By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. – Pummeled by bad news for their gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, Democratic party operatives last week seized on Eric O’Keefe’s use of the word “rape” to describe the feelings of conservative activists whose homes were raided in the course of a politically charged John Doe investigation.
Now, one of the targets of Democrat Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s four-year probe of Wisconsin conservatives is speaking out, telling Wisconsin Reporter that “rape” is an appropriate way to describe her feelings.
“You have NO idea what I felt or what I experienced,” Kelly Rindlfleisch said, addressing Democratic Party activists and media in a statement to Wisconsin Reporter. “The fact that you want to render my pain and suffering null repulses me.”
‘VIOLATED’: Kelly Rindfleisch, a target of a previous John Doe investigation led by Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm, says critics of an outspoken conservative have ‘no idea’ how it feels to have their privacy and life violated by prosecutors.
The media campaign began last week when Eric O’Keefe in a radio interview compared to rape victims the targets of “predawn, paramilitary-style” raids sought by Chisholm and crew in the early-morning hours of Oct. 3, 2013.
“I have read some about rape and talked to people about rape, and I am saying this very deliberately,” O’Keefe said in the interview with conservative talk show host Vicki McKenna on WISN-AM in Milwaukee. “The reactions that I got from the people I interviewed were similar to (those of) a rape victim.”
O’Keefe, himself a target of the investigation into 29 conservative organizations, was making his first extensive comments on the campaign finance dragnet that critics have described as a political witch hunt. Two judges have said the investigation has failed to prove conservatives committed any crimes.
Plagued by revelations that her candidate plagiarized large sections of policy plans, Burke spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson seized on O’Keefe’s interview.
“This is the company that (Gov.) Scott Walker keeps,” Wilson told the Associated Press, ramping up her political indignation. “It is disgusting, insulting and outrageous for such a close ally of Governor Walker to compare the actions of sworn law enforcement officials investigating serious allegations of criminal wrongdoing to the most vile and heinous crime against women that there is.”
Walker’s camp quickly backed away from O’Keefe, who is also a director of Wisconsin Club for Growth, a conservative organization that has championed key government reforms led by the first-term Republican governor.
“Eric O’Keefe, who has no ties to the campaign, deserves nothing less than outright condemnation for his egregiously offensive remarks,” Walker’s campaign spokeswoman Alleigh Marre told the AP.
O’Keefe declined to comment for this story.
Speaking to Wisconsin Reporter, Rindfleisch defended O’Keefe.
“Eric has sat down and spoken with the victims of John Chisholm,” she said. “He has looked us in the eye and seen firsthand the devastation this evil man has reaped on us. He’s listened to the stories of having the safety of our homes and our families violated. None of those who have taken it upon themselves to judge him have reported on the abuses that took place.
“I had my personal life put on display for anyone and everyone to sift through like vultures. (It was) one of the greatest emotional violations someone can experience. And the pain of that is just as real,” Rindfleisch added.
“Violated” is the word used by multiple targets of the John Doe investigation, including those whose homes were noisily raided amid flood lights and law enforcement threats in the early morning darkness of Oct. 3 2013.
Ignoring that, news accounts from New York to Long Beach, Calif., focused only on O’Keefe’s use of the word “rape.” No news reporter included comments from the conservative targets themselves, other than O’Keefe’s comments on McKenna’s show.
Rindfleisch was a key target in the earliest stages of the John Doe probe, launched in 2010 by Chisholm’s staff. A former aide to Walker when Walker was Milwaukee County executive, Rindfleisch was convicted in 2012 on a charge that she used county time to reply to emails regarding fundraising on behalf of failed lieutenant governor candidate Brett Davis, a Republican.
The former aide could have faced lesser charges, but prosecutors, looking for anything incriminating against Walker, boosted the counts against her. Walker has never been charged.
Rindfleisch immediately appealed her conviction, charging that the prosecutors violated her Fourth Amendment rights in sweeping general warrant-style searches of her digital devices. A three-judge panel is now weighing that appeal, following oral arguments in Milwaukee last month.
She said anyone who has passed judgment on O’Keefe should be made to talk to the children of the targets. They’ll find children “so terrorized they are afraid to stay home for fear the cops will come with guns and battering rams and no one will be there to protect them.”
Rindfleisch said she is encouraging the targets to speak out, “but that decision has to be made by them with consideration of the other people in their lives. I do believe that once one does, more will follow and the extent of the abuses will become clear to the public. But until then, I’ll continue to speak up for all of us.”
“You look them in the eye and tell them how their fear and pain isn’t justified,” Rindfleisch said.
McKenna said the only thing offensive about O’Keefe’s choice of words is the “deliberate refusal by the privileged media and political class to investigate and stop these abuses.”
“I can scarcely imagine what the victims of these profound violations endured for more than three years at the hands of state-sanctioned corrupt actors,” she said in an email response. “Eric O’keefe deserves thanks for his courage, not derision.”
FIGHTING WORDS: Eric O’Keefe, an outspoken conservative target of the secret John Doe investigation, was blasted by the left and mainstream media last week after he said the reactions from his fellow conservatives whose homes were raided were much like that of rape victims.
Chisholm, his fellow prosecutors and their attorneys have repeatedly declined to comment.
In an interview just before his radio appearance, O’Keefe told Wisconsin Reporter the details of raids on at least nine homes over the long run of the John Doe investigations, stories shared with him by tormented targets.
“Houses were surrounded and lit up,” O’Keefe said. “Children and spouses were home in multiple cases, and made to suffer through two-and-a-half-hour raiding parties going through all paper files and seizing computers and phones. Children in multiple cases were told they could not inform their schools why they were late.”
The raids, the kind employed in drug busts and gun crimes, were ordered because John Doe prosecutors had a “legal theory” that conservative advocacy groups like the Wisconsin Club for Growth may have illegally coordinated with Walker’s campaign during Wisconsin’s bitter recall season of 2011 and ’12.
Two judges have rejected the prosecutors’ theory for failing to show probable cause.
Like evidence that the IRS targeted conservative nonprofit organizations for tough reviews, Chisholm’s office targeted only conservatives in its four-year investigation – despite evidence that liberal activists engaged in similar constitutionally protected practices.
Chisholm’s staffers have said the raids on conservatives’ homes were routine, and have said any claim of harm is exaggerated.
“Is Chisholm suggesting that search warrants were not executed by armed deputies during the early morning hours of Oct. 3, 2013 at his direction?” one of the conservatives, who requested anonymity, said in an interview with Wisconsin Reporter. “Is he suggesting that copies of electronic devices were not made under his direction and that inventories of the information collected are not maintained by his office?”
O’Keefe earlier this year filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the prosecutors, charging that they had violated the First Amendment rights of conservatives. A U.S. district court judge shut down the investigation and allowed the lawsuit to go. More recently, a federal appeals court ruled O’Keefe’s complaint is a state and not federal issue. so the investigation is stalled, at least until the state Supreme Court weighs in.
O’Keefe also has asked that a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate Chisholm, who has been accused by a former special prosecutor in his office of holding a political and personal grudge against Walker.