‘Never-ending’ John Doe never ended, WSJ reports

Part 78 of 78 in the series Wisconsin’s Secret War

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — They never stopped going after Scott Walker.

That’s the assertion of a conservative target of a politically charged John Doe investigation — the latest John probe that, according to the Wall Street Journal, is indistinguishable from a first court-administered dragnet into the Republican governor and his former aides and associates.

Or, as the Journal put it in a piece published on Sunday, “New sign, same bad food.”

REMAIN SILENT: It appears the John Doe investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s former aides and associates never really ended, according to a new Wall Street Journal editorial.

A court document obtained by the newspaper’s editorial board shows the presiding judge in what has been billed as “John Doe I,” authorized Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm to “roll all information” from that secret investigation into a “new proceeding while maintaining all documents under the ‘existing’ secrecy order.”

That investigation was supposed to have closed in March 2013. The end of “John Doe I” precipitated a liberal gnashing of teeth over the prosecutors’ inability to indict the Wisconsin left’s top nemesis — Walker.

It seems, Chisholm and company were just getting warmed up.

Milwaukee Assistant DA David Robles, according to the order from Judge Neal Nettesheim obtained by the Wall Street Journal, “requested that the John Doe Judge permit the use and disclosure of information developed in the course of these proceedings.” Nettesheim’s order also provides that the district attorney’s office may “use and disclose information” from the first Doe “in order to conduct an investigation into the violations that . . . will form the basis of the investigation of a new John Doe proceeding.”

That it did.

Chisholm, Robles and fellow Milwaukee County Assistant DA Bruce Landgraf hooked up with John Doe special prosecutor Francis Schmitz to go after dozens of conservative organizations the prosecutors believed were illegally coordinating with Walker’s campaign during the state’s partisan recall elections.

The previously believed sequel, according to the latest Wall Street Journal piece, it turns out is really just one long, bad movie. A horror film for the targets who have had their lives turned upside down during and after what sources have described as pre-dawn, “paramilitary-style raids” on their homes and property.

The document obtained by the Wall Street Journal also reveals John Doe I was “enlarged no fewer than 18 times over two and a half years.”

For what?

Well, the secret probe began in May 2010, looking into the pilfering of a veterans fund established through Walker’s office, who was, at the time, Milwaukee County executive. It was a Walker staff member who first reported a discrepancy in the funds to the Milwaukee County DA.

As the Wall Street Journal described it, the investigation became a “kitchen-sink probe” into Walker’s staff and campaign. After a lengthy, meandering search, the investigation concluded — or at least that’s what prosecutors told the public — with six convictions, four of which had nothing to do with the original intent of the probe.

“So rather than enlarge their investigation for the 19th time, the prosecutors ‘closed’ it and reopened under new management,” the Journal reported. “New sign, same bad food.”

Longtime conservative activist Eric O’Keefe and his Wisconsin Club for Growth, in February filed a civil rights lawsuit against the prosecutors and an investigator by the name of Dean Nickel, contracted by the state Government Accountability Board.

In early May, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa, the judge overseeing the federal lawsuit, ordered the John Doe probe, “John Doe II,” as it has been billed, shut down. Randa also said the prosecutors’ legal theory on illegal coordination is “simply wrong.”

O’Keefe’s lead council, David B. Rivkin Jr., declined comment on the Wall Street Journal piece.

A legal expert with knowledge of the investigation, however, told Wisconsin Reporter that the prosecutors’ reported secret dealings seems “par for the course.”

“There are so many warts in this investigation that even the evidence of bias and lying is not the worst part of it,” said the expert, who asked to not be identified due to proximity to the matter. “The worst thing is the Government Accountability Board’s involvement.”

Late last month, O’Keefe and Wisconsin Club for Growth filed a lawsuit against the Government Accountability Board, the overseer of state election and campaign law, claiming the GAB “exceeded its statutory authority and evaded its statutory obligations by pursuing and funding a far-reaching criminal investigation into virtually every conservative-leaning group in Wisconsin.”

“In a calculated power grab, the GAB has improperly used a John Doe proceeding to explore speculative criminal theories of campaign finance law without challenge by the accused or scrutiny of the public,” the lawsuit alleges, referencing the strict gag ordered placed on the investigation.

The complaint, also filed on behalf of taxpayers, asserts the GAB’s “illegitimate and unauthorized participation in the John Doe proceeding has come at significant expense to taxpayers.”

O’Keefe’s complaint includes information showing the GAB appointed Schmitz as a special investigator before former John Doe presiding Judge Barbara A. Kluka (who recused herself without explanation last October) appointed Schmitz as special prosecutor of the five-county probe in August 2013.

Perhaps more galling to the multiple individuals sworn to secrecy in John Doe I is, sources tell Wisconsin Reporter, that the secrecy order for that probe, launched more than four years ago, remains in effect. Those who violate the order could face jail time.

“By the way, Judge Nettesheim says he’s in favor of lifting the secrecy order on the first John Doe in cases when state prosecutors need to defend themselves against criticism, such as a separate federal lawsuit that Mr. O’Keefe has filed,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board piece states.

“Nice of him to tell us now. His secrecy order allowed prosecutors to do selective leaking to friendly journalists until our editorials exposed the government’s constitutional abuses,” the Journal adds, presumably referring to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s investigative reporters, whom conservatives claim received inside information from prosecutors or individuals close to the Milwaukee County DA’s office.

Nettesheim did not return a phone call from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment. Prosecutors repeatedly have declined to comment.

In February, following the dump of thousands of documents pertaining to Walker’s former aide Kelly Rindfleisch, Nettescheim told Wisconsin Reporter that the first John Doe is closed. Apparently not so much.

“The John Doe is closed and the results of the John Doe speak for themselves in terms of who has allegedly committed a crime, who has been charged with a crime and who has been convicted of a crime,” Nettesheim told Wisconsin Reporter.

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org