By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. – Political activist Eric O’Keefe told the Wall Street Journal he’d been subpoenaed in a Democrat-led John Doe investigation of Wisconsin conservatives.
That simple act of speech could land O’Keefe, director of conservative advocacy group Wisconsin Club for Growth, in jail. Under Wisconsin law, individuals who violate the state’s John Doe secrecy oath may be held in contempt of court.
A legal expert familiar with the investigation says chances are good Bruce Landgraf, the Milwaukee County assistant district attorney who launched the investigation, will go after O’Keefe.
“(The prosecutor) wants to conduct his program without any interference. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he (Landgraf) acted aggressively,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
Multiple sources told Wisconsin Reporter that Landgraf, a top prosecutor in the office of John Chisholm, Milwaukee County’s Democrat district attorney, has shown himself ready to bully and even flout the law in pursuit of political targets. In his previous use of the John Doe law to target conservatives, Landgraf put two men in jail for refusing to be strong-armed into testifying.
Landgraf is being sued by Rice Lake Harley-Davidson dealer Christopher Brekken for false imprisonment and abuse of process in the fall of 2010. In that politically charged John Doe, Landgraf targeted former aides and associates of Gov. Scott Walker when Walker was Milwaukee County executive.
The judge in that investigation issued a subpoena on the prosecution’s request and later ordered Brekken arrested and jailed because he would not turn over the credit card information of a man eventually convicted in the probe. Ironically, submitting to the DA’s demand for credit card information from his motorcycle dealership would have exposed Brekken to prosecution under a separate Wisconsin law that prohibits retailers from revealing confidential credit card information.
“I don’t know whether (Landgraf) is venal, lazy or incompetent, but I suspect it’s all of the above,” said the legal expert, who has followed Landgraf’s prosecutions in Milwaukee County.
Then there was the case of Andrew P. Jensen, the commercial real estate broker locked up for refusing to cooperate with the first Doe. Jensen was quietly exonerated several months later.
Landgraf, because of the secrecy order, has declined to comment on the John Doe investigations.
Wisconsin Reporter has reported the current probe requires responses “in person or in writing” from “about 100 people.” But sources said O’Keefe and other targets of the investigation have no intention of laying down for what they see as a political witch hunt.
“If he (Landgraf) doesn’t like to be challenged, he’s in for a very unpleasant time. He’s got a tiger by the tail, and he’s not up to it,” said a source close to the investigation.
As Wisconsin Reporter first reported last month, the so-called John Doe investigation launched in early 2012 by the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office has targeted state conservatives and such national groups as Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and the Republican Governors Association, and, we now learn, Walker’s campaign.
One source with knowledge of the investigation says the ultimate goal is to bring down Walker, the bane of Wisconsin liberals.
Though gagged by provisions of subpoenas sought by Landgraf and others, several sources have 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. The sources have asked to remain anonymous due to their proximity to the investigation or to people connected to it.
The Wall Street Journal opinion piece added color to Wisconsin Reporter’s accounts. O’Keefe told the Journal he received his subpoena in early October. He said that at least three of targets of the investigation had their homes raided at dawn.
O’Keefe, who formerly served as chairman and CEO of the conservative Sam Adams Alliance, a financial supporter of Wisconsin Reporter parent, the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, did not respond to Wisconsin Reporter’s requests for comment.
O’Keefe told the Wall Street Journal that the flurry of subpoenas “froze my communications and frightened many allies and vendors of the pro-taxpayer political movement in Wisconsin and across the country.”
Ultimately, said a legal expert who spoke to Wisconsin Reporter on condition of anonymity, the John Doe process will be its own punishment.
“If it goes on, leaked and used irresponsibly in the 2014 campaign, the only way to get relief from that impact on constitutionally protected activity is to respond aggressively,” the source said.
Another source, a Republican official close to targets in the probe, tells Wisconsin Reporter that his friends have simply stopped talking.
“They’re tighter than a drum,” the source said.
And, as the Wall Street Journal piece notes, political silence may be exactly what Democrats driving this latest John Doe case are hoping for.
That fact is not lost on inner-circle Republicans.
“It’s frustrating,” a Republican source said. “The longer this drags on, the longer it’s going to play into the (2014) re-election (of Walker). It’s stifling any kind of talk, and I imagine it’s difficult to raise money right now … It’s not good for anybody.”
Contact M.D. Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org
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