The Corner

Law & the Courts

Wisconsin’s Shame: Rogue DA Breaks His Silence; Threatens Critics with Prosecution

If a prosecutor wants to assure the public he’s not out of control, perhaps he shouldn’t suggest that critics could be prosecuted. On Saturday, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker commented on Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm’s use of armed, pre-dawned raids against conservative targets of his extraordinarily expansive “John Doe” investigations:

“I said even if you’re a liberal Democrat, you should look at (the raids) and be frightened to think that if the government can do that against people of one political persuasion, they can do it against anybody, and more often than not we need protection against the government itself,” Walker told the radio station.

“As [National Review] pointed out, there were real questions about the constitutionality of much of what they did, but it was really about people trying to intimidate people…” Walker said.

“They were looking for just about anything. As I pointed out at the time, it was largely a political witch hunt.”

As public criticism goes, this statement is mild — especially when the criticized conduct included officers swarming into homes, taunting, yelling, denying access to lawyers, barging into sleeping kids’ rooms, threatening to batter down doors, and then demanding silence from the victims. And keep in mind that not one of the women who came forward to describe these raids has ever been charged with any crimes (#WarOnWomen?) In fact, Walker’s critique is milder even than Heather Digby Parton’s at the very left Salon. She called the raids “intimidation, pure and simple.”

But Walker’s comment was apparently too much for Chisholm, who broke his own (official) silence about the John Doe investigations with this remarkable statement:

“As to defamatory remarks, I strongly suspect the Iowa criminal code, like Wisconsin’s, has provisions for intentionally making false statements intended to harm the reputation of others,” Chisholm said in a statement Saturday responding to Walker’s comments.

Francis Schmitz — a “