MacIver News Service
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. – Bizarre.
That’s how Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel describes assertions by state Elections and Ethics regulators that Republicans targeted in the infamous John Doe investigation somehow labeled as “Opposition Research” folders of thousands of emails illegally seized from them by John Doe investigators.
The assertions are absolutely not true, Schimel said.
A state Department of Justice report into illegally leaked John Doe documents found – among other disturbing revelations regarding the unconstitutional, politically driven probe – the now-defunct state Government Accountability Board created “Opposition Research” folders on a hard drive.
“There’s meta data when you create something on a computer. There’s data embedded behind that may not be immediately visible but you can look and see when those documents were created, when they were modified,” Schimel told MacIver News Service Wednesday during an interview on the Vicki McKenna Show.
“We were able to look at the meta data and see it was created on April 10 of 2012. That predates the documents and emails that were found within those folders. The ‘Opposition Research’ folder was created on a Government Accountability Board hard drive,” Schimel added.
Late last week, former GAB staff attorney Shane Falk, who helped drive the dissolved speech regulator’s deep involvement in the John Doe probe, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he did not know why some files were labeled “Opposition Research.”
Despite the fact that the material involved electronic communications seized by John Doe investigators, Falk suggested that Republicans labeled the folders.
“We didn’t change folder names and such, so I suspect it was the Republicans who set that up,” he told the newspaper in an email. The publication did not challenge that assertion. “I have no idea about anything anymore. I left the GAB in August 2014, turned over everything then, and haven’t had access since.”
“That assertion is just bizarre and the Journal Sentinel should be challenging that assertion as incredible on its face,” Schimel said.
State Election Commission administrator Michael Haas, one of the sworn-in GAB agents involved in the secret campaign probe into Wisconsin conservative groups and Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign, doubled down on his former colleague’s assertion.
“Those were from search warrants not issued by the GAB, and approved by the John Doe judge,” Haas told reporters Tuesday.
Those warrants certainly had the buy-in of the GAB, partners in what many conservatives see as government-sponsored crime alongside the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office. The agencies worked hand-in-hand pushing for the subpoenas and warrants used to tap into millions of electronic communications of right-of-center groups and conservatives and to raid the homes of innocent citizens.
Haas told reporters he had a marginal role in the John Doe investigation. Schimel’s report states, “Haas was involved with reviewing and editing court filings.” And previous emails released in court settlements show Haas was very involved in John Doe communications and meetings with GAB staff.
In a letter to Schimel claiming the DOJ report included inaccuracies and omissions, the state Ethics Commission claimed that it is the commissioners’ “understanding that the file was one of the pieces of illegally seized data rather than a document prepared by a GAB operative.”
Schimel said the commission’s understanding is not accurate.
“Furthermore, it doesn’t even make any sense to assert that the Republican operatives that they collected this from would collect opposition research files and then fill them with personal emails of other Republicans,” the attorney general said.
The report notes the kind of private information John Doe investigators grabbed up in their illegal searches, some of which was contained in what were described as “Falk Boxes.”
“The breadth of information and communications contained in the ‘Falk boxes,’ apparently as the result of the John Doe III investigation into Wisconsin Republicans, was breathtaking,” the report stated. “Just to illustrate this point, the investigators obtained, categorized, and maintained over 150 personal emails between Senator Leah Vukmir and her daughter, including emails containing private medical information and other highly personal information.”
“DOJ was unable to determine why investigators ever obtained, let alone saved and labeled, over 150 very private and very personal emails between a Senator and her child, or why investigators placed those emails in a folder named ‘Opposition Research,’” the report added.
The AG report details an expanded John Doe probe into a “broad range of Wisconsin Republicans,” a “John Doe III,” as described by the attorney general, that widened the scope of the so-called John Doe II investigation into dozens of right-of-center groups and scores of conservatives. Republican lawmakers, conservative talk show hosts, average citizens – even churches – were secretly monitored by the dark John Doe.
State Department of Justice investigators found hundreds of thousands of John Doe documents in the possession of the Government Accountability Board, long after they were ordered to be turned over to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The GAB, the state’s former “nonpartisan” speech cop and predecessor of the Ethics Commission, proved to be more partisan than originally suspected, the report found.
While the report is replete with criminal violations apparently committed by government bureaucrats and partisan prosecutors, Schimel said he could not issue charges in the illegal leaks. He said record-keeping and security at the old GAB and the Ethics Commission office were so sloppy that he cannot, beyond a shadow of a doubt, identify the leaker – although the report makes clear that the leaked documents more than likely came from within the GAB. Ethics Commission officials assert they cleaned up the security and record-keeping problems.
Schimel does recommend that the John Doe judge initiate contempt proceedings against nine John Doe investigation officers from the GAB, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, and the special prosecutor, “to remedy violations of orders of the John Doe Judge and orders of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.” The attorney general said his recommendation is more “specifically outlined” in a separate letter to the John Doe judge.