Bench Memos

Incredible Wisconsin Shenanigans Against Gov. Walker

For anyone who’s been puzzled by reports of the investigations of Wisconsin governor (and possible 2016 presidential candidate) Scott Walker, this article by Stuart Taylor ought to help clear things up. I won’t try to summarize the complicated proceedings but will instead highlight two points.

First, Milwaukee district attorney John Chisholm used a Kafkaesque procedure—a so-called “John Doe” proceeding—under Wisconsin law to transform a request by Walker’s office for a criminal investigation of an embezzlement into, wonder of wonders, a secret fishing expedition into the entire operations of Walker’s office, including his communications with outsiders. Then:

Chisholm’s assistant district attorneys drew on the trove of confidential information collected in the first John Doe investigation of Walker to launch a second, larger one, this time into suspected campaign-finance violations before and during Walker’s 2012 recall campaign.

They obtained sweeping subpoenas for records from at least eight phone companies and records from every major private email provider including Google and Yahoo, ultimately amassing hundreds of thousands of pages on the activities of every major conservative group in Wisconsin and many around the country, as well as of Walker and his team. They seized documents from people’s offices and homes.

Armed officers raided the homes of Walker’s supporters across the state, using bright floodlights to illuminate the target’s homes. Deputies executed the search warrants, seizing business papers, computer equipment, phones, and other devices, while their targets were restrained under police supervision and were denied the ability to contact their lawyers.

Second, Chisholm’s investigation appears to have been driven by his—and his wife’s—opposition to Walker’s battle against public-sector unions:

Now a longtime Chisholm subordinate reveals for the first time in this article that the district attorney may have had personal motivations for his investigation. Chisholm told him and others that Chisholm’s wife, Colleen, a teacher’s union shop steward at St. Francis high school, a public school near Milwaukee, had been repeatedly moved to tears by Walker’s anti-union policies in 2011, according to the former staff prosecutor in Chisholm’s office. Chisholm said in the presence of the former prosecutor that his wife “frequently cried when discussing the topic of the union disbanding and the effect it would have on the people involved … She took it personally.” …

Chisholm added, according to that prosecutor, that “he felt that it was his personal duty to stop Walker from treating people like this.” …

Chisholm’s private displays of partisan animus stunned the former prosecutor. “I admired him [Chisholm] greatly up until this whole thing started,” the former prosecutor said. “But once this whole matter came up, it was surprising how almost hyper-partisan he became … It was amazing … to see this complete change.”

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