Controversial Investigator Played Central Role in Wis. John Doe

David Budde's home
David Budde's home

Formerly secret documents released by prosecutors and made public by a liberal advocacy group show David Budde, the chief investigator in the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, played a central role in the politicized John Doe investigation that concluded shortly after Gov. Scott Walker was re-elected in 2012.

On May 21, 2012, Media Trackers reported that Budde had a Democratic Party of Wisconsin “Recall Walker” sign in his front yard and an AFL-CIO union fist poster on his front door. Democrats hoped that the investigation Budde was helping lead would destroy Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) chance to win the recall election.

The released documents relate to prosecutors’ investigation of Kelly Rindfleisch, a Republican operative who struck a plea deal with the District Attorney’s office after engaging in political activity during working hours at her Milwaukee County government job. Before now the records were not public since John Doe investigations are conducted entirely in secret.

Democrats in 2011 and 2012 seized on numerous leaks about the investigation to suggest Walker’s political career would be over by the time the investigation concluded. The fact that the Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm is a Democrat and 43 members of his staff signed petitions to recall Walker raised questions about a possible political motivation to the probe.

Walker was never charged with any wrongdoing.

Budde boasts of his 24 years in law enforcement in affidavit he filed with the judge overseeing the investigation in August 2010. “I am the District Attorney Chief Investigator,” he wrote. “I have 24 years of experience as a law enforcement officer.”

Budde then laid out his service record and qualifications for handling the investigative side of the John Doe:

For eight years I worked in the Milwaukee Metropolitan Drug Unit conducting drug investigations including the use of undercover investigators and confidential informants. I have also served in the District Attorney White Collar Crime Unit and the General Criminal Investigations Unit. I have been Chief Investigator since 1999; nevertheless I have continued in investigative work.

In seeking to obtain an affidavit to search the home of Darlene Wink, another county employee, who was then in her late 50’s, Budde explains that he had a male investigator – Paul Bratonja – stalk the woman and track her movements before bringing his intentions before a judge.

Wink later pled guilt to two misdemeanors – not felonies – and was given probation.

On August 20, 2010, Budde wrote an affidavit backing up Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf’s request to broaden the scope of the John Doe investigation. Less than a month later on October 18, Budde asked a judge to give him more investigative power to search other records for evidence to build a case.

Budde also helped orchestrate a raid of the County Executive’s office by investigators and representatives of the DA’s office in November of 2010. Three of the people mentioned as targets of the raid were never found guilty or even so much as charged with any wrongdoing.

It appears that Budde, a long time political supporter of his Democratic boss Chisholm, never faced any repercussions for allowing a recall Walker yard sign in his yard. The situation made it appear as if Budde was extraordinarily biased in his perspective and thus possibly partisan in his work on the John Doe investigation.

What is known now is that Budde was indeed a central figure in the probe and trusted and respected by both Bruce Landgraf and John Chisholm, who have together approved yet another super secret investigation into conservative groups. This time though, a judge is not buying Landgraf’s arguments and the targeted parties are pushing back with lawsuits of their own.