AP Explains: John Doe investigations involving Scott Walker
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The saga of John Doe investigations related to Gov. Scott Walker never seems to end, with new twists last week from a report by Attorney General Brad Schimel. A guide to the latest news and what it all means:
WHAT’S A JOHN DOE?
It’s the name given to a secret investigation that, as the law stood when the Walker probes began, operated similar to a grand jury and could look into potential political corruption. Amid Republican anger over the Walker investigations, the GOP-controlled Legislature significantly narrowed when John Does can be used. They are no longer permitted for bribery, misconduct in office and other political corruption investigations.
JOHN DOE I
This began in the spring of 2010, while Walker was running for governor, and focused on aides to Walker’s when he was Milwaukee County executive. Six were charged and convicted of a variety of crimes, including theft and misconduct in office. Walker was not charged.
JOHN DOE II
This grew out of the first John Doe, based on evidence gathered from emails and other seized documents, and centered on whether Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups to raise money during the 2011 and 2012 recall campaigns. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the coordination was legal and halted the probe. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case in 2016. No one was charged.
JOHN DOE III
Attorney General Brad Schimel last week said he had discovered emails and other documents seized by investigators and stored in an email folder labeled “Opposition Research.” That evidence pertained to a previously unknown new investigation into a broad range of Republicans related to illegal campaigning on state government time, Schimel said. No one was charged.
THE GUARDIAN LEAK
In 2016, the Guardian U.S. newspaper received more than 1,300 pages of secret documents obtained during the John Doe II investigation and published an article around the time the U.S. Supreme Court was considering whether to take the case. The leaked documents included details of how Walker raised millions of dollars from Wisconsin Club for Growth. They also revealed that a mining company seeking a favorable change in state law gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Wisconsin Club for Growth.
ATTORNEY GENERAL PROBE
Schimel, a Republican, launched an investigation a year ago into the Guardian leak, but not the leak of other information that conservatives used to question the John Doe II investigation. The report Schimel released last week did not identify the source of the leak. But Schimel determined it came from information housed at the former Government Accountability Board office, which worked with prosecutors on the investigation.
WHO’S TO BLAME?
Schimel recommended that six former GAB employees and three workers at the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office face contempt of court charges for not following court secrecy orders. He also asked that one of them, former GAB attorney Shane Falk, face discipline from the Office of Lawyer Regulation. Whether to proceed is up to the judge overseeing the John Doe investigation. Schimel later said the current chairman of the Elections Commission, Democrat David Halbrooks, should recuse himself from any activity related to the John Doe investigation since he was granted immunity in John Doe I. Halbrooks refused.
CALLS TO RESIGN
The top two legislative Republicans, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, on Thursday called for two resignations. They want Elections Commission administrator Michael Haas and Ethics Commission administrator Brian Bell to step down, arguing they are tainted by findings in Schimel’s report. Neither of them was among those Schimel said should face contempt charges. Haas had no direct role in the John Doe investigations, but he did review and edit legal filings related to court cases connected to the investigation. Bell only became involved once the Ethics Commission took over custody of some of the records that were collected. Republican state Sen. Steve Naas has also called for Bell, Haas and the top attorneys at the two commissions to resign.
Both the Elections and Ethics commissions voiced public support for Haas and Bell this week. Neither has agreed to resign. The Senate has yet to confirm either one, setting up a possible highly unusual vote to force them out next month.
The John Doe judge will have to decide whether to pursue disciplinary charges as recommended by the attorney general against the nine people over their handling of the evidence. Schimel has said he hopes those proceedings results in fresh evidence to find the source of the leak. And if the Ethics and Elections administrators don’t resign, it could set up a dramatic Senate vote to reject their confirmations.