Schimel: “Leakers Hoist With Their Own Petard”

Editor’s note: the day after releasing a report on leaks of sensitive emails from a controversial Wisconsin John Doe probe, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel discussed his investigation in detail with Media Trackers Communications Director Jerry Bader

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel says the leak of documents from a Wisconsin John Doe probe to a British publication actually backfired on the leakers. Schimel says that because the leaks, designed to embarrass Governor Scott Walker, allowed for the exposure of the expansive, abusive nature of the probe and the gross mishandling of thousands of private emails from Wisconsin conservatives.

Schimel on Wednesday issued a report on his investigation into what he has now dubbed John Doe III:  thousands of private emails and documents from Wisconsin Conservatives obtained by the former Government Accountability Board, and is now recommending contempt proceedings for those involved. Media Tracker’s Director of Communication Jerry Bader interviewed Attorney General Brad Schimel, who spoke of the situation and the next steps in continuing the investigation.

Schimel’s report of the “opposition research” was a part of an expanded “John Doe” investigation. The MacIver Institute reported that the subject and information within the emails contained such things as:

  •  Over 1,000 emails between a private bible study group called a “Life Group” at Blackhawk Church in Middleton, Wisconsin. The emails covered such subjects as “LG- He is risen,” “LG- helping out Mom,” “LG- Game Night,” “LG- Spiritual Formation,” “LG-The Spirit and Scripture,” “LG-New Sermon Series=Rainbows and Sugarplums,” and “[Redacted] Requests Prayer.”
  • Pictures of a woman who was purchasing a new dress, asking the email recipient how the dress looked on her.
  •  A string of 20 emails referencing a “Kenmore Mini Fridge” negotiation over Craigslist.
  • An email thanking the recipient for advice concerning the purchase of a Benelli over/under shotgun at Dick’s.
  • An email between parents discussing a daughter’s need for an OB-GYN.
  • An email regarding prescription medications needed.
  • A series of Google Chat logs between friends covering a variety of private topics, including whether the writer needs “to lose 20 lbs asap.”
  • Several emails between family members circulating drafts and
    corrections to a Christmas letter.
  • Emails from several Wisconsin conservative talk show hosts
  • Emails between State Senator Leah Vukmir and her daughter

Schimel told Bader:

“First off we do conclude that the leaking of the information to The Guardian newspaper did constitute a crime. The problem is when you charge a crime you have to be able to say who did it. We’re able to eliminate the Supreme Court, because they never had the records, most of the records leaked to The Guardian newspapers we’re able to say were never in the possession of the Supreme Court. The same is true of the Milwaukee DA’s office, when we compared the records that The Guardian had with things that had been in the possession of the Milwaukee DA, we believe the Milwaukee DA never had some of those documents, therefore the only other place where this could’ve come from was the Government Accountability Board.”

“It took many months, we started out November 3rd 2016, so over a year ago, that the special prosecutor turned over to the court what we believed at the time to be all of the documents. It turned out it wasn’t because as we started looking, we got involved in this investigation and on February 1st we got a court order that authorized us to get access to the records in the GAB and we found more that were supposed to be turned over. As we continued on we looked at those and we discovered this still doesn’t, this tells us there’s more to it , and we looked further and we found more. We ended up having eventually every month we kept finding more and more documents based on looking at the old ones. It was kind of like talking to a child where if you don’t ask the right question they won’t answer what you’re looking for. So we just were at the point where we can’t figure out what question to ask to get these guys to finally give us everything.”

“So we actually ended up getting a search warrant and went to the offices of the Government Accountability Board and searched it, sent law enforcement officers in and flopped the place, because ultimately we were looking for a missing hard drive. The witnesses tell us that one of the attorneys of the GAB, Shane Falk, put these documents that ultimately what were leaked, were put on a hard drive that Shane Falk created. We don’t know what happened to that we never found that hard drive, maybe it was turned over to The Guardian, it maybe destroyed, it may be hidden, we don’t know, but it wasn’t in the Government of Accountability headquarters.”

“Now we haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly who has been responsible because the most charitable way I can characterize the security provisions at the GAB would be cavalier. They had very little regard for the fact that they were hanging on to very personal information from all of these different and private citizens. They had no custodian of records that kept track of what came in and out, they had no log that logged what came in and who had it and who saw it. They had information laying unsecured on desks, they had things on flash drives and hard drives that were not password protected. There were no cameras, nothing was locked, except there was a basement where they ended up finding some files that had a locked door, but the key was sitting on the receptionists desk. “

“They were sharing these things over Gmail accounts.”

“I’d recommend don’t read this before you go to bed, because I think it’s going to make you sit up straight in bed kind of in shock. When you just get to page ten you’ll see the list of everybody that was given authorization to look at records, it’s shocking, it’s dozens and dozens of people, actually potentially hundreds because at some points the entire Milwaukee DA’s office and the entire Dane County DA’s office was really in a position to have the authorization to look at this stuff. We all had the impression including me that there was a very narrow number of people who were going to have access to this stuff to preserve those privacy rights and it just wasn’t true.”


On conservatives frustrated that there will be no criminal prosecution:

“I share that frustration, we came into this optimistic, we thought we could find the person. We had very experienced investigators, we had a computer forensics analyst, we had people who were as good as anyone in the business and we thought we could track this down. The thing that hurt us most in the investigation was just how terrible any security was that really left anybody able to pick up a hard drive off of a desk, plug it into a computer at home, look at it, and be untouched. If we were the John Doe investigators we would’ve been getting search warrants and kicking in doors on people’s houses and things, we weren’t. That wouldn’t have been legal for us and we didn’t have probably cause to get their private computers from their homes, but that’s probably where the information was communicated on somebody’s personal computer.”

“It was a crime, I just can’t say which person or persons did it. I can’t go to the jury and charge everyone, I can’t charge three people and say will you guys decide in the end which one is guilty, it doesn’t work that way.”

On contempt proceeding

“For some of of them we are looking for the judge to remedy the problem that there is still some information that is still out there. There are some of the accounts, some of the Gmail accounts, that are still open. We believe there are some other places of information that still exists, we want the court to order all of these individuals to fix this problem, make sure that every last piece of information is collected and turned over to the Supreme Court as the Court ordered.”

Leakers “hoist with their own petard”

“Because of the leak to the Guardian we had a basis to ask the court to let us look at all this information and conduct an investigation, if that hadn’t happened all of this would still be a secret. No one would ever know except the court that might be looking at all these records, no one would know that they ever went into what we’ve called John Doe III:” it would still be a secret.”