Another John Doe Disclosure
The more we learn about the Wisconsin speech probe, the worse it looks. Wisconsin prosecutors investigating allies of Governor Scott Walker must have hoped that hiring former federal prosecutor and nominal Republican Francis Schmitz as a special prosecutor would give their probe a sheen of respectability. So much for that. A new lawsuit and sealed court documents show Mr. Schmitz has been from the start a wholly owned subsidiary of the state's politicized campaign-regulation machinery.
We've been reporting on the state's John Doe probe, which hit dozens of conservative groups with subpoenas in October 2013 while silencing them with a secrecy order. Now we learn that those raids were the continuation of a single-cloth investigation stretching back to May 2010.
In an August 2012 order, Milwaukee County Judge and acting John Doe Judge Neal Nettesheim authorized Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm to roll all information from an earlier John Doe (ostensibly shut down in February 2013) into a new proceeding while maintaining all documents under the "existing" secrecy order. That document is under court seal, but we've obtained a copy.
Milwaukee Assistant District Attorney David Robles "requested that the John Doe Judge permit the use and disclosure of information developed in the course of these proceedings," Judge Nettesheim's order notes, and 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."
The document also reveals that the first Doe was enlarged no fewer than 18 times over two and half years. That secret investigation began by looking into funds stolen from a veterans group while Mr. Walker was Milwaukee County executive and eventually became a kitchen-sink probe into Mr. Walker's staff and campaign.
After 33 months, Messrs. Robles and Chisholm had little to show beyond some minor charges against former Walker aides. So rather than enlarge their investigation for the 19th time, the prosecutors "closed" it and reopened under new management. New sign, same bad food.
Mr. Schmitz was brought in as a supposedly independent voice to lead the investigation in August 2013, but a lawsuit filed May 30 says Mr. Schmitz was hired as a special investigator at the state Government Accountability Board and was on the GAB payroll before he was appointed special prosecutor.
The GAB is the state's political speech regulator, and the lawsuit brought by Eric O'Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth claims the GAB overstepped its authority by participating in a criminal investigation. The GAB's authority is supposed to be over civil violations of elections law.
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. 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. Now prosecutors are hoping the federal court will release private donor information and out-of-context emails.
The more we learn about this anti-speech prosecution, the worse it looks.