By: Brian Sikma
The long-running John Doe investigation into misconduct by Milwaukee County employees has ended. Throughout the nearly three-year long process Democrats and liberals repeatedly charged that the investigation would conclude with some sort of a legal charge against Governor Scott Walker (R).
They were wrong.
Helping lead the speculation about the downfall of Walker was the reporting of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Bice, who for a long time managed to obtain exclusive leads for his reporting on the investigation. John Doe investigations are supposed to be secret affairs, but prolific leaks – mostly to Bice – managed to bolster the partisan narrative about the investigation developed by Wisconsin Democrats.
During the 2012 attempted recall of Governor Scott Walker, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett repeatedly referenced the John Doe as a reason for Walker to be booted out of office by voters. Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Graeme Zielinski repeatedly asserted in comments to the media and on social networking platforms that Walker was without a doubt guilty of committing a crime.
Media Trackers exposed the partisan bias of the District Attorney’s office when an in-depth investigation concluded that at least 43 members of the DA’s office signed petitions to recall Governor Walker from office. Additionally, a significant number of staff in the DA’s office had a history of donating to Democratic candidates in Wisconsin.
District Attorney John Chisholm is a political ally of Democrat Mayor Tom Barrett, who stood to politically benefit from negative news about Walker in the John Doe.
Media Trackers also found that David Budde, the lead investigator on the John Doe, had a Democratic Party-paid for recall Walker yard sign in his front yard and an AFL-CIO “Blue Fist” poster on his front door. Both items raised questions about Budde’s ability to be an impartial investigator.
At times it almost seemed as if the investigation had spun out of control and District Attorney John Chisholm was having difficulty managing the case’s appearance of ethical integrity. David Robles, a prosecutor in the DA’s office, used a personal e-mail address and an open records request to go on an apparent fishing expedition trying to ensnare Walker administration officials in the investigation. Transparency groups expressed concern over Robles’ tactics.
Even the judge overseeing the case, Neal Nettesheim, had a history of helping Democrats and indicated he had few – if any – problems with the way the case was handled.
The frequent story exclusives enjoyed by the Journal Sentinel‘s Dan Bice began to dry up as Media Trackers mounted a sweeping transparency review of possible leaks using the state’s open records law. Just days before the recall election, Bice managed to use a Barrett campaign talking point in his reporting without sourcing it – thereby making it seem like an impartial statement of fact.
The conclusion of the investigation marks an end to the legal process, but undoubtedly Democrats and Walker-opponents will continue to try to leverage the now-discredited narrative that Governor Walker was the ultimate target of the probe, despite Walker’s repeated claims to the contrary.