By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — For the second time in three and a half years, a Democrat District Attorney of Milwaukee County has launched a secret investigation into conservatives, with the apparent goal of bringing down Gov. Scott Walker, sources tell Wisconsin Reporter.
Though gagged by provisions of subpoenas issued by Milwaukee County Assistant D.A. Bruce Landgraf and others, multiple sources told Wisconsin Reporter the manifold legal attack on nonprofit political organizations has included after-hours visits to homes and offices; confiscated equipment and files; and demands for phone, email and other records.
“This is a taxpayer-funded, opposition-research campaign,” one source said. “This is not a question of what conservatives did wrong. It’s a question of one party in this state using prosecutorial powers to conduct a one-sided investigation into conservatives.”
Landgraf launched this latest John Doe probe quietly in February 2012. It was first revealed last week by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Wisconsin Reporter has learned the probe targets conservative advocacy organizations and at least one Republican official. Landgraf’s boss is Milwaukee County D.A. John Chisholm, a Democrat. The assistant D.A. told Wisconsin Reporter he would not comment.
Multiple sources, who requested anonymity because of their proximity to the probe or to people involved, say the D.A.’s office expanded his investigation to include such national conservative organizations as Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and the Republican Governors Association. One source said the groups have received — or have been told they’ll receive — subpoenas issued under the state’s so-called John Doe law.
“What I hear is that it’s all outside, independent groups being questioned about whether they worked with campaigns,” one insider told Wisconsin Reporter. “Everybody is being sniffed into.”
Another source with knowledge of the investigation claims “investigators are spying on people and using the power of government to collect records.”
Sound familiar? The probe, sources say, recalls this past summer’s revelations that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted conservative nonprofits for special scrutiny.
The Journal Sentinel has reported that the probe, which includes at least five counties, aims to find campaign law violations related to Wisconsin’s unprecedented spate of partisan recall elections.
The current investigation overlapped the lengthy John Doe into Walker’s staff members and associates when Walker was still Milwaukee County executive in 2010.
Many saw John Doe One as a partisan effort to hobble Scott Walker. The Republican governor would go on to lead Act 10, the state law that reformed public employee collective bargaining and sparked a wave of mass union protests in Madison and the recall campaigns.
Six Republicans and three Democrats in the Senate faced recall in 2011, and in June 2012, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and three of four Republicans in Senate recall races survived. Walker won, too, the first governor in U.S. history to beat back a recall attempt.
John Doe One led to the convictions of six people, but ended in March with no charges filed against Walker.
Because of the secret nature of John Doe investigations, it’s not clear how many people were targeted, subpoenaed, contacted, questioned or called to testify in John Doe One, which, thanks to multiple leaks, proved anything but secret.
At least one business professional, however, was arrested, his name dragged out in the media as a suspect in the politically charged probe, only to be untangled from the allegations.
In John Doe One, Milwaukee commercial real estate broker Andrew P. Jensen Jr. was arrested without being charged for failing to cooperate with the ongoing investigation. Sources told the Journal Sentinel that Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney David Robles personally arrested Jensen for refusing to cooperate, according to the Journal Sentinel.
Months later, Jensen was quietly exonerated.
Jensen did not return several calls and emails from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment.
Announcing John Doe One closed, Chisholm said he was satisfied that all charges “supported by proof beyond a reasonable doubt have now been brought and concluded.”
What Chisholm did not say was that his office had already been working for a year on what’s come to be called John Doe Two.
“Most normal people would be terrified to have their names connected in the press to a felony criminal case,” said a source who told Wisconsin Reporter he did not want his name publicly tied to the secret investigation.
During a stop in Green Bay last week, Walker declined to answer questions about the latest John Doe, calling it a “sidebar issue.”
But the governor admitted he found the timing of the investigation curious. He noted that the Journal Sentinel revelations followed his signing into law a $100 million property tax relief bill and the announcement that Democrat Mary Burke would face Walker in the 2014 governor’s race.
“From our standpoint, we assume with there now officially being a candidate for governor on the Democrat side, there are going to be stories like this coming out – in some ways, I think, distracting from our good work on improving the economy and providing $100 million worth of tax relief,” Walker said in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story.
The Journal Sentinel reported that Francis Schmitz has been appointed special prosecutor in the 20-month-old probe. Because Schmitz was a finalist for a U.S. attorney post in President George W. Bush’s administration, sources told Wisconsin Reporter they believe his appointment is aimed at easing criticisms about the partisan nature of the investigation.
Like a grand jury, John Doe investigations give prosecutors subpoena and search powers, as well as the ability to call oath-bound witnesses to testify. And it’s all conducted in secret. The investigation draws its name from the unnamed people involved, and is intended to be an independent, investigative tool to determine whether a crime has been committed – and if so, by whom.
John Does come with strict penalties for those who violate the terms of the secret proceedings.
Wisconsin Reporter requested comment from multiple conservative organizations rumored to have been served with a John Doe subpoenaed. None would comment.
Contact M.D. Kittle at email@example.com