What do a former attorney general, two former judges, two licensed attorneys and a former state legislator have in common?
They presided over the Wisconsin Ethics Commission when it opened its doors on July 1, 2016. This agency and the Wisconsin Elections Commission were created to replace Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (GAB) following its participation in an unconstitutional John Doe investigation into Republican Governor Scott Walker, his aides and his allies.
As a longtime conservative strategist and consultant, I had a front row seat to what the Wisconsin Supreme Court called, “a perfect storm of wrongs,” visited upon people who are “wholly innocent of any wrongdoing.”
“Deputies seized business papers, computer equipment, phones, and other devices, while their targets were restrained under police supervision and denied the ability to contact their attorneys. The special prosecutor obtained virtually every document possessed by the Unnamed Movants relating to every aspect of their lives, both personal and professional, over a five-year span (from 2009 to 2013).”
The court ordered prosecutors to return all private property seized in the investigation.
“We require that Attorney Schmitz (the former John Doe special prosecutor) gather all documents and copies thereof (whether in hard copy or in digital form) and all electronic data and copies thereof obtained as a result of the John Doe II investigation from all persons who worked for or were associated with him and the prosecution team in the John Doe proceedings/investigations.”
Recently the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) conducted a criminal investigation into the illegal leak of court-sealed John Doe records and found the Wisconsin Ethic’s Commission had not complied with the court’s order.
Not. Even. Close.
Apparently, Wisconsin ethics officials don’t grasp the significance of a Supreme Court order or fully comprehend the meaning of words like “require,” “shall” and “all.”
DOJ’s report said the agency had not properly secured documents and electronic records and at least one external hard drive containing illegally obtained private records had gone missing on its watch. After DOJ made several attempts to collect documents from the commission, its top administrator and general counsel refused to speak to investigators without a lawyer.
The agency then hired a lawyer who specializes in defending the government in cases involving civil rights violations. In other words, the Wisconsin Ethics Commission was more concerned about its civil liability than potential crimes committed by other government officials.
Stunningly, not only did DOJ conclude the illegally leaked records came from the GAB or its successor agency, but the ethics commission had millions more records seized in investigations going back 27 years.
Instead of taking responsibility for the undisputed facts in the DOJ report, ethics commissioners circled the wagons around their staff, attacking the Attorney General for “omissions and inaccuracies.” DOJ refuted the so-called inaccuracies. As for omissions, commissioners complained that DOJ didn’t give them a gold star for having better security practices than its predecessor.
All but two of the current commissioners, the agency’s top administrator and its general counsel, were in charge when illegally seized records were leaked to a British newspaper, when those records were to be surrendered to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and in February 2017 when DOJ first discovered the agency had not complied with the Supreme Court order.
I’m not a lawyer, but the court order looks straightforward to me. Not so much to a former attorney general, two former judges, two licensed attorneys, and a former state legislator. They won’t even ask the commission’s administrator and general counsel to resign because the men exceeded expectations in recent performance reviews.
Failing to comply with a court order, “misplacing” a hard drive filled with sealed court records and changing stories before lawyering up in a criminal investigation exceeds expectations for the state’s top ethics officials?
A friend of mine calls the FBI’s report regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails a “Comey-over.” It appears Wisconsin’s ethics officials are trying to cover their bald spot. Expect more judges, lawyers, state legislators and attorneys general to get involved before this shameful episode finally concludes.
Deborah Hawley Jordahl is a conservative Wisconsin strategist. Her home was searched by armed deputies in 2013 as part of a secret John Doe investigation.