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.
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.
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 email@example.com
Wisconsin Reporter’s Adam Tobias and Ryan Ekvall contributed to the reporting of this story.
- Sources: Secret probe targeting conservatives is abuse of prosecutorial powers
- Scary! Phantom prosecutor in Dems’ war on conservatives disappears inside courthouse
- EXCLUSIVE: Judge in Democrat-led John Doe probe recuses herself
- Democrats’ ‘intelligence-gathering’ spreads in Wisconsin
- Democrats tap anti-terror expert to head secret probe of Wisconsin conservatives
- Sheriff Clarke: John Doe case shows Milwaukee DA is ‘weaponized for political purposes’
- Clarke: John Doe into conservatives ‘unbridled,’ ‘dangerous’ and ‘tainted’
- Sources: New judge named in Democrat-led secret probe
- Vendetta justice? Criticism growing about John Doe prosecutor Bruce Landgraf
- Will Wisconsin’s own ‘Miserable’ inspector jail conservative activist for speaking out about Dem probe?
- Conservative targets bring in big guns to Democrat-led John Doe fight
- ‘Dangerous’ game: Former FEC official blasts Democrats’ secret investigation of conservative groups
- Center for Media and Democracy: Liberals are morally superior
- Wisconsin Dems suddenly support political investigations
- WI Republican attorney general to represent judges in Democrat-led John Doe probe
- Republicans speak out about silent John Doe targeting conservatives
- Biggest secret in John Doe may be just how judges and special prosecutors are selected
- WSJ: John Doe judge deals body blow to secret probe targeting conservatives
- Vos: Wait until John Doe in ‘rearview mirror’ before revisiting law
- Lawsuits looming in Wisconsin’s crumbling John Doe probe?
- Conservative to Democrat prosecutors: Shut down secret political probe or face civil rights lawsuit
- John Doe target O’Keefe taking on IRS, too
- Lawmaker: Wisconsin’s John Doe like Christie’s ‘Bridgegate’
- Target files civil rights lawsuit against Wisconsin’s John Doe prosecutors
- Disparate treatment: Civil rights lawsuit claims conservative speech trampled
- Liberal group looking to take Wisconsin’s John Doe national
- John Doe judge: ‘Results of the John Doe speak for themselves’
- John Doe special prosecutor appeals judge’s ruling quashing subpoenas
- John Doe prosecutor pushed for brain-damaged man’s conviction in ATF debacle
- Conservatives counterpunch John Doe prosecutors’ move to stall injunction
- Shadowy John Doe investigator invokes federalism in civil rights lawsuit
- John Doe prosecutors wanted higher-priced lawyers, source says
- Secret agent Dean Nickel’s defense: ‘Dean Nickel is not responsible’
- D’oh! John Doe prosecutors claim secrecy protection – after filing secret documents
- Recusal in John Doe case raises questions of fairness, purpose
- Absolute immunity makes it tough to prosecute the prosecutors of John Doe
- Poll suggests Dems’ big ‘secret’ weapon against Walker is backfiring
- ‘Easy target': Kelly Rindfleisch breaks silence about John Doe probe
- SCOTUS ruling on campaign finance shows abuse of John Doe, targets say
- Nobody will say what John Doe’s shadow man did, but taxpayers are paying his legal bill
- Judge denies John Doe prosecutors’ move to dismiss civil rights suit
- Civil rights expert: John Doe law is ‘un-American,’ like something from ‘Nazi Germany’
- Target: John Doe prosecutors making up campaign law as they go along
- John Doe, as it is being used, must go, WI senator says
- John Doe target says prosecutors latest move another delay tactic
- John Doe prosecutors sound defensive in latest court filings
- Federal judge denies John Doe prosecutors’ motion to stall civil rights case
- Media coalition asks judge to open sealed John Doe documents
- Are John Doe prosecutors sweating out federal judge’s decision?
- John Doe is dead: Judge stops WI prosecutors’ probe into conservatives
- This is what the Fourth Amendment looks like?
- What’s next for now-defunct John Doe probe?
- Appeals court stalls judge’s order halting John Doe probe
- Federal judge’s ruling could open up sealed John Doe records
- Federal judge orders John Doe probe shut down again
- Lawmakers call for review of GAB’s secret John Doe activities, funds
- Lawyers, lawyers everywhere and other dispatches from John Doe Land
- Secret’s out: The world is beginning to learn more about WI’s John Doe
- Still their little secret? Questions remain on John Doe gag order
- Appeals Court declares portions of Wisconsin campaign finance law unconstitutional
- John Doe prosecutors suddenly support opening sealed court records
- Expert: It’s as if GAB decided ‘Citizens United didn’t exist’
- John Doe prosecutors voice phony outrage, legal source says
- GAB still reviewing court ruling declaring WI campaign finance law unconstitutional
- State Farm still doesn’t want to cover John Doe prosecutor’s legal bills
- For the Walker-hating left, John Doe is ‘Mission Accomplished’
- Sources: No urgency in WI Supreme Court on John Doe
- Would Walker settlement with John Doe prosecutors be a deal with the devil?
