MacIver News Service | December 19, 2017
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. – Yes, Virginia, the abusive state Government Accountability Board was even more sinister and politically motivated than even the conservatives it targeted suspected.
Once more, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has had to correct erroneous reporting by some members of the media who have gladly lapped up the “facts” that their government bureaucrat sources have fed them.
The latest defense from former GAB agents and their pals in the unconstitutional John Doe investigations is that the so-called “John Doe III” was “not a John Doe at all,” but was solely a GAB ethics investigation.
“As explained below, this is entirely false,” Schimel wrote Monday in a state Department of Justice response to assertions made in the wake of the DOJ’s recent bombshell report on the illegal leaks of court-sealed John Doe documents to the Guardian, a liberal British publication. The report not only found that it is most likely the leaks came from inside the GAB, but that the now-defunct political speech regulator conducted an even wider spy operation on Wisconsin conservatives.In fact, ‘John Doe III’ was just the tip of the iceberg of old evidence and allegations maintained by GAB for future use against Wisconsin politicians.” #wiright #wipolitics Click To Tweet
In his response, Schimel notes the GAB used documents seized by the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office in the original “John Doe I,” which was rolled into the “John Doe II” secret probe into dozens of conservative groups and Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign. The accountability board staff, with the help of their prosecutorial friends, then operated a kind of parallel investigation, a “John Doe III,” as DOJ investigators have described it.
“As explained fully in the report, ‘John Doe III’ was simply a shorthand description by the report. And all of these materials were co-mingled and mishandled, creating circumstances leading to the leak,” Schimel wrote in his response.
The co-mingling is where things press beyond what has been described as a professional, nonpartisan probe into Republican staffers campaigning on government time. As Schimel points out, prosecutors had already looked into potential violations and found no crimes had been committed. But the politically motivated GAB wasn’t finished.
“Although GAB apparently labeled this investigation as ‘2012-01 State time campaigning,’ GAB did not maintain this evidence separate from other cases, and did, in fact, comingle this evidence with the John Doe II investigation, which was labeled as ‘GAB investigation, 2013-02 Confidential,’” Schimel wrote.
“Shockingly, ‘John Doe III’ was not the only investigation evidence comingled …,” the AG’s response continues. “In fact, ‘John Doe III’ was just the tip of the iceberg of old evidence and allegations maintained by GAB for future use against Wisconsin politicians.”
The DOJ report found that Shane Falk, a former GAB attorney who led the agency’s part in the John Doe probes, was collecting and compiling hundreds of thousands of documents long after the John Doe judge told investigators to stop. Falk kept materials on an external hard drive that has gone missing, according to the report. Department of Justice investigators found reams of John Doe materials in “Falk Boxes.” Some of the materials ended up in folders labeled “Opposition Research.”
Falk has told other publications that he suspects the same Republicans targeted in the unconstitutional John Doe investigation labeled the files – a ludicrous supposition, according to Schimel.
The attorney general said one folder located on the same drive as one of the “Opposition Research” folders contained “dozens of investigations from 1990-2009.”
“These investigations include evidence and allegations against a ‘who’s who’ of Wisconsin politicians from the time period, including former Governors, cabinet members, legislators, lobbyists, and some of the most recognizable businesses and organizations in Wisconsin,” he wrote.
It’s real deep state surveillance stuff that should send shivers down the spines of any citizen who values basic constitutional rights, conservative targets of the John Doe say.
“It appears that under GAB, lawyers and investigators were permitted or perhaps even encouraged to keep closed ethics investigations on hard drives comingled with current investigations,” Schimel wrote in his response. “And then, when the investigation did not result in any violation, the GAB employees were allowed to dump them all in a box and place them haphazardly in a basement…”
Interestingly, one of the GAB communications included findings that lobbyists and the Walker campaign had complied with campaign finance law.
As to assertions by GAB bureaucrats and prosecutors that they acted appropriately, the agency – and its successor, the Wisconsin Ethics Commission – held onto John Doe documents that were ordered to be returned to the state Supreme Court after its ruling in July 2015 that “John Doe II” was unconstitutional.
Schimel said it is unknown whether the Ethics Commission, or Elections Commission (staffed by some of the old GAB players in the John Doe probes) still maintains the files on their electronic systems, in spite of requirements to the contrary. He suggests the Legislature complete “inventory of all investigative files (electronic or hard copy) still remaining” at the agencies.
State records retention laws call for the destruction of closed ethics investigations or the transfer of related documents to the State Historical Society.
“It appears that GAB did not honor the public records law regarding final disposition of records, and instead kept select files on hand to serve as a library of past allegations to be referenced in some future investigation or dispute,” Schimel wrote.
“This maintenance and comingling of evidence further supports the conclusion that GAB had been weaponized to achieve partisan advantage.”