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Scary! Phantom prosecutor in Dems’ war on conservatives disappears inside courthouse

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Part 2 of 123 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Just in time for Halloween, it’s the Phantom of the Courthouse.

The special prosecutor in Democrats’ super-secret political investigation of conservatives arrived at the Dane County Courthouse Tuesday morning — only to disappear without a trace.

Francis Schmitz, a former federal prosecutor and one-time finalist for U.S. attorney in Milwaukee, showed up at the courthouse just after 8 a.m. I spotted him walking up to the triangular-shaped “flatiron” justice center. I asked whether his business there had anything to do with the so-called John Doe probe that is, according to multiple sources, targeting conservative groups.

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ABOUT SCHMITZ: Artist rendering of what we believe Francis Schmitz, special prosecutor in a secret probe targeting conservatives, looks like. (Mike Shelton illustration)

Schmitz told me he couldn’t talk about the reported John Doe, and asked how I got his contact information.

The answer to that question is Wisconsin Reporter’s secret.

We entered the courthouse security checkpoint at the same time, but I was stopped as I moved through the metal detector.

While a guard asked me to remove my belt amid the squeal of the metal detector’s alarm, Schmitz slipped through security and onto the elevator before I could ask him follow-up questions about the investigation.

And just like that, he was gone.

No one at the courthouse seemed to know anything about Francis Schmitz, why he was there, or just where in the building he was. Dane County District Court Administrator Gail Richardson said she wasn’t aware Schmitz was even in the building.

The bailiff and other court staff advised Wisconsin Reporter to check with the Dane County District Attorney’s office. A receptionist there said she hadn’t heard of Schmitz and didn’t see him enter the office. When Wisconsin Reporter asked to speak with Dane County District Attorney Ismael R. Ozanne, the receptionist said he would be tied up most of the day.

Wisconsin Reporter’s investigative team cooled its heels outside a fourth floor courtroom, where one official said a session involving “outside” legal business was to take place.

No Doe there.

Wisconsin Reporter’s Adam Tobias remained at the courthouse until early afternoon, but the phantom of the courthouse never re-materialized.

I did reach Schmitz via phone around lunchtime.

“Is this the same (M.D.) Kittle who asked me this morning whether I had a comment on the John Doe investigation?” Schmitz asked. I said it was. “What makes you think I am going to say anything different now?”

“I’m a journalist. I’m a constant optimist,” I replied. So, did Schmitz have a comment on the Doe investigation or the reason for his business at the courthouse?

“I have no comment, sir,” Schmitz said.

As revealed by Wisconsin Reporter Monday, the secret investigation launched by the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office in early 2012 is trained on national conservative organizations, including Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and the Republican Governors Association. Multiple sources, who asked to remain anonymous due to their proximity to the probe or the people in it, corroborated that story.

One source with knowledge of the investigation said the groups have received — or have been told they’ll receive — subpoenas issued under the state’s so-called John Doe law.

Though gagged by provisions of subpoenas issued by Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney 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.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which first reported news of the latest John Doe last week, said Schmitz, who spent nearly 30 years as a federal prosecutor, has been appointed a special prosecutor in the probe. The newspaper, quoting unnamed sources, said the investigation into possible campaign violations during the Badger State’s unprecedented recall elections has spread to five Wisconsin counties, including Dane.

Ozanne, Dane County’s district attorney, didn’t return several requests from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment Tuesday.

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SPECIAL PLACE: The Dane County Courthouse in downtown Madison hosted Francis Schmitz, who, according to several sources, is special prosecutor in a secret John Doe investigation targeting conservative groups. What Schmitz did there Tuesday isn’t clear.

One source with information on the probe told Wisconsin Reporter that “investigators are spying on people and using the power of government to collect records.”

The investigation, sources say, recalls this past summer’s revelations that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted conservative nonprofits for special scrutiny.

The current court-administered dragnet overlapped the lengthy John Doe into Gov. Scott Walker’s staff members and associates when Walker was still Milwaukee County executive in 2010.

Sources reportedly told the Journal Sentinel the latest John Doe is following up on a number of leads turned up by an earlier probe, led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, into former aides and associates of Walker when he was Milwaukee County executive.

Many saw John Doe One as a partisan effort to hobble 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.

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 didn’t say was that his office had already been working for a year on what’s come to be called John Doe Two.

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.

So it isn’t surprising Schmitz had nothing to say to me about the investigation. On Tuesday, the phantom of the courthouse, the special prosecutor that nobody in Dane County justice seems to know, receded into the secrecy of the John Doe.

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org

Wisconsin Reporter’s Adam Tobias and Ryan Ekvall contributed to the reporting of this story.

