Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Did Doe Investigators Trash the Rule of Law?

National Review and Fox News run stories about "fascist midnight raids." Are they right?

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Michael Lutz (left) and Eric O'Keefe on Fox News with Megyn Kelly.

Michael Lutz (left) and Eric O’Keefe on Fox News with Megyn Kelly.

Fox News called it a “series of terrifying raids” reportedly conducted as “a form of political retribution against supporters of Gov. Scott Walker.” Rush Limbaugh blamed “a corrupt DA” and “corrupt police officers.” The national website PJ Media decried the “brass-knuckled fascists in Wisconsin.”

Here and elsewhere, conservative commentators have embraced the narrative put forth by critics of the two John Doe probes involving Walker and others. Wisconsin is being defamed as a place where unethical law enforcers driven by naked political partisanship have run amok.

At the core of this conflagration is an incendiary article in the National Review on John Doe-related searches. Exhibit A: the search of former Walker aide Cindy Archer’s Madison home in September 2011. Archer said police arrived with a battering ram and that a “furious” FBI agent yelled in her face and threatened to put her in handcuffs. She was purportedly forbidden from calling a lawyer and ordered to keep mum about the search.

“They had a keener sense of due process in Salem, Massachusetts,” mused National Review editor Rich Lowry in a commentary inspired by this report.

Leonard Peace, a spokesman for the FBI in Milwaukee, declined to comment on “operational questions associated with investigations.” But Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, whose office took part in this search, calls the National Review account “highly suspicious,” saying he cannot fathom why “there would be a warning that you could not call an attorney or tell others of the warrant.” John Doe secrecy rules apply to court proceedings, not searches.

The National Review piece shrugs off the criminal convictions of six Walker aides and associates stemming from the first John Doe, saying it “failed in its ultimate aims” because “Walker was untouched, his reforms were implemented, and he survived the recall election.”

Wisconsin Club for Growth director Eric O’Keefe, who has elsewhere likened the searches to rape, poured gasoline on the fire in an appearance on Fox News. He said the now-stalled investigation of alleged election law violations by his group and others is based on a theory “completely unsupportable under Wisconsin law,” launched because “the left was tired of losing election after election after election.”

But released records show Walker and others engaged in campaign coordination of the sort that’s been punished in the past. And even one of the judges who sided with the John Doe targets called the prosecution’s position, which he disagreed with, an “arguable interpretation of the statutes.”

Joining O’Keefe on Fox was “whistleblower” Michael Lutz, an ex-cop who worked briefly in Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office. Lutz claimed DA John Chisholm, a Democrat who initiated the probes, professed his desire to “stop Gov. Walker and all Republicans” from achieving their political aims and turned his office into a weapon to “prosecute and persecute all those who had a different political ideology than him.”

Lutz described Chisholm as “a good friend of mine.” Neither he nor Fox host Megyn Kelly mentioned that Lutz in 2013 left Chisholm a drunken message threatening to kill him and his family.

Walker has joined the bashing, calling the probes “largely a political witch hunt” and “really about trying to intimidate people.” That drew sharp rebukes from Chisholm and special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, who said Walker’s “offensive” remarks would be proven “patently false” by case records that remain under seal.

Schmitz, like other key John Doe players, is a Republican.

Paul Bucher, a former GOP Waukesha County district attorney and two-time past president of the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, calls the idea that the John Doe prosecutors are politically motivated “absolute nonsense.” Everything that happens is subject to judicial approval, he says. Prosecutors are bound by the law and by codes of ethics.

You’d never know that from the commentators, abetted by Walker, now portraying Wisconsin’s law enforcers as lawless.

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The Center produces the project in partnership with MapLight. The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

14 thoughts on “Did Doe Investigators Trash the Rule of Law?”

  1. PMD says:

    If the Doe critics have a credible case regarding the searches, why have they only spoken to friendly right-wing outfits (Fox News, National Review, the Wall St. Journal Editorial Board)?

  2. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    What they were doing was a witch hunt hoping to find something to crucify Walker for their vendetta. What they claim to be searching for is not against the law anymore via various court decisions plus three judges have now ruled that advocacy for electing someone is one thing but issue advocacy is not illegal if all that they are is doing that so coordinating, something unions have done for decades is not illegal.
    They have been really sloppy with thtei process so have been getting their lunch handed to them by courts. if O”Keefe can go after them personally they are really in big trouble: Landgraf, chisholm, Schmitz.

  3. PMD says:

    So what do you make of the 6 convictions then WCD?

