But they have been stopped in their tracks, not once but twice. John Doe presiding judge Gregory Peterson ruled in January that prosecutors had found no “criminal scheme,” denied their subpoenas, and ordered them to return property seized in the raids. Prosecutors appealed the ruling.
In February, the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its president, Eric O’Keefe, sued the prosecutors in federal court, arguing that the investigation violated their First Amendment rights. Presiding U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa agreed. He argued that the prosecutors were attempting to classify free speech as a criminal activity, and that the victims’ lawsuit was “likely to succeed.” He concluded:
“The plaintiffs have been shut out of the political process merely by association with conservative politicians. This cannot square with the First Amendment and what it was meant to protect.” He ordered all records sealed and the investigation stopped immediately. Predictably, the prosecutors appealed that too.
Judge Randa also criticized last week’s document release, saying that prosecutors are now seeking “refuge in the Court of Public Opinion, having lost in this Court of law.”
A litany of Lies
Wisconsin’s unique “John Doe” law allows anyone to make anonymous allegations of criminal activity by public officials, which can then prompt exploratory investigations. Prosecutors are not required to provide any evidence of wrongdoing to pursue investigations, and proceedings are secret. As one Wisconsin law office explains it, “Unlike normal criminal proceedings, which can be initiated if there is probable cause to believe a person has violated the law, John Doe proceedings help law enforcement develop the evidence necessary to establish the very existence of probable cause.”
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a prominent Democrat, launched this latest John Doe investigation. Assistant DAs Bruce Landgraf and David Robles were also heavily involved, as was Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (Wisconsin’s version of a state board of elections). While nominally led by a panel comprised of three Democrat and three Republican appointed judges, the GAB is in fact a staunchly partisan organization run by Democrat Kevin Kennedy. (More about that later.) After getting a green light from the GAB, district attorneys from four other counties were encouraged to launch their own John Doe investigations.
Walker Initiated First John Doe
However, this was merely a continuation of an earlier investigation initiated by Walker himself in 2010. While still Milwaukee County Executive, Walker learned that members of his staff may have stolen money from a veterans group. He immediately reported it. There were ultimately six convictions in that case.
Ignoring the fact that Walker called for the investigation, Democrats attempted to make it all about him; but Walker was never a target. Still, it dragged on for four years, leading many critics to accuse the Democrats of a partisan witch hunt. Chisholm finally ended the probe in 2013, stating “After a review of the John Doe evidence, I am satisfied that all charges that are supported by proof beyond a reasonable doubt have now been brought and concluded.”
But Democrats could not let it go. The second probe, launched on the heels of John Doe I, was a sweeping investigation of Walker’s 2010 political campaign, the recall election, and almost anyone who supported him. Chisholm sought to obscure the partisan nature of this probe by finding a Republican to act as an independent prosecutor, writing then presiding judge, Barbara Kluka:
…the partisan political affiliations of the undersigned elected District Attorneys will lead to public allegations of impropriety. Democratic prosecutors will be painted as conducting a partisan witch hunt…An Independent Special Prosecutor having no partisan affiliation addresses the legitimate concerns about the appearance of impropriety.
Kluka appointed former Deputy U.S. Attorney Francis Schmitz. Democrats hasten to point out that Schmitz is a Republican and that two out of the five John Doe county prosecutors are Republicans. But this appears to be window dressing. Schmitz has been described as “a weakling… unlikely to lead an aggressive investigation,” and was selected, despite having no experience in campaign finance law. Finally, although this was supposed to be an independent investigation, Chisholm’s office remained part of the probe, while other counties lost interest. One of the Democrats, Dane County Prosecutor Ismael Ozanne, is also candidate for State Attorney General. No conflict of interest?
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