- Contempt questions surround reported John Doe deal talks
- Walker’s John Doe response raises more questions than answers
- Sources: Attorney General passes on defending GAB in John Doe cases
- Attorney to judge: Don’t let John Doe prosecutor ‘moot’ injunction
- John Doe targets sue Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board
- Federal judge says his order halting John Doe probe should be clear to prosecutor
- John Doe special prosecutor’s bill still shrouded in secrecy
- ‘Are these kind of armed pre-dawn raids standard operating procedure?’
- John Doe special prosecutor obeys judge’s order
- ‘Never-ending’ John Doe never ended, WSJ reports
- Appeals court upholds judge’s order shutting down John Doe probe
- O’Keefe keeps collecting big wins in John Doe lawsuit
- John Doe I judge says he’s not responsible for John Doe II
- Will taxpayers have to pay for frivolity of John Doe prosecutors?
- John Doe prosecutors jump back into the dark?
- What about those prosecutors? Questions surround other John Doe DAs
- Humiliated in court, WI Dems take their anti-conservative John Doe probe to the media
- Federal judge blasts John Doe prosecutors – again – as he denies records release
- Right on cue: Document dump fuels anti-Walker donation drive
- Wall Street Journal points out ‘disgrace’ of mainstream John Doe reporting
- Expert: John Doe raids raise ‘troubling’ Fourth Amendment questions
- Kelly Rindfleisch tells conservatives, ‘Don’t back down’
- Mainstream media forced to walk back Walker ‘criminal scheme’ narrative
- John Doe prosecutors engaged in premature justification, conservatives say
- Is John Doe probe a case of a mini NSA in Wisconsin?
- AG opinion means accountability board’s John Doe secrets are safe — for now
- Senator asks attorney general to compel GAB to open up its books
- GAB now playing secrets in state John Doe lawsuit
- Will John Doe prosecutors launch lengthy probe against Trek Bicycle?
- John Doe prosecutors engaged in war of words — lots and lots of words
- Judge denies conservatives’ request to add GAB to civil rights lawsuit
- Oral arguments set in John Doe prosecutors’ appeal
- In John Doe Land, the left doesn’t illegally coordinate
- John Doe document blitz must have broken mainstream media’s heart
- Senator: Looks like accountability board is hiding something
- Kelly Rindfleisch appeal to test validity of John Doe digital searches
- Conservatives in John Doe battle know disclosure comes with a heavy price
- Appeals court orders release of some John Doe documents
- Taxpayers on the hook up to $25,000 for GAB’s legal maneuvers
- Overheated media erroneously bring back Walker ‘criminal scheme’ theme
- ‘Retaliation': Docs show state prosecutors launched mini-NSA probe of WI conservatives
- John Doe prosecutors take desperate, unethical slap
- Walker ‘smoking gun’ story has tiny glaring flaw
- Wisconsin prosecutors aim to shut down conservatives
- Conservatives appeal to common sense in John Doe appeals case
- Conservatives say ‘incorrect disclosure’ of John Doe docs no ‘tiny error’
- First Amendment big guns back targets of John Doe probe
- Was John Doe judge a rubber stamp?
- $25,000 and counting: WI taxpayers’ bill so far to defend GAB and its ‘monster’
- Another blow for Wisconsin’s restrictive campaign finance law
- Wisconsin prosecutors appeal for protection from blowback in partisan probe
- Is John Doe story colored with a bit of ‘Macbeth?’
- GAB director says agency just following the law in John Doe probe
- Kelly Rindfleisch: Where are the tears for the kids the Milwaukee school system failed?
- Rindfleisch attorney: Appeals court can protect the Fourth Amendment in Digital Age
- Source: Wisconsin Supreme Court doesn’t want political heat of John Doe case
- Appeals court reverses John Doe injunction, but Wisconsin’s secret war far from over
- A whistleblower’s story: Taking on a ‘hyper-partisan’ district attorney
- Conservative O’Keefe seeks investigation into John Chisholm and his John Doe
- Who’s paying the bill? Report casts questions on GAB and John Doe payments
- Target of secret John Doe probe is fighting back and speaking out
- The day John Doe rushed through the door
- Rindfleisch: ‘Rape’ not too strong a word for how violated John Doe targets feel
- Conservative group asks court to stop John Doe ‘constitutional injury’
- Conservatives to appeals court: ‘You don’t know Doe’
- Armed and growing: Milwaukee County DA beefs up his ‘police force’
- Federal judge stops John Doe prosecutors from bothering conservative group
- Wisconsin Supreme Court takes another pass on John Doe case
- No surprise: Bice buries the lead, Walker follows the law
- Federalism v. individual rights: A conversation with Eric O’Keefe
- Report: No district attorney will investigate District Attorney John Chisholm
- Appeals court denies request to rehear John Doe civil rights case
- Voters say ‘yes’ to Walker, ‘no’ to John Doe, law expert says
- Vos: There will be reforms to John Doe, GAB
- GAB, Milwaukee County DA bail on key provision behind war on conservatives
- John Doe lawsuit could be headed to U.S. Supreme Court
- Kelly Rindfleisch will fight on in Fourth Amendment case
- John Doe froze conservative speech, targets say