Part of 123 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
  42. Civil rights expert: John Doe law is ‘un-American,’ like something from ‘Nazi Germany’
  43. Target: John Doe prosecutors making up campaign law as they go along
  44. John Doe, as it is being used, must go, WI senator says
  45. John Doe target says prosecutors latest move another delay tactic
  46. John Doe prosecutors sound defensive in latest court filings
  47. Federal judge denies John Doe prosecutors’ motion to stall civil rights case
  48. Media coalition asks judge to open sealed John Doe documents
  49. Are John Doe prosecutors sweating out federal judge’s decision?
  50. John Doe is dead: Judge stops WI prosecutors’ probe into conservatives
  51. This is what the Fourth Amendment looks like?
  52. What’s next for now-defunct John Doe probe?
  53. Appeals court stalls judge’s order halting John Doe probe
  54. Federal judge’s ruling could open up sealed John Doe records
  55. Federal judge orders John Doe probe shut down again
  56. Lawmakers call for review of GAB’s secret John Doe activities, funds
  57. Lawyers, lawyers everywhere and other dispatches from John Doe Land
  58. Secret’s out: The world is beginning to learn more about WI’s John Doe
  59. Still their little secret? Questions remain on John Doe gag order
  60. Appeals Court declares portions of Wisconsin campaign finance law unconstitutional
  61. John Doe prosecutors suddenly support opening sealed court records
  62. Expert: It’s as if GAB decided ‘Citizens United didn’t exist’
  63. John Doe prosecutors voice phony outrage, legal source says
  64. GAB still reviewing court ruling declaring WI campaign finance law unconstitutional
  65. State Farm still doesn’t want to cover John Doe prosecutor’s legal bills
  66. For the Walker-hating left, John Doe is ‘Mission Accomplished’
  67. Sources: No urgency in WI Supreme Court on John Doe
  68. Would Walker settlement with John Doe prosecutors be a deal with the devil?
  69. Contempt questions surround reported John Doe deal talks
  70. Walker’s John Doe response raises more questions than answers
  71. Sources: Attorney General passes on defending GAB in John Doe cases
  72. Attorney to judge: Don’t let John Doe prosecutor ‘moot’ injunction
  73. John Doe targets sue Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board
  74. Federal judge says his order halting John Doe probe should be clear to prosecutor
  75. John Doe special prosecutor’s bill still shrouded in secrecy
  76. ‘Are these kind of armed pre-dawn raids standard operating procedure?’
  77. John Doe special prosecutor obeys judge’s order
  78. ‘Never-ending’ John Doe never ended, WSJ reports
  79. Appeals court upholds judge’s order shutting down John Doe probe
  80. O’Keefe keeps collecting big wins in John Doe lawsuit
  81. John Doe I judge says he’s not responsible for John Doe II
  82. Will taxpayers have to pay for frivolity of John Doe prosecutors?
  83. John Doe prosecutors jump back into the dark?
  84. What about those prosecutors? Questions surround other John Doe DAs
  85. Humiliated in court, WI Dems take their anti-conservative John Doe probe to the media
  86. Federal judge blasts John Doe prosecutors – again – as he denies records release
  87. Right on cue: Document dump fuels anti-Walker donation drive
  88. Wall Street Journal points out ‘disgrace’ of mainstream John Doe reporting
  89. Expert: John Doe raids raise ‘troubling’ Fourth Amendment questions
  90. Kelly Rindfleisch tells conservatives, ‘Don’t back down’
  91. Mainstream media forced to walk back Walker ‘criminal scheme’ narrative
  92. John Doe prosecutors engaged in premature justification, conservatives say
  93. Is John Doe probe a case of a mini NSA in Wisconsin?
  94. AG opinion means accountability board’s John Doe secrets are safe — for now
  95. Senator asks attorney general to compel GAB to open up its books
  96. GAB now playing secrets in state John Doe lawsuit
  97. Will John Doe prosecutors launch lengthy probe against Trek Bicycle?
  98. John Doe prosecutors engaged in war of words — lots and lots of words
  99. Judge denies conservatives’ request to add GAB to civil rights lawsuit
  100. Oral arguments set in John Doe prosecutors’ appeal
  101. In John Doe Land, the left doesn’t illegally coordinate
  102. John Doe document blitz must have broken mainstream media’s heart
  103. Senator: Looks like accountability board is hiding something
  104. Kelly Rindfleisch appeal to test validity of John Doe digital searches
  105. Conservatives in John Doe battle know disclosure comes with a heavy price
  106. Appeals court orders release of some John Doe documents
  107. Taxpayers on the hook up to $25,000 for GAB’s legal maneuvers
  108. Overheated media erroneously bring back Walker ‘criminal scheme’ theme
  109. ‘Retaliation’: Docs show state prosecutors launched mini-NSA probe of WI conservatives
  110. John Doe prosecutors take desperate, unethical slap
  111. Walker ‘smoking gun’ story has tiny glaring flaw
  112. Wisconsin prosecutors aim to shut down conservatives
  113. Conservatives appeal to common sense in John Doe appeals case
  114. Conservatives say ‘incorrect disclosure’ of John Doe docs no ‘tiny error’
  115. First Amendment big guns back targets of John Doe probe
  116. Was John Doe judge a rubber stamp?
  117. $25,000 and counting: WI taxpayers’ bill so far to defend GAB and its ‘monster’
  118. Another blow for Wisconsin’s restrictive campaign finance law
  119. Wisconsin prosecutors appeal for protection from blowback in partisan probe
  120. Is John Doe story colored with a bit of ‘Macbeth?’
  121. GAB director says agency just following the law in John Doe probe
  122. Kelly Rindfleisch: Where are the tears for the kids the Milwaukee school system failed?
  123. Rindfleisch attorney: Appeals court can protect the Fourth Amendment in Digital Age

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Kittle is a 25-year veteran of radio, newspaper and online journalism. In July 2011, Kittle joined Watchdog.org as bureau chief for Wisconsin Reporter. He has spent much of the past three years covering the seismic political changes taking place in the Badger State. Last year, Kittle joined Watchdog’s national reporting team, covering everything from energy policy to governmental assaults on civil rights. Beyond being published in Wisconsin’s daily newspapers and in multimedia news outlets, Kittle’s work has appeared on Fox News, and in Human Events, Reason Magazine, Newsmax and Town Hall. His special investigation into a politically charged John Doe probe, “Wisconsin’s Secret War,” was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze. Kittle has made several appearances on Fox News, including “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren. He serves as weekly politics commentator for Lake 96.1 FM in Lake Geneva, and WRJN-AM 1400 in Racine. His resume includes multiple awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, Wisconsin Broadcast Association and other journalism associations. Contact Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org.