  4. David says:

    Paul Bucher, a former GOP Waukesha County district attorney and two-time past president of the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, calls the idea that the John Doe prosecutors are politically motivated “absolute nonsense.” Everything that happens is subject to judicial approval, he says. Prosecutors are bound by the law and by codes of ethics.

    Bucher doesn’t think it is politically motivated and he’s a republican. How is this a witch hunt? I agree PMD… what about the six convictions?

  5. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Review 6 convictions. Two of them were reported by Nardelli as the people that stole money from the vets fund, This was done at Walkers request. Crooked aides. Next were some business people that gave too much money and hid it, hardly antyhingt to do with Walker. Finally an aide that made emails to the Journal on their blogs, defending her boss, on her lunch hour, but stupidly did it at the . Rindflesch who sent emails answers from the office when she should have done it from the home. She was wrong, hardly what you would cal big fish.
    No one from any important part of the Walker campaign or any groups that they were targeting ever got charged with anything.
    What the dumb aides did was done by teachers all over the state during the recalls, govt. employees but never pursued by the DA’s. Unions, dems have been coordinating campaigns forever, in Milwaukee county and the DA has never done anything, cause McCann was extreme partisan..
    court cases across teh coutnry have ruled that was they were supposed to be doign was not illegal and that is why three judges and most likely the State Suprmee cort will toss out. Chisholm and compnay are scared to deat thtat the objects of their midnight raide ill e able to sue them personally.
    A DA publicly attackign a govenro over a secre Doe is behone d belief and wll get him sanctioned.

  6. PMD says:

    So basically you’re saying the 6 convictions are legit. That hardly sounds like a witch hunt if it resulted in legitimate convictions of 6 people. And what about Bucher’s contention that the John Doe prosecutors are not politically motivated?

  7. Kent Mueller says:

    “Review 6 convictions. Two of them were reported by Nardelli as the people that stole money from the vets fund, This was done at Walkers request.”, So sayeth WCD, I’m going to give the benefit of a doubt here and assume that what was “done at Walker’s request” was the reporting of the theft and not the theft from the vets fund. Certainly you don’t mean that Walker requested the theft?
    Tim Russell and Kevin Kavanaugh stole from the vets fund. These were trusted close aides of Scott Walker. That speaks to his administrative abilities and judgement. I’m also guessing that veteran’s funds were targeted because the Widows and Orphans funds were too hard to tap.

    Rush Limbaugh was hilarious on this issue. Did you know there were “hundreds” of victims of these raids? That’s what he said on the air. After a lengthy commercial break, there were “scores” of victims. Amazing.

  8. PMD says:

    Here’s what I have trouble with, and it’s also true of Chris Christie and the whole Bridgegate affair. On the one hand, these governors have a reputation for being hands-on leaders, very conscious of their image and what’s going on while they are in charge (and with ambitions beyond their current office). But then we are also supposed to believe that while all this lawbreaking was going on amongst their staffs, they simply had no idea. None whatsoever. All these underlings acted totally on their own and the big boss had no clue. It’s a total contradiction, and it’s not even remotely believable.

  9. Bruce Thompson says:

    The argument that federal court decisions now allow coordination between candidates and so-called “independent” committees seems like a stretch. In nearly every one of its decisions striking down the limits on independent committees, the Supreme Court includes a paragraph pointing to the lack of coordination as protection against abuses. Why would the court then turn around and say coordination was ok?

    That said, Wisconsin election law is a mess and disparately needs updating. But of course the same groups opposing the John Doe have a vested interested in blocking anything that would bring the law into conformance with the court decisions.

  10. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Read the decisions of Randa, the state judges and the one on Right to Life that pertains to that but across the country as long as you advocate for an issue instead of saying to elect someone all rules are off. 527s are direct result of Feingold campaign law.

  11. ADW says:

    “Read the decisions of Randa, the state judges and the one on Right to Life that pertains to that but across the country as long as you advocate for an issue instead of saying to elect someone all rules are off. 527s are direct result of Feingold-McCain campaign law.” What the hell has this got to do with the John Doe?

    When you guys start losing the mud starts slinging, and everyone gets dragged into it. And how come we forgot poor old John McCain the co-sponsor so it was bi-partisan bill, not a liberal bill aimed at making it impossible for conservative billionaires to buy elections, buy justice and buying you and me.

  12. Paul says:

    PMD, you mean like when Obama finds out everything like we do, when he sees it on the news?

  13. PMD says:

    I knew someone (you or WCD) would mention Obama. For people like you, it’s a tic, the go-to defense whenever someone criticizes a Republican. “Yeah but Obama did _________!” Like an elementary school student.

  14. Paul says:

    PMD,so what’s your excuse for Obama knowing nothing of what’s going on?

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