By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Watchdog
MADISON, Wis. – Attorney General Brad Schimel on Thursday asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to appoint a “special master” to investigate leaks of sealed court documents in the politically driven John Doe investigation.
In a letter to Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, Schimel requests an investigator look into the leak of some 1,350 documents to the liberal British newspaper, The Guardian, in mid-September.
Schimel said he agrees with conservative targets of the infamous John Doe investigation who have advocated for a special master to oversee the court-ordered return of the property taken from them in the unconstitutional probe.
“First, the special master should investigate and confirm the final disposition of the unlawfully seized evidence in this case. This Court has ordered the prosecution team to be ‘completely divested’ of all evidence seized during the John Doe investigation,” Schimel wrote.
The attorney general, a Republican, said it is important that all involved, “directly and the public in general, have confidence in the final results of this process.”
“Therefore, an independent court-appointed special master is necessary to investigate and confirm that the prosecution team has, in fact, been ‘completely divested’ of this evidence,” Schimel states in the letter.
And the overseer should investigate the breach of secrecy orders connected to the Sept. 14, 2016, article in The Guardian – an article that used hand-picked documents out of millions seized to paint a picture of criminal campaign finance activity by dozens of conservative groups and the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker.
“Even a cursory review of those documents published (among the documents are John Doe testimony transcripts and exhibits) indicates that these documents were obtained in violation of the secrecy orders in this case,” the letter states. “This Court has imposed upon lower courts a ‘clear duty’ to investigate possible violations of a secrecy order.”
Schimel adds that a special master would be in the best position to fulfill the “clear duty,” suggesting that the attorney general is not.
While conservative targets have urged an investigation and the naming of a custodian to quickly return their possessions now that the John Doe is legally dead, one of those targets asserts Schimel’s letter to the court is too little, too late.
“It is disappointing that seven weeks have passed since someone leaked private documents to this newspaper and the attorney general is just now confirming that he has taken no action in the matter,” said Deborah Jordahl, a conservative political strategist who had her home raided by armed law enforcement agents before dawn. “Now he is asking the Supreme Court to appoint someone else to take care of it.”
Asked by Wisconsin Watchdog multiple times whether the attorney general planned to launch an investigation, Schimel’s spokesman said the state Department of Justice does not comment on pending or ongoing investigations. Schimel, however, has spoken at length about a potential investigation into a left-wing political activist who on hidden video spoke of a voter-fraud scheme.
Former John Doe special prosecutor Francis Schmitz has said that all leaked John Doe documents – including information obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog and the Wall Street Journal – should be investigated. And Schmitz has been the front man for the prosecutors’ call that the 6 million documents seized in the John Doe be held in the custody of the Supreme Court.
Several John Doe targets have told Wisconsin Watchdog they believe the leaks came from the prosecutors, investigators, staff at the former state Government Accountability Board or others connected to investigators. They say a variety of evidence points to the people who conducted the secret investigation.
In a recent response to the court, Schmitz concedes that the prosecutors cannot conduct an investigation into the leaks because they are potential suspects, but he goes on to suggest that it’s possible that John Doe targets may have leaked the documents to The Guardian – for reasons that he does not make clear.
This week, former Pennsylvania state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, once considered rising star in state politics, was sentenced to 10 to 23 months in prison for a retaliation scheme. The 50-year-old Kane, a Democrat, was accused of leaking secret investigative files to embarrass a rival prosecutor, according to The Associated Press. She was convicted of perjury and obstruction.
Several reader comments on the story noted the possible similarities between the Pennsylvania case and Wisconsin’s John Doe, some insisting Schimel had dragged his feet.
Schimel warned that any special master appointed would “face a daunting task of ensuring compliance with this Court’s orders and investigating the breach of secrecy orders.”
Schimel offered the Department of Justice’s “investigatory support and legal advice.”
“To this end, in order for any special master to be able to prepare a complete report and recommendation to this Court in a timely manner, any order from this Court appointing a special master should be clear (1) to vest the special master and his or her agents with the authority to compel attendance and testimony of witnesses through subpoena, and (2) to require complete and full cooperation of those individuals already bound by the secrecy orders,” the attorney general wrote.
“John Doe II,” as it has been billed, was launched in August 2012 by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a highly partisan Democrat. The probe was built on a widely rejected theory that Walker’s campaign and the conservative groups illegally coordinated during Wisconsin’s partisan recall years of 2011 and 2012.
In July 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled the probe unconstitutional and ordered it shut down. The majority decision said the special prosecutor had perpetrated a “perfect storm of wrongs” on people who did nothing illegal. It ordered the return of the illegally seized possessions to the rightful owners.
Chisholm and his fellow Democrat DAs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. They lost. The court earlier this month declined to take the case.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has yet to announce what it intends to do now that the U.S. high court has put an exclamation point on the death of the John Doe.