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Democrats tap anti-terror expert to head secret probe of Wisconsin conservatives

By   /   November 1, 2013  /   No Comments

Part 5 of 226 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War

By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter

Illustration by Mike Shelton

REGARDING SCHMITZ: Artist rendering of what we believe Francis Schmitz, special prosecutor in a secret probe targeting conservatives, looks like.

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Democrats leading a secret investigation into conservative groups have brought in a heavy hitter — a former federal prosecutor who specialized in tracking terrorists.

Francis D. Schmitz, now in private practice in Waukesha, once served in the U.S. Department of Justice’s counterterrorism operations and helped apprehend a large group of foreigners carrying illegal visas, some of whom officials believed had ties with Sept. 11 hijackers.

Because of the secrecy surrounding the state’s so-called John Doe investigations, no one can say exactly how Schmitz, who rose to the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army, became the top prosecutor in the Democrats’ probe, which reportedly has spread to five counties.

“No prosecutor, whether or not they are involved in a John Doe, is going to make a comment on a secret John Doe proceeding,” Milwaukee County Assistant D.A. Bruce Landgraf said. “I mean, that is just not going to happen.”

Multiple sources told Wisconsin Reporter it’s easier to speculate about why Democrats chose Schmitz, one of George W. Bush’s three finalists for the position of U.S. attorney for the Milwaukee-based Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Wall, who worked for years alongside Schmitz, said he wasn’t surprised to learn his former colleague has been assigned to the John Doe probe.

“His ethics are beyond reproach,” Wall said. “He brings no bias to an investigation, other than to just basically find the truth.”

Others are more skeptical.

“It’s pretty clear what they’re up to here,” said a source, who requested anonymity because of his proximity to the investigation.

The Democrats hired Schmitz, the source said, because they think “his anti-terror experience will intimidate. I don’t think it’s too much to say it is designed to terrify some people.”

However, another source noted that whatever Schmitz’s skills are in spycraft, he has no First Amendment experience and no election-law background.

A source speculates that Schmitz, because of his “nominal ties to Republicans, gives a hyper-partisan investigation the public appearance of fairness.”

Though gagged by provisions of subpoenas issued by Milwaukee County’s Landgraf and others, multiple sources have told Wisconsin Reporter the Democrats’ manifold legal attack on nonprofit conservative organizations has included after-hours visits to homes and offices; confiscated equipment and files; and demands for phone, email and other records.

Those sources told Wisconsin Reporter the Democrats’ ultimate goal is to take down Republican Gov. Scott Walker — or to seriously hobble him during his 2014 re-election campaign. They note that news of the investigation broke about the time Democrat Mary Burke announced she would run against Walker.

When contacted by Wisconsin Reporter, Schmitz repeatedly declined to discuss the secret case, or even to acknowledge its existence.

By law, he can’t comment. Like the scores of individuals who have reportedly been subpoenaed or questioned in the investigation, Schmitz is bound to secrecy by Wisconsin’s long-standing John Doe law. Breaking that silence could land a violator behind bars.

Schmitz won’t even say much about himself. Asked Wednesday for details of his background, the prosecutor hesitated.

“Let me think about whether it’s even proper for me to acknowledge that,” Schmitz said, seconds before ending the short phone conversation.

Fortunately, there’s his LinkedIn profile, which reveals that Schmitz has spent most of his career working for an agency known for keeping secrets, serving in various positions at the Department of Justice from May 1983 to March 2013. He spent most of that time as an assistant U.S. attorney in the eastern district in Milwaukee.

During those three decades with the DOJ, Schmitz specialized in criminal and civil litigation, crisis response planning, international anti-terrorism training, management evaluations and policy development.

Schmitz, who also was a member of the DOJ’s National Security Division in Washington, D.C., for five years, was one of three finalists in 2002 for the U.S. attorney position at the eastern district of Milwaukee.

The job eventually went to Steven Biskupic, who worked alongside Schmitz in Milwaukee for several years.

Schmitz, a 1982 graduate of Marquette University Law School, also was the DOJ’s national crisis management coordinator and a member of its counterterrorism section.

Tracy M. Johnson, executive assistant U.S. attorney, confirmed that Schmitz had been employed at the Milwaukee office as an assistant U.S. attorney and retired earlier this year.

Because Schmitz is no longer with the U.S. attorney’s office, the DOJ cannot comment on his employment history, according to Dean Puschnig, law enforcement community coordinator for the state’s eastern district.

“It’s the policy of the Department of Justice not to provide any information on retired employees,” Puschnig said.

Biskupic also declined to talk about Schmitz because of potential conflicts with one of Biskupic’s clients.

“Obviously, I worked with Fran a long time and I have a lot of respect for him, and I’m going to leave it at that because … I’m also the lawyer for Friends of Scott Walker,” said Biskupic, who now runs his own practice.

Messages left with some of Schmitz’s former colleagues who still are employed at the U.S. attorney’s office in Milwaukee were not returned.

