Scott Walker and John Doe III: Electric Boogaloo Liner Notes

My latest column, “Bombshell Report: Political Persecution Of Scott Walker Swept Up High-Level GOP Officials,” is up at The Federalist.  Although the “swept up” bit refers more to a sort of “incidental collection” of messages while targeting others (here, Wisconsin GOP officials), it is a case where an already crazy story is shown in this report to be even crazier than we previously knew.

Conservatives may recall the “John Doe II” investigation in which partisan government employees harassed Gov. Walker’s supporters and seized their records — business and personal — in an effort to show they illegally coordinated their activities during Walker’s hotly-contested recall election in 2012.

This newly-unsealed report by the state’s Attorney General reveals three new aspects of the John Doe proceedings.

First, staffers from the state’s Government Accountability Board (GAB, since disbanded) appear to have repeatedly and flagrantly disregarded court orders meant to protect the privacy of the records (wrongly) seized from people targeted in the investigation.

Second, someone — most likely an attorney intimately familiar with the case — illegally leaked documents to The Guardian in an apparent effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision shutting down the investigation.

Third, the state Department of Justice’s investigation of the leak resulted in the discovery of a third secret “John Doe III” investigation into the Wisconsin GOP, evidence from which was filed away in some cases in folders marked “opposition research.”

And the kicker is that the “John Doe” investigators so poorly mishandled all of the records they swept up in their dragnet that it is virtually impossible to charge any particular individual with a crime.  The report instead recommends judicial discipline in one case and contempt proceedings against others for defying court orders in the proceedings.

Given how complex and nutty the story is, some things had to be omitted.  For example, I wasn’t fully able to develop the hubris of the GAB bureaucrats, who launched this political persecution based on theories that were no longer supported by the law and got angry whenever judges or district attorneys told them so.

Also, because I wanted to highlight some of the worst abuses, I had to skip the almost comedic breadth of the sweep in the John Doe III investigation.  It’s not clear what even the most vicious partisans were going to do with 1,000 emails about a Bible study group, the email chain regarding the sale of a mini-refrigerator on Craigslist, drafts and corrections to a Christmas letter, or pictures of women seeking opinions about how a new dress or shoes looked on them, to name a few examples.  But there it all was.

Lastly (for here), the part I may most regret having to exclude had to deal with the way the Wisconsin judiciary behaved in this manner.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected the AG’s offer to investigate the leak to The Guardian and the retention of John Doe evidence.  The Wisconsin Assembly ultimately requested and authorized the investigation.

A reader might also conclude that sealed material in the case was not secured well by court personnel, some of whom initially resisted court orders allowing the AG’s office access to court files and materials filed under seal.  The report ultimately ruled out court personnel as a source of the leak to The Guardian, based on the nature of the particular materials leaked.  Nevertheless, it may not bode well for any judicial disciplinary action recommended by the AG in this sorry affair.

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