record due to the sensitivities of the primary but verified the authenticity and time stamps of the text messages.
- Shields said the reconstructed transcripts the two men provided were inaccurate, lacked context and overall “did not look like the conversations I had with them.”
- There are some commonalities in the competing recollections of the two sides. She acknowledges, for instance, briefly discussing with each man Craig’s troubles last year when he was thrown off the ballot. And she raised the reality of “oppo” – insider slang for opposition research assembled on all major candidates by major opponents – because the multi-candidate primary and the national implications for the race ensure it’s going to get rough.
- Atencio said she was more aggressive with him by suggesting the Craig campaign would be a career-killer. “It’s going to be very hard for you to work Republican politics” after the campaign, he recalled her saying.
- Regardless of the specifics of the calls, if Shields wanted Craig out of the race, he said it had the opposite effect. He’s ready to announce imminently because he believes Rogers is scared.
- “I’m in it to win it,” Craig said, referencing his comments he told Shields before the two hung up. “And I’m going to have fun with this.”