The Incompetence of Brad Schimel
AG's handling of a voter fraud claim is an epic case of ineptitude.
At its most basic, Brad Schimel’s job as the state’s top prosecutor is simple: make your decisions strictly based on the evidence. And at a time when the state is so politically polarized, we’ve never been more in need of such straight-laced integrity.
But the Attorney General instead seems to veer back and forth depending on which way the political winds blow, and that was never more clear than in his handling of ideological hit man James O’Keefe and his claim to have proven voter fraud occurred in Wisconsin. All Schimel had to do was review the evidence and decide: Either a crime was committed or it wasn’t. Instead Schimel has repeatedly flip-flopped and contradicted himself, drawing flak from all sides, and leaving his Department of Justice looking craven and incompetent.
It was back in October that O’Keefe released video he shot of a Democratic activist Scott Foval which supposedly proved illegal activity. But the smoking gun O’Keefe offered was a quote by Foval saying about Republicans, “we’ve been busing people in to deal with you (expletive) for 50 years and we’re not going to stop now.”
Indeed, O’Keefe’s track record doesn’t instill great confidence regarding his undercover work. In 2010, he was charged with a felony — malicious attempt to damage a phone system — and ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of entering the office of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu under false pretenses.
O’Keefe has managed to embarrass groups like Planned Parenthood and ACORN (and the latter went out of business due to the negative publicity), but O’Keefe was sued and agreed to pay $100,000 to former California ACORN employee Juan Carlos Vera for deliberately misrepresenting Vera’s actions. As Time Magazine noted, “O’Keefe has previously spliced videos together to imply its subjects were saying things they were not.”
But O’Keefe is a master at getting headlines and his accusations against Foval got enough play that it would have a tremendous service to the state for the Attorney General to methodically investigate these claims.
But Schimel immediately blew it, telling the press through a spokesperson that he is “very concerned about apparent violations of the law,” in essence pre-judging the case before examining any evidence, and leaving many to doubt he would review it fairly.
Schimel assigned the case to Assistant Attorney General Roy Korte, the head of Schimel’s criminal litigation unit and on January 31 Korte wrote a memo concluding that “Based on all the available facts I do not believe there is any basis to conclude that the videos demonstrate or suggest violations of Wisconsin criminal laws,” as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
“The conversations remain best described as vague and theoretical in many respects,” Korte wrote. “There are no clear or direct statements indicating that voter fraud…was planned or had occurred.”
O’Keefe and his Project Veritas group provided Schimel’s team with additional recordings, the JS reported, “But those recordings ‘are suspect’ because they begin in the middle of conversations, contain gaps and include inaccurate time counters, Korte wrote.
So clearly the evidence showed no crime had been committed. But Schimel would not release this information until April and only then in response to a public information request by the Journal Sentinel. Assistant Attorney General Paul Ferguson released Korte’s memo and said the investigation had been closed. Which prompted this charge by Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin:
“Two weeks before the election, Brad Schimel suggested with no investigation that a private citizen broke election laws — and then for three months sat on the evidence showing this was false. This is beyond partisan politics, this is abuse of power by Schimel.”
Ross’ job, of course, is to make Republicans look bad. But Schimel makes that easy to do.
Schimel quickly went into damage control, to explain how thorough the investigation had been.
“We did take it seriously and looked at this to see whether there was something we could pursue…and just concluded there’s not anything that presented itself as a viable investigatory lead,” Schimel told reporter Andrew Beckett in a story by the Wisconsin Radio Network.
“If it’s not specific enough that we can identify who did something, where they did it, we don’t even know where to start,” he said.
But O’Keefe, who typically takes a scorched earth approach to any opposition, argued that Schimel had made a political decision — this about a Republican who has aggressively defended any state laws targeting alleged voter fraud. “If the state of Wisconsin is not going to do their job…then you should be investigated,” O Keefe warned. “We should investigate you and you should lose your job.”
O’Keefe also went on Twitter to criticize Schimel and his team, even posting Korte’s phone number and email address, the JS reported. “C’mon, attorney general, you’re showing your cards here,” O’Keefe needled. “You didn’t watch the tapes and you don’t care to investigate.”
Schimel added that “I appreciate the work that groups like Project Veritas do to expose corruption and criminal conspiracies,” wrongly suggesting the group’s accusations had actually led to anyone being charged with a crime.
He went on to blame any “war of words” that’s erupted on “fake news” that has incited the situation.
Seriously? Schimel has vacillated back and forth and repeatedly contradicted himself, all of which has been documented by the press, and he blames them.
In the meantime, residents of this badly polarized state still have no idea what the truth is. It’s very serious charge, a conspiracy to commit voter fraud, and should certainly be prosecuted if there is any proof of it. But if no crime was committed, and so far nothing has been presented by O’Keefe or the Attorney General’s investigators proving any violation, then Schimel needs to explain this to the public.
We’ve now had six months of Scott Foval’s reputation being trashed by O’Keefe, and vague charges of voter fraud being bandied about. All signs suggest Schimel can’t do his job and admit the whole thing is a hoax. Either charge or don’t charge and then explain the legalities to the public. In short, do your job, Mr. Schimel; you’re the Attorney General, not a partisan hack.
Correction: An earlier version of this story wrongly stated that James O’Keefe was found guilty of malicious attempt to damage a phone system; he instead pleaded guilty to entering an office under false pretenses.
If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.