MacIver News Service | December 15, 2017
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. – The embattled interim administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission says he’s surprised by legislative leaders’ calls for him to step down.
Michael Haas, who was actively involved in Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe investigation into conservatives, has managed the agency since the Legislature replaced the disbanded Government Accountability Board in the summer of 2016.
“Based on my prior visits with many legislators and my ongoing work with their staffs, I was very surprised to receive the letter last night from Senator Fitzgerald and Speaker Vos,” Haas wrote in a statement released Friday morning.
Vos, speaker of the state Assembly, and Fitzgerald, the Senate’s majority leader, sent letters late Thursday to Haas and Ethics Commission administrator Brian Bell. Bell did not return MacIver News Service’s request for comment Friday.
“You have lost the confidence of our caucuses to be impartial administrators,” the Republican leaders wrote in their letters to the bureaucrats.
Members of both commissions, Republicans and Democrats appointed by the Legislature, continue to stand by their administrators.
Highly partisan Elections Commission Chairman, Mark Thomsen, a Democrat, called the letters “partisan game-playing.” He defended Haas’ impartiality and said that “under no circumstances would I accept a resignation by Mr. Haas.”
Haas defended himself, saying that he is “proud of everything our staff has accomplished over the past 18 months.”
“I look forward to continuing the important work of administering elections on behalf of all Wisconsin residents and taxpayers, and I call on the Legislature to support that work.”
This is some of the work Haas has done his long career with the old Government Accountability Board:
“Haas was involved with reviewing and editing court filings” in the unconstitutional John Doe probe into dozens of conservative groups and the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker, according to last week’s bombshell report from Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel on John Doe document leaks.
Previous emails released in court settlements show Haas was very involved in John Doe communications and meetings with GAB staff.
Haas, who previously served as Elections Division administrator for the GAB, repeatedly was copied on emails at the opening of what has been called John Doe II. Haas traveled to meet Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, the partisan Democrat who launched the probe in August 2012, in the early phases of the probe, according to court documents from a lawsuit against the GAB.
On Sept. 19, 2013, Haas emailed GAB colleague Shane Falk with the subject line, “Doe records.”
“Are the original Doe records still being sealed ffor [sic] use in the Badger Doe?” Haas asked less than two weeks before investigators orchestrated predawn, armed raids on the homes of conservatives. Falk responded the records were “transferred to the new Doe, technically.” Haas wrote back, according to Town Hall, with a curious comment on an open records request. “That’s what I thought. Will be interesting to see how the (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel records request plays out.”
Falk was the GAB’s lead attorney in the John Doe probe, which targeted dozens of conservative groups on the prosecutors’ widely rejected theory that the organizations illegally coordinated with Walker’s campaign during Wisconsin’s bitter recall season.
The attorney general report found that Falk stored John Doe documents on an internal hard drive that has gone missing. That hard drive could have definitively shown what the state Department of Justice suspects: That illegal leaks of court-sealed John Doe documents more than likely came from inside the GAB. The agency, according to the report, continued to collect and assemble John Doe documents long after the judge in the case told agents to stop, and they held on to the records long after the state Supreme Court ordered all sealed documents be turned over to the custody of the court.But are the John Doe probes in the past? Is the threat really gone? #wiright #wipolitics Click To Tweet
DOJ investigators found hundreds of thousands of records in GAB files labeled “Opposition Research.”
In a statement last week, Vos said the attorney general’s report confirms what Republicans have known to be true for years.
“The Government Accountability staff acted as though they were above the law. We have a mountain of evidence that clearly shows an abuse of power for partisan purposes,” the Assembly speaker said.
“The GAB will go down in Wisconsin history as a failed experiment. The secret, unconstitutional John Doe investigations will be remembered for their blatant breach of personal information and the silencing of free speech. Thankfully, the GAB and John Doe investigations are history and this threat to democracy in Wisconsin is behind us.”
But are the John Doe probes in the past? Is the threat really gone?
In his report, the attorney general said the Department of Justice cannot guarantee that secretly obtained electronic communications from unwitting conservatives won’t end up in other liberal publications, or elsewhere online. And because of the GAB’s sloppy record-keeping, the DOJ warns that John Doe targets could be victims of identity theft, adding insult to injury.