17 Biggest Mistakes by Brad Schimel
Media feasting on problems in John Doe report. Here’s a scorecard of biggest goofs.
It was back on December 6 that Attorney General Brad Schimel released his report on the John Doe probe that condemned the investigators and called for contempt-of-court proceedings against nine officials involved in the probe. The media duly reported his findings.
Urban Milwaukee meanwhile offered two columns, here and here, finding huge problems with the Department of Justice (DOJ) report, including the fact that Schimel disclosed the names of people investigated in the secret probe but never charged, names that never would have been revealed if the state’s top legal officer hadn’t done so. That led the Wisconsin State Journal to look into problems with Schimel’s report, verifying some of the issues noted by Urban Milwaukee, and soon the rest of the media jumped aboard.
In short, it’s become increasingly clear the DOJ report is one huge screw-up — but a very complicated one. So to make it easier to understand just how ridiculous this report is, we present our scorecard of the worst errors by the attorney general. More or less in reverse order, starting with the least egregious, they are:
17: Claiming investigators were doing “opposition research.” That’s right, lawyers for the Government Accountability Board (GAB), run by a bipartisan board of retired judges, were supposedly doing opposition research on Republicans. The proof for this is a file labeled “opposition research” that Schimel’s team found. But these folders were labeled that way when they were received by the GAB, former staff told Schimel, something the report left out.
16. Defaming Sonya Bice. The report offers a footnote suggesting Sonya Bice, who once worked as an aide to a state supreme court justice, informed her husband, Journal Sentinel reporter Dan Bice, of an “unannounced” visit to the court by the DOJ. But the visit occurred some 16 months after Sonya Bice’s job there ended. And no, Schimel never checked this with her.
15. Defaming Shirley Abrahamson. That would be Supreme Court Justice Abrahamson, one of the longest serving such judges in America. Schimel suggests there was something nefarious about her checking on some of the John Doe evidence, without specifying what she did wrong or bothering to check with her. “My only involvement was to make sure the boxes were fully sealed and a log had been checked,” she told the Journal Sentinel. “At no time did I review the contents of those sealed boxes.”
14. Defaming Brian Bell and David Buerger. Schimel’s report calls the two member of the state Ethics Commission uncooperative because they dared to hire a lawyer when questioned by DOJ investigators. That’s right, a lawyer is complaining about someone hiring an attorney. Worse, it was the bipartisan Ethics Commission’s board that decided Bell and Buerger should have representation, the Commission noted.
13. Making other unwarranted attacks on state Ethics Commission. The report claims commission staff withheld evidence and didn’t report the leak of secret Doe materials to the media after it occurred; but as the commission’s bipartisan letter to Schimel has noted, “Our staff promptly provided all requested records” and couldn’t possibly have leaked materials as they never had access to the information.
11. Concocting a Phony Attack on Leah Vukmir: The report waxes indignant about Doe investigators going through the private emails of the Republican state senator, allegedly for no reason. But as Data Wonk columnist Bruce Thompson has noted, the emails in question appear to have been part of the John Doe I investigation which resulted in six convictions, and were probably office emails of Vukmir’s assistant Josh Hoisington, which were checked as part of an email thread in that investigation. Retired Judge Neal Nettesheim, who oversaw the John Doe I investigation, told the State Journal “I was satisfied at the time and remain satisfied that all the areas that were probed in John Doe I were legitimate and proper.” And Schimel offers no reason to dispute this.
10: Refusing to disclose costs of the probe. Schimel’s office hasn’t responded to Urban Milwaukee’s request to reveal the cost of his office’s 11-month investigation and has yet to disclose this to anyone in the media.
9. Falsely claiming Doe probe had no discernible limit. To prove how “broad” the probe was, Schimel lists 218 examples of search warrants and subpoenas. But if search warrants or subpoenas were issued, they were approved by judges and obviously legal. Schimel’s report offers not one example of any investigatory probes not pre-approved by a judge.
8. Mixing up files of different investigations. The report created lists of information that mixed up at least three different probes, not bothering to distinguish between Doe I, Doe II and investigations of campaign finance irregularities by the GAB.
7. Misunderstanding the role of the GAB. Schimel wrongly concluded that the GAB’s investigation of whether state employees were campaigning on state time was part of the John Doe probe. He apparently has no clue what the GAB duties were and never bothered to ask any former staff members.
6. Falsely claiming there was a “John Doe III” probe. Schimel actually made up this name to describe the GAB investigation of potential campaign finance violations that he didn’t understand. As the Wisconsin State Journal has reported, this was a 16-month GAB investigation that concluded in March 2013 after finding no violations of the law and which had nothing to do with the John Doe probe.
5. Wrongly claiming GAB attorneys didn’t understand election law. Considering Schimel didn’t understand the duties of the GAB, that’s rich, but it becomes downright hilarious when you consider his proof: because the Wisconsin Supreme Court later ruled against the John Doe probe and concluded a campaign was free to collude with independent advocacy groups, the Doe probe therefore misinterpreted the law. But during the entire time the Doe probe was conducted, the law in Wisconsin as it was then understood (and as it continues to be interpreted in most states) was that such collusion was illegal. Indeed the Doe probe was a bipartisan investigation conducted by special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, a longtime Republican who voted for Walker in the 2012 recall election, included two Republican district attorneys helping in the investigation and involved work by four judges, three of whom had Republican backgrounds. Apparently they all didn’t understand the law.
4. Not enforcing the law equally against all leakers. The entire point of Schimel’s investigation was to enforce the law against leaking information in violation of court order. And yet he refused to investigate conservative Club for Growth leader Eric O’Keefe, who leaked information to the press and admitted he violated a court-issued secrecy order “in some form every day”.
3. Accusing people of contempt of court without offering proof. Schimel lists nine people that he recommends should be charged with contempt of court, led by Schmitz and former and GAB executive Kevin Kennedy. Leaving aside the fact that Schmitz has told the media Schimel inaccurately describes his actions, and leaving aside the fact the state Supreme Court expressly chose not to pursue any contempt of court action, Schimel never offers his case for why a court should pursue this. Instead he has sent a sealed letter to the Doe judge making this case that he says will not be disclosed. Since when does any prosecutor in America defame an individual for an alleged legal violation without presenting the proof for this to the public?
2. Violating secrecy orders himself. Schimel’s report listed the names of 35 people who had been investigated in John Doe I and II, and all but a few of these names had never been revealed to the public. Schimel thereby violated the secrecy orders for Doe I and II, wrongly casting suspicion on people never charged with a crime, and arguably leaking more information about the Doe probes than the alleged leakers he was investigating did. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm noted that the court’s secrecy order for this material is still in force. “I am still subject to those secrecy orders, as would be the Attorney General unless specifically authorized,” Chisholm said in an email to the State Journal.
1. Conducting a completely unnecessary investigation with no discernible limits. The public certainly didn’t care that material leaked to the Guardian revealed how the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker colluded with supposedly independent groups. The Wisconsin Supreme Court, which was most concerned with guarding the secrecy of the Doe information, declined to authorize an investigation of leaks. But Schimel went ahead anyway and released an angry report conducted so indiscriminately that it violated the Doe secrecy order. Following the logic of Schimel’s report, the attorney general should now be investigated.
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