Wall, the only one to respond, worked with Schmitz on a late-1990s case that led to the conviction of the owners of an aluminum smelting firm who used their company as a springboard for a variety of fraudulent schemes. The trial lasted five weeks, and the pair worked close to 20-hour days in that span, Wall said.

“The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at that time called it the most complicated fraud scheme ever indicted in Wisconsin,” he said.

Schmitz also had been involved in a high-profile investigation in the early 2000s that resulted in the apprehension of 70 people accused of bribing U.S. embassy officials to get illegal visas, including seven who ended up in Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on July 12, 2002, reported that the seven were part of a larger group of foreigners from Jordan, Pakistan, Syria and Bangladesh who allegedly paid at least $10,000 each to an employee at the U.S. Embassy in Qatar between April 2000 and July 2001.

As part of the conspiracy, they received authentic six-month visas without security screenings or government authorization. Three were reported to have lived with Sept. 11 terrorists.

Shortly before he stepped down as assistant U.S. attorney earlier this year, Schmitz was also highly critical of an undercover sting in Milwaukee by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

A Journal Sentinel investigation brought to light several mistakes in the investigation, including guns stolen from agents, sensitive documents lost, charges brought against innocent people and a burglary of the sting storefront.

Schmitz told a judge he didn’t think the operation was the best use of law enforcement resources. He also didn’t believe the sting went far enough in going after violent offenders.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office has brought in a big gun to serve as special prosecutor in the latest John Doe probe.

The counterterrorism expert would seem to fit the John Doe operating manual for the Democratic prosecutor’s office. A previous John Doe probe launched by Milwaukee County D.A. John Chisholm in 2010 employed Milwaukee County Assistant D.A. David Robles, who has spearheaded the office’s anti-gang investigations.

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 Robles personally arrested Jensen for refusing to cooperate, arguably an indication of the aggressive nature of the investigations that sources say have terrorized conservatives in an assault on basic constitutional rights.

Jensen was later quietly exonerated.

Contact Adam Tobias at atobias@watchdog.org or follow him on Twitter at @Scoop_Tobias

