By: Brian Sikma
In what is no doubt a disappointment to many liberals both in and out of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee County District Attorney has announced that three individuals – one a former Walker aide and one a former appointee – are being charged with a range of felonies. Why that is actually disappointing to Walker’s political opponents stems from two main factors. The first is that Walker himself was not charged with wrongdoing nor, does it appear at this early stage of publicly available information about the secretive investigation, was he ever in danger of being charged with illegal activity. Second, instead of being put on the defensive because prosecutors decided to look into his administration, Walker and his staff actually asked for the investigation because of their own concerns about fraud.
For months prior to the District Attorney’s announcement of charges in the first week of January, Democratic activists and leaders joined by a predictable chorus of liberal bloggers and leftwing organizations suggested that the political downfall of Scott Walker was imminent. Information apparently leaked to well-sourced reporters made its way into the news as a secretive John Doe investigation made its way through the tentacles of county government in Milwaukee and state government in Madison. From the outside, the unifying theme appeared to be Scott Walker.
John Doe investigations are a special feature of the justice system in Wisconsin. In such a probe, prosecutors are free to roam from one lead to the next looking for anything that could be illegal. Think of it as a can of worms with prosecutors moving almost seamlessly from following one worm to the next as a myriad of intertwined details unfold. Whereas a John Doe investigation may be started because prosecutors are looking into alleged crime or problem “X,” if they come across anything that interests them they can switch without warning to focusing on problem “Y” and then later on problem “Z.”
While a John Doe investigation is underway anyone interviewed, subpoenaed, or otherwise regarded as a source or target is bound by what amounts to a secrecy order. Details may not be divulged to anyone outside of one’s own attorney or investigators. Simply leaking details about the proceedings to individuals or the press could result in prosecution.
This secrecy can tempt political opponents to overreach in their haste to condemn someone in the court of public opinion. The Left overreached in suggesting that this John Doe investigation would be bad news for Scott Walker.
When information about the probe first emerged, the Left began suggesting that this would be Walker’s Watergate. A surprise raid by the FBI on the Madison home of a Walker staffer caused speculation that the corruption must be a really, really serious political matter. Nobody in the press thought to explain that the FBI is routinely used for county and state-level investigations involving law enforcement agencies that may have a conflict of interest (the state police report to the Governor) or may just be too busy to handle a non-emergency case.
One Wisconsin Now, a Soros-funded, union-backed leftwing spin machine, issued a press release in September of last year suggesting that the investigation involved government resources being used to assist Walker in his 2010 campaign for governor. According to their analysis at the time the probe, “involves numerous Walker aides who may have used taxpayer-financed resources to support Walkers gubernatorial campaign.” Scot Ross, the group’s executive director, hyperventilated calling the situation “the most serious threat to the integrity of the Offices of the Governor and the Attorney General that we have seen in our lifetime.”
Walker’s initial defense to all of this was a Norman Rockwell style appeal to his boyhood achievement of Eagle Scout and his parents’ work instilling the values of honesty and integrity in him. It seemed to many to be a very thin defense given the nature of the accusations. But there really was no other defense he could give thanks to the secrecy that must surround a John Doe investigation. If Walker had explained the situation with detail he could have been liable for breaking the law governing John Doe investigations.
When John Chisholm, the Milwaukee County District Attorney, revealed the details of the investigation and announced the charges it turned out that Walker’s campaign activities were not the target of the investigation. Instead, prosecutors were looking into what happened to thousands of dollars that had gone missing from a charitable county government effort. Three individuals embezzled money raised for the benefit of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and their families. They then used the money not to promote Scott Walker, but to travel the globe and benefit themselves.
Perhaps even more shocking to the Left and its eager anticipation of a scandal to take down Walker was the fact that Walker and his county executive administration called for the investigation. Concerned over what happened to the funds, Walker asked the Milwaukee County District Attorney, a Democrat, to see if criminal activity had taken place.
It is safe to assume that when he asked for the investigation, Walker was aware of how John Doe proceedings unfold. If Walker was involved in anything illegal with respect to his campaign or county government he would have been extraordinarily stupid to invite prosecutors to run rampant through his administration as they attempted to locate fraud with a charitable fund.
Prosecutors were free to follow any hunch and any lead they chose in this investigation. They found nothing on Scott Walker – the official who initiated the investigation. What they did find were three despicable individuals who used charitable funds intended to help veterans to enrich themselves and travel the world. That’s not a partisan or political crime, that’s a deeply selfish act that reveals an absolute lack of character.
The scandal that wasn’t certainly does not bolster the arguments of Walker recall proponents. Whenever anyone opposed to the recall insanity noted that Walker was not guilty of any crime – only of holding different political views than those opposed to him – the left would solemnly point to the John Doe investigation and say that a day of reckoning was coming. Certainly that investigation would end with Walker being charged with something illegal. Well, that day of reckoning has come and there is nothing against Walker.