Walker’s John Doe response raises more questions than answers

Part 70 of 70 in the series Wisconsin’s Secret War

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — A day and a half after the Wall Street Journal editorial board reported that Gov. Scott Walker may be entertaining a deal to settle a long-running John Doe investigation, the governor’s campaign released a brief statement.

But the campaign’s curt response raises more questions than answers.

“Neither Governor Walker nor his campaign committee are parties to the federal lawsuit. This means they have no legal standing to reach a settlement or deal in their lawsuit,” Friends of Scott Walker assert in the statement, issued Thursday morning.

That was it.

DEALING DAYS: Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign on Thursday issued a brief statement following news that the campaign was negotiating a settlement with the prosecutors of a lengthy John Doe probe. The statement raises more questions than answers.

The campaign doesn’t answer whether Walker would accept or turn down a deal by John Doe prosecutors to make what the governor’s fellow conservatives believe has been a politically motivated probe into right-leaning groups, a partisan witch hunt that has turned the lives of its conservative targets into a “living hell.”

It’s well known Walker’s campaign is a party to a civil rights lawsuit alleging John Doe prosecutors abused the constitutional rights of conservative targets. What isn’t clear is whether Walker would settle his end of business in the secret investigation.

Steven Biskupic, who represents the governor’s campaign, “has been negotiating with Wisconsin special prosecutor Francis Schmitz to settle the state’s investigation,” according to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece published Tuesday evening.

Walker spokeswoman Alleigh Marré didn’t return a call from Wisconsin Reporter seeking clarification on the campaign’s statement.

David B. Rivkin Jr., lead counsel for conservative activist Eric O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club For Growth, the plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit against John Doe prosecutors, declined to comment.

One legal expert with knowledge of the John Doe investigation, however, told Wisconsin Reporter he’s baffled by the Walker campaign’s short statement.

“If someone believed this was going to mollify Eric O’Keefe and the others, that’s incredibly naïve, to the point of incredible,” said the legal source, who asked not to be identified due to his proximity to the probe. “So what’s the point in putting this statement out?”

“There is an incredible tone deafness to” the statement, the source added.

Walker has faced a lot of political heat since late Tuesday when the Wall Street Journal editorial broke, mainly from many of his Wisconsin allies, some of whom are targets of the investigation, who believe settling with the prosecution would be a deal with the devil.

Walker is seeking re-election in a tight race, and the politically charged investigations have been dogging him since he first ran for governor in 2010.

But word of the governor at the very least entertaining offers from Schmitz comes as conservatives appear to have John Doe prosecutors on the ropes.

U.S. District Court Rudolph Randa earlier this month ordered the nearly three-year probe shut down and echoed the sentiments of the John Doe’s presiding judge when he wrote in his ruling the prosecution’s theory that dozens of conservative organizations may have illegally coordinated with the Walker campaign is “simply wrong.”

The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals then followed up with a long-awaited ruling declaring unconstitutional sections of Wisconsin campaign finance law related to issue advertising — the kind of ads funded by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other targets of the John Doe probe.

Conservative targets who spoke with Wisconsin Reporter on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions from prosecutors said they were furious about reports of a possible Walker campaign settlement. One source said it feels like being sold out for political expediency.

The latest John Doe probe was launched in August 2012 by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat. In October 2013, investigators charged into homes of several conservative targets in what have been described as “paramilitary-style,” predawn raids and confiscated professional and personal items, including electronic equipment and documents.

Another legal source who asked to remain anonymous due to his proximity to the investigation said what’s ultimately at stake is so much bigger than the John Doe investigation.

“You don’t settle with bad people. You don’t settle with rogue prosecutors, with prosecutors who stifle free speech,” the source said. “You don’t do that unless you are willing to lose the support of conservative organizations across the country who would feel betrayed by this.”

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