Wisconsin John Doe witch hunt worse than IRS scandal


By Charlie Sykes | Right Wisconsin

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — A ruling Friday by the judge overseeing the John Doe probe of conservatives underlines the central feature of this scandal:

The scandal in Wisconsin is not that conservative groups engaged in political advocacy. The real scandal is the vindictive abuse of prosecutorial discretion by partisan investigators conducting a secret probe targeting political opponents. In comparison, the Obama administration’s IRS scandal almost seems like weak tea.

‘VINDICTIVE’ DOE: WTMJ morning radio host Charlie Sykes asserts the latest revelations in the Democrat-led John Doe probe point to a ‘vindictive abuse of prosecutorial discretion.’

The massive criminal investigation supposedly was aimed at ferreting out illegal “coordination” between conservative groups and the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker . (No liberal or Democrat organizations were targeted.) But in throwing out many of the subpoenas in the probe, Judge Gregory Peterson ruled that the conduct the John Doe prosecutors were investigating was not a crime at all.

The judge rejected the prosecution’s basis for the investigation in ruling that theydo not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws.”

As the Wall Street Journal reported Friday:

Wisconsin’s campaign finance statutes ban coordination between independent groups and candidates for a “political purpose.” But a political purpose “requires express advocacy,” the judge wrote, and express advocacy means directly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate.

“There is no evidence of express advocacy” and therefore “the subpoenas fail to show probable cause that a crime was committed,” Peterson wrote. Even “the State is not claiming that any of the independent organizations expressly advocated” for the election of Walker or his opponent, he added. Instead they did “issue advocacy,” which focuses on specific political issues.

So what was the probe all about? The Wall Journal Street was scathing:

This means that prosecutors essentially invented without evidence the possibility of criminal behavior to justify the subpoenas and their thuggish tactics. At least three targets had their homes raided at dawn, with police turning over belongings, seizing computers and files, and even barring phone calls.

This cries out for context, which comes easily to hand: the IRS scandal. The parallels and differences are worth exploring.

The IRS scandal — which is ongoing — is not that tea party groups may have engaged in political activities. It is the abuse of government power to target, harass and intimidate political opponents. It involves singling out conservative tea party groups for special scrutiny and harassment if they sought tax-exempt status.

But that pales next to the Doe, which targeted dozens of conservative groups and individuals and subjected them to criminal investigations. Prosecutors cast a breathtakingly wide net — 29 separate groups, including Wisconsin Club for Growth, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), the League of American Voters, Wisconsin Family Action, Americans for Prosperity, American Crossroads and the Republican Governors Association, along with other innocent bystanders.

In the IRS scandal, tea party groups were threatened with the denial of tax-exempt status and subject to legal and financial inconvenience. In Wisconsin, conservatives were threatened with imprisonment.

The difference is dramatic.

The anti-Walker probe included raiding the homes of targeted activists, seizing their private correspondence, phones and computers — including the computers, phones and emails of their spouses and other family members. Under the Doe’s draconian gag orders, conservatives subjected to such raids were threatened with imprisonment if they spoke about it. And because the probe was secret, the prosecutors could not be held accountable for their conduct.

Until now.

So, what is the motivation and agenda behind the witch-hunt? The office of Milwaukee Democrat District Attorney John Chisholm, presided over a 3-year-old long John Doe aimed at Walker that resulted in charges only against a handful of functionaries. Dozens of members of Chisholm’s office signed Walker recall petitions; the chief investigator had a recall sign in his front yard, and some of Chisolm’s aides reportedly were panting at the prospect of charging Walker himself. Their disappointment has been palpable.

Sources describe deputies Bruce Landgraf and David Robles as particularly vindictive and aggressive in pursuing the new probe.

They appear to be pursuing theories popular in the fever swamps of the left that conservatives here have somehow created a nefarious network of like-minded conservatives who backed Walker. It is not clear how this is different from the networks on the left — the campaigns of the recall candidates, the Democrat Party, Organizing For America, Service Employees International Union, Wisconsin Education Association Council, American Federation of State County and Municipal Eemployees, etc. — that are not subject to investigation.

The difference is that, in Wisconsin, the left and the John Doe prosecutors are attempting to criminalize such speech by conservatives who backed Walker’s reforms.

But free speech is not a crime. Or at least not yet. And that is at the heart of the judge’s ruling. Wrote the Journal:

The judge’s order vindicates our suspicion that the John Doe probe is a political operation intended to shut up Mr. Walker’s allies as he seeks re-election this year.

Democrats would love to intimidate and muzzle the local activists who rallied to Walker’s recall defense. And the subpoenas all but shut down these activists, forcing them to hire lawyers and defend themselves rather than contribute to the political debate in an election year. Beyond 2014, the prosecutors’ goal seems to be raise the cost of participation so the subpoena targets decide to quit politics.

And that, of course, is the real scandal and somebody ought to investigate how it got this far.

Charlie Sykes hosts a weekday program on 620 WTMJ in Milwaukee and hosts a weekly television show “Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes on Today’s TMJ4 at 10 a.m.

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