Doe gathered millions of documents from Republicans
MADISON - A sweeping and now-closed investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's campaign gathered millions of pages of records about Republicans, prompting a U.S. Senate candidate to say Thursday she was considering legal responses.
Also Thursday, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge William Hue — the judge now in charge of the John Doe probe — said he did not recall posting messages on Twitter about the investigation before he got the case. After a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter pointed out his numerous posts, Hue said he thought they did not show any bias, but would bring them to the attention of the state Supreme Court's chief justice and would hear out anyone who thought he should step aside.
John Doe prosecutors issued at least 218 subpoenas that generated emails and other documents totaling millions of pages, according to a report by GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel that became public Wednesday.
U.S. Senate candidate and state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) told WTMJ-AM (620) on Thursday that she was horrified that investigators had scooped up emails with her daughter that included private medical information.
"It is un-American," Vukmir said. "I am going to exhaust all options — both legal and legislative — for recourse here."
Investigators seized emails from Republicans that appeared to have nothing to do with the underlying probe, such as those about a Bible study group and a discussion between parents about a daughter's need for a gynecologist. For unknown reasons, some emails were placed into a folder marked "opposition research."
The report closes out a months-long probe into the leak to the Guardian U.S. of documents under a judge's secrecy order
The Guardian published more than 1,300 pages of records in 2016. Among them were ones showing that Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature approved a 2013 measure aimed at retroactively shielding paint makers from liability after a billionaire owner of a lead producer contributed $750,000 to a political group that provided crucial support to Republicans in recall elections.
Schimel couldn't prove who leaked the records but concluded they came from the now-disbanded Government Accountability Board. The agency, which at the time oversaw elections and ethics laws, assisted special prosecutor Francis Schmitz with the probe.
Schimel recommended that contempt of court proceedings be initiated for Schmitz, former accountability board attorney Shane Falk and seven others for their handling of the material. In addition, Schimel recommended that Falk be referred to the state Office of Lawyer Regulation for possible professional sanctions.
Hue, the John Doe judge, said he would decide over the next couple of weeks what to do next with the case and what authority he has to consider contempt proceedings.
If Hue finds contempt proceedings aren’t necessary, he would likely shut down the case, the judge said. If he believes they are warranted, he would likely hold an open court hearing to consider that possibility and commence contempt proceedings if necessary, he said.
Hue, who frequently posts about politics under the account @therealfakebill, inherited the case after Jefferson County Circuit Judge David Wambach retired in March.
Hue said he did not recall tweeting about the case and had told Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack that he did not think he had done so prior to her appointing him. He said he would alert her to them soon.
“I never dreamed I’d be the John Doe judge," he said, referring to the times when he tweeted about the case.
Hue said he thought he could be fair but would hear anyone out if they thought the tweets showed bias.
"I actually think I would be fair to both sides," he said.
Responding to a Journal Sentinel story in October 2016 about campaigns working with outside groups, Hue tweeted, “Both sides do it but John Doe II only went after Republicans HARD. Imagine if the investigation fairly targeted BOTH parties.”
In an August 2015 tweet, he wrote that Cindy Archer, a Walker adviser caught up in John Doe I, “has not served anyone well” by exaggerating a raid of her home.
"She exaggerated the details in an important way. It calls the entire narrative into question," Hue wrote.
Those caught up in the probe have brought multiple lawsuits over how Schmitz's investigation was conducted. Schimel's report could offer new fuel to those efforts.
"The AG’s new report ... shows that the prosecution and GAB team deliberately avoided implementing the basic protections and processes that are hallmarks of a fair, effective criminal investigation," attorney Eddie Greim said Thursday.
Greim represents the conservative MacIver Institute, which has a lawsuit over the investigation before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
The investigation of the governor's campaign was dubbed John Doe II and grew out of an earlier John Doe investigation of Walker's aides and associates. The state Supreme Court shut down the probe in 2015, finding nothing illegal had occurred.
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) noted that the first John Doe probe had resulted in convictions.
"Rather than defending a culture of corruption and allowing powerful corporations to secretly buy political influence, we need to expose campaign finance abuses," Shilling said in a statement.
Schimel’s report said then-state Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson had inspected the evidence in the John Doe II probe in the court clerk’s office just before Department of Justice investigators arrived there to review documents.
Abrahamson Thursday said she had been checking to make sure the material was secure and was "irritated" investigators hadn't interviewed her to check their facts.
"The footnote is inaccurate," she said of Schimel's description of what she did. "My only involvement was to make sure the boxes were fully sealed and a log had been checked. At no time did I review the contents of those sealed boxes."
GOP lawmakers and Walker in 2015 approved replacing the accountability board with two bipartisan commissions.