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Sources: Secret probe targeting conservatives is abuse of prosecutorial powers

By   /   October 28, 2013  /   No Comments

Part 1 of 41 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War

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.”


PARTISAN PROBE: The latest secret investigation launched by the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office reportedly began in 2012, amid politically charged recall campaigns against Republican Gov. Scott Walker and four GOP state senators.

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.


‘SIDEBAR ISSUE’: At a stop in Green Bay last week, Walker called the latest John Doe nothing more than a “distraction” and a “sidebar issue.”

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 mkittle@watchdog.org

Part of 41 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War
  1. Sources: Secret probe targeting conservatives is abuse of prosecutorial powers
  2. Scary! Phantom prosecutor in Dems’ war on conservatives disappears inside courthouse
  3. EXCLUSIVE: Judge in Democrat-led John Doe probe recuses herself
  4. Democrats’ ‘intelligence-gathering’ spreads in Wisconsin
  5. Democrats tap anti-terror expert to head secret probe of Wisconsin conservatives
  6. Sheriff Clarke: John Doe case shows Milwaukee DA is ‘weaponized for political purposes’
  7. Clarke: John Doe into conservatives ‘unbridled,’ ‘dangerous’ and ‘tainted’
  8. Sources: New judge named in Democrat-led secret probe
  9. Vendetta justice? Criticism growing about John Doe prosecutor Bruce Landgraf
  10. Will Wisconsin’s own ‘Miserable’ inspector jail conservative activist for speaking out about Dem probe?
  11. Conservative targets bring in big guns to Democrat-led John Doe fight
  12. ‘Dangerous’ game: Former FEC official blasts Democrats’ secret investigation of conservative groups
  13. Center for Media and Democracy: Liberals are morally superior
  14. Wisconsin Dems suddenly support political investigations
  15. WI Republican attorney general to represent judges in Democrat-led John Doe probe
  16. Republicans speak out about silent John Doe targeting conservatives
  17. Biggest secret in John Doe may be just how judges and special prosecutors are selected
  18. WSJ: John Doe judge deals body blow to secret probe targeting conservatives
  19. Vos: Wait until John Doe in ‘rearview mirror’ before revisiting law
  20. Lawsuits looming in Wisconsin’s crumbling John Doe probe?
  21. Conservative to Democrat prosecutors: Shut down secret political probe or face civil rights lawsuit
  22. John Doe target O’Keefe taking on IRS, too
  23. Lawmaker: Wisconsin’s John Doe like Christie’s ‘Bridgegate’
  24. Target files civil rights lawsuit against Wisconsin’s John Doe prosecutors
  25. Disparate treatment: Civil rights lawsuit claims conservative speech trampled
  26. Liberal group looking to take Wisconsin’s John Doe national
  27. John Doe judge: ‘Results of the John Doe speak for themselves’
  28. John Doe special prosecutor appeals judge’s ruling quashing subpoenas
  29. John Doe prosecutor pushed for brain-damaged man’s conviction in ATF debacle
  30. Conservatives counterpunch John Doe prosecutors’ move to stall injunction
  31. Shadowy John Doe investigator invokes federalism in civil rights lawsuit
  32. John Doe prosecutors wanted higher-priced lawyers, source says
  33. Secret agent Dean Nickel’s defense: ‘Dean Nickel is not responsible’
  34. D’oh! John Doe prosecutors claim secrecy protection – after filing secret documents
  35. Recusal in John Doe case raises questions of fairness, purpose
  36. Absolute immunity makes it tough to prosecute the prosecutors of John Doe
  37. Poll suggests Dems’ big ‘secret’ weapon against Walker is backfiring
  38. ‘Easy target’: Kelly Rindfleisch breaks silence about John Doe probe
  39. SCOTUS ruling on campaign finance shows abuse of John Doe, targets say
  40. Nobody will say what John Doe’s shadow man did, but taxpayers are paying his legal bill
  41. Judge denies John Doe prosecutors’ move to dismiss civil rights suit

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M.D. Kittle