Part of 226 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
  124. Source: Wisconsin Supreme Court doesn’t want political heat of John Doe case
  125. Appeals court reverses John Doe injunction, but Wisconsin’s secret war far from over
  126. A whistleblower’s story: Taking on a ‘hyper-partisan’ district attorney
  127. Conservative O’Keefe seeks investigation into John Chisholm and his John Doe
  128. Who’s paying the bill? Report casts questions on GAB and John Doe payments
  129. Target of secret John Doe probe is fighting back and speaking out
  130. The day John Doe rushed through the door
  131. Rindfleisch: ‘Rape’ not too strong a word for how violated John Doe targets feel
  132. Conservative group asks court to stop John Doe ‘constitutional injury’
  133. Conservatives to appeals court: ‘You don’t know Doe’
  134. Armed and growing: Milwaukee County DA beefs up his ‘police force’
  135. Federal judge stops John Doe prosecutors from bothering conservative group
  136. Wisconsin Supreme Court takes another pass on John Doe case
  137. No surprise: Bice buries the lead, Walker follows the law
  138. Federalism v. individual rights: A conversation with Eric O’Keefe
  139. Report: No district attorney will investigate District Attorney John Chisholm
  140. Appeals court denies request to rehear John Doe civil rights case
  141. Voters say ‘yes’ to Walker, ‘no’ to John Doe, law expert says
  142. Vos: There will be reforms to John Doe, GAB
  143. GAB, Milwaukee County DA bail on key provision behind war on conservatives
  144. John Doe lawsuit could be headed to U.S. Supreme Court
  145. Kelly Rindfleisch will fight on in Fourth Amendment case
  146. John Doe froze conservative speech, targets say
  147. Conservatives to court: Open up records on GAB’s role in John Doe
  148. Did the GAB doctor documents to cover their tracks in John Doe?
  149. Wisconsin’s Van Hollen says goodbye to AG post, John Doe
  150. Rindfleisch appeals to Supreme Court in John Doe Fourth Amendment abuse case
  151. Audit: GAB has failed to follow the law
  152. Wisconsin Supreme Court to take up John Doe complaints
  153. ‘R word’ surfaces in wake of state Supreme Court taking up John Doe challenges
  154. GAB won’t say whether it has reauthorized its role in John Doe probe
  155. Rogue agency defied judges to carry out partisan probe of Wisconsin conservatives
  156. ‘Outside the … law’: Lawmakers call for investigation of GAB
  157. Attorney: GAB’s John Doe justifications don’t hold up to law
  158. Isn’t it ironic: Mainstream silence follows reports of secret GAB Gmail in John Doe
  159. GAB offers contradictory defense of its John Doe activities
  160. O’Keefe officially asks judge to open probe into John ‘Doe’ Chisholm
  161. State lawmakers look to investigate the GAB and its investigators
  162. One year ago, judge’s ruling shakes up John Doe probe
  163. Doe possessed: ‘They have information about every aspect of our lives’
  164. GAB plays victim card in ‘complicated’ John Doe, campaign finance farce
  165. Public defender asks Supreme Court to take up John Doe-related Fourth Amendment case
  166. GAB has a sudden change of heart on campaign finance reform
  167. O’Keefe takes his case against John Doe to U.S. Supreme Court
  168. Conservatives: GAB’s meeting minutes show gap in board’s John Doe oversight
  169. How Wisconsin media support DA’s war on conservatives
  170. Federal judge’s judgment takes John Doe probe off life support
  171. Following judge’s order killing John Doe, what’s next?
  172. First Amendment expert: Wisconsin ought to be ’embarrassed’ by John Doe
  173. Does chief justice have conflict of interest in John Doe case?
  174. Conservative groups ask U.S. Supreme Court to defend rights of John Doe targets
  175. Is John Doe special prosecutor still working with partisan DA, GAB?
  176. Prosecutor misstatements continue to shape John Doe narrative, Walker’s future
  177. $775,000 and rising — Wisconsin taxpayers’ bill to defend John Doe prosecutors
  178. Milwaukee DA to be ‘special guest’ at fundraiser for Supreme Court justice
  179. John Doe reform bill aims to break silence of abusive investigations
  180. Reform bill would open up the John Doe books to taxpayers
  181. John Doe target says they are the victim of identity theft
  182. On Sunshine Week, GAB still operating in the dark
  183. Wisconsin Supreme Court rejects Rindfleisch Fourth Amendment appeal
  184. Secretive John Doe special prosecutor who fancies a good leak screams secrecy breach
  185. Kelly Rindfleisch hopes to avoid becoming first John Doe political prisoner
  186. GAB, friend of the John Doe, just wants to be a ‘friend of the court’
  187. Kelly Rindfleisch, Chisholm’s political prize, to begin sentence on Thursday
  188. U.S. Supreme Court could soon decide whether to take John Doe Case
  189. Did chief justice show her hand in dissenting John Doe opinion?
  190. New documents expose GAB’s ‘parallel’ probe expenditures
  191. Lawmaker: Chief justice’s civil rights complaint is ‘pathetic’
  192. John Doe reform bill stalls in Legislature
  193. Who was the reporter outside Cindy Archer’s house?
  194. U.S. Supreme Court to consider hearing John Doe-related case
  195. Experts: Chances rise that U.S. Supreme Court will take John Doe case
  196. Do Chisholm’s public comments on John Doe cross ethical line?
  197. John Chisholm’s 50 shades of ‘raid’
  198. Five years later: America just learning ‘tyrannical’ secrets of Wisconsin’s John Doe
  199. U.S. Supreme Court could announce decision on John Doe case later this month
  200. Wisconsin as a New Yorker cartoon of itself
  201. Will discovery reveal more bombshell information about ‘rogue’ GAB?
  202. Political prisoner Kelly Rindfleisch on home confinement, working for O’Keefe
  203. Warrants command John Doe targets to remain silent
  204. U.S. Supreme Court denies review of John Doe-related case
  205. Was John Chisholm John Doe distracted?
  206. John Doe reform bill stuck in legislative waiting game
  207. GAB reform stalled, new docs show GAB working closely with John Doe prosecutors
  208. Kelly Rindfleisch takes her Fourth Amendment fight to the U.S. Supreme Court
  209. What happened to Kelly Rindfleisch could happen to you
  210. Justice asks state Supreme Court to reconsider Rindfleisch Fourth Amendment appeal
  211. Justice Gableman: Warrants in Rindfleisch case amount to ‘fishing expedition’
  212. ‘Did they get me?’: Docs reveal long-time John Doe spying operation
  213. Kelly Rindfleisch: ‘I fear I will never get justice’
  214. Former Walker aide to file civil rights lawsuit against John Doe prosecutor
  215. Cindy Archer: Chisholm’s John Doe was ‘campaign of intimidation’
  216. National Review: Political John Doe victimized 16-year-old boy
  217. Wall Street Journal: GAB’s Kennedy had a friend in IRS’ Lois Lerner
  218. Vos: Time to ‘double down’ on GAB reform in wake of reported IRS links
  219. Left’s loud transparency defenders silent on secret John Doe
  220. The John Doe investigation might finally be over; Supreme Court to rule Thursday
  221. Wisconsin Supreme Court shuts down John Doe investigation
  222. Wisconsin Supreme Court shuts down John Doe investigation, affirms First Amendment
  223. Kelly Rindfleisch seeks release following death of John Doe probe
  224. Legal experts on right and left seek review of Rindfleisch John Doe conviction
  225. John Doe horror stories: ‘I felt completely helpless in my own home’
  226. Hillary Clinton plays victim card


Adam is an investigative journalist for the Madison-based Wisconsin Reporter. Contact him at atobias@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @Scoop_Tobias.