Anti-Walker forces in Wisconsin may have broken the law and altered documents in cover-up

A major scandal involving a Democrat witch-hunt aimed at crippling the campaign of Governor Scott Walker may be breaking in Wisconsin.  Laws may have been broken by prosecutors seeking to discredit Walker, and it appears that documents may have been altered to hide evidence of misconduct.  It is too early to know with certainty, but this drama is playing out with zero mainstream media attention, but has the potential to generate headlines.

Some background:

Readers may recall the outrageous political prosecution attempted by Democrats in Wisconsin, using that state’s so-called “John Doe prosecution” system under the Badger State’s Government Accountability Board (GAB) – basically a secret investigation aimed at political corruption.  In what amounted to legal terrorism, SWAT teams conducted midnight raids on political supporters of Governor Scott Walker on the theory that there might have been illegal collusion between outside groups and his gubernatorial campaign.

The entire investigation, undertaken by Democrat prosecutors, was indefensible, and after Walker was re-elected despite these efforts, the GAB conceded as much.

In a court filing that one constitutional law expert calls a “stunning reversal,” the Government Accountability Board appears to concede that the “legal theory” driving the secret John Doe investigation into Wisconsin conservatives is legally “indefensible.”

joint motion filed by both parties on Election Day in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee stipulates that a court-issued injunction preventing the accountability board and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm from enforcing a constitutionally suspect section of Wisconsin campaign finance law will remain in force.

The agreement also halts further proceedings before U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa, while Milwaukee-based Citizens for Responsible Government Advocates, a conservative 501(c)(4) group, petitions the state Supreme Court to hear the case.

A constitutional law expert tells Wisconsin Reporter that the GAB and the district attorney have essentially “rolled over” on the merits of CRGA’s case, and that the accountability board and the DA are coming to terms with the fact that their interpretation of state campaign finance law is indefensible.

The Wisconsin Reporter absolutely owns coverage of the evolving scandal and has filed no fewer than 148 dispatches on it.  M.D. Kittle explains the latest developments:

The subjects of a multi-county John Doe probe suggest that government officials may have broken state law while pressing their investigation into Wisconsin conservatives, and then attempted to hide the violation by altering invoices and other documents.

That bombshell suggestion – that the Government Accountability Board went beyond its legal role as an investigative agency  – is backed by court documents reviewed Friday by Wisconsin Reporter, including some records in Waukesha County Circuit Court that apparently should not have been disclosed to the public.

On the surface, this may seem much ado about mere accounting. But the GAB under state law is prohibited from playing the role of prosecutor in criminal cases. If the agency paid for the services of a special prosecutor, it has exceeded its reach.

Conservatives who have sued the Government Accountability Board and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm already assert the GAB has overstepped its authority and misused taxpayer money.

“In general, what we are looking for is information about how much the GAB spent, who they paid … (and) whether the GAB possibly even changed who was being paid and what they were being paid for,” said Eddie Greim, attorney for Kansas City, Mo.–based Graves Garrett LLC, the firm representing political activist Eric O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth in the lawsuit against the state regulator of campaign finance and election law.

The plaintiffs want information obtained in discovery released to the public.

Asked Monday whether his formal legal questions of government officials revealed that the GAB altered or illicitly changed invoices regarding contracts with special investigators, Greim declined to comment.

But documents filed in Waukesha County Circuit Court and reviewed by Wisconsin Reporter show the GAB admits that it has employed Francis Schmitz and Dean Nickel as special investigators in the probe.

It was Nickel, a former longtime agent for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, who requested the search warrants for predawn, paramilitary-style raids on the homes of some conservative targets, according to the court documents. Schmitz was provided an office at the GAB’s headquarters in Madison, the documents state.

Did the GAB pay Schmitz for his role as special prosecutor in the investigation? Did it pay Nickel?

Doing so would appear to be outside the agency’s legally defined role.

Under state law, the state Department of Administration – not the GAB – is supposed to “pay bills of the special counsels or special investigator related to that case” within a certified “maximum amount.”

According to a court document, the district attorneys involved in the investigation in 2013 asked then-John Doe presiding Judge Barbara Kluka to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the growing, five-county investigation. Kluka did that, appointing Schmitz at a rate of $130 an hour, significantly higher than the standard $40 an hour rate for special prosecutor time spent outside the court, as outlined under state policy.

The appointment order, signed by Kluka and Schmitz on Aug. 23, 2013, requires Schmitz to be paid by the DOA.

But a June 30 Legislative Fiscal Bureau report indicates DOA wasn’t paying Schmitz.

So who paid Schmitz?

It is clear that “follow the money” is the key to unwinding the chicanery here, as it was in Watergate.

The GAB is using a dodge similar to what the IRS is employing to avoid disclosure of its misdeeds:

The GAB has argued since the lawsuit was filed in late May that releasing any information related to the investigation would violate state statute requiring confidentiality in such John Doe investigations and could expose the agency to criminal liability.

Greim said he could not disclose any information from discovery for the same reasons. But he is hopeful that Waukesha County Circuit Judge Lee S. Dreyfus Jr. will make public those court documents by year’s end.

Last week, the judge gave the GAB’s legal counsel until Dec. 12 to go through hundreds of pages of documents to determine what information should be redacted and remain classified.

Following that hearing and subsequent disclosure, we may know much more. Judge Dreyfus has scheduled a trial on the lawsuit brought by the conservative organizations that were targeted for September, 2015, which is when any possible Scott Walker campaign for president could get interesting.

Hat tip: Clarice Feldman