By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – The John Doe probe is no more.
“IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the … John Doe investigation Shall be, and hereby is, closed.”
With that pronouncement from former state Appeals Court Judge Neal Nettesheim, the nearly three-year John Doe investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s former aides and associates, when Walker served as Milwaukee County executive, ended.
Much to the dismay and disbelief of liberals and many in the Democratic Party, Walker walks away Scott-free from a super-secret probe with an ever-widening scope that led to charges against six people, and the convictions of three of Walker’s former assistants.
The John Doe investigation, which brought in untold witnesses and involved untold investigative hours and tax dollars, was in large part fuel to fire a Democratic Party of Wisconsin and organized labor recall movement against the Republican governor, a campaign Walker easily survived.
“I am glad the process had been completed,” the governor said in a statement, noting the investigation was spurred in 2010 when then- Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s asked Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm “to look into concerns” Walker had with a veterans program. Walker aide Timothy D. Russell in January was sentenced to two years in prison, after pleading guilty to taking more than $21,000 from Walker’s pet program for veterans, Operation Freedom.
“We appreciate the effort that was undertaken and to bring appropriate matters to justice,” Walker added in the statement.
Asked for further comment, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie directed Wisconsin Reporter to the governor’s political campaign. Werwie was granted immunity in the probe in exchange for his answers under oath.
The meat of the investigation involved allegations of county executive aides campaigning for Walker on the taxpayer’s dime. Walker was running for governor at the time.
Darlene Wink, who served as Milwaukee County constituent services coordinator for Walker, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of campaigning for the candidate on public time. And former Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch was sentenced late last year to six months in jail for campaign fundraising at the courthouse, where she used a secret email system, according to court documents.
Democrats sounded less-than-convinced by Chisholm’s pronouncement that he was “satisfied that all charges that are supported by proof beyond a reasonable doubt have now been brought and concluded.” In other words, Walker, who was not accused of any wrongdoing during the probe, was not and will not be charged in the case.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, called on Walker to “take responsibility for the criminal activity that happened on his watch.”
“While the governor was not charged, he must make a statement accepting responsibility for the people he trusted, hired and supervised and apologize to the taxpayers, particularly the veterans, who were cheated,” Barca said in a statement.
“Now Governor Walker must address these problems and let the people of Wisconsin know how he will prevent illegal activity that happened in his offices from happening again. He also must pledge to do better for our citizens in the future,” Barca added.
Wisconsin Constitutional law expert Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty and adjunct law professor at Marquette University, would disagree with Barca’s assertion.
“I guess Scott Walker, at least in so far as he ran the county executive office, is certifiably not guilty,” he said. “I apologize for the term, but this guy (Walker) has gotten a legal proctological examination and he passed.”
While Esenberg credits the district attorney for “not bringing some trumped-up charge” against Walker, he said the investigation was fraught with politics and riddled with leaks to media, exposures that became political footballs in deeply partisan times.
“I think the public has reason to wonder whether this is a good use of public resources,” Esenberg said of the ever-widening probe.
Wisconsin Reporter has requested an accounting of the cost of the John Doe investigation from the Milwaukee County D.A.’s office. As of this post, that information had not been received.
The investigation did lead to the guilty plea of Brian Pierick, Russell’s domestic partner, on a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Pierick had been charged with felony enticement of a child and causing a child to expose his genitals, before cutting a deal with prosecutors.
The John Doe probe and the shadow surrounding Walker added fuel to the fire of the recall campaign that sought Walker’s ouster.
Had Walker lost the recall election, voters would have been left with the same conclusion to the investigation, and a duly elected governor would have been out of a job, Esenberg said.
“It’s the old story, where do I go to get my reputation back?” Esenberg said of a point that the law expert asserts should not be dismissed as a hypothetical counterfactual.
Contact Matt Kittle at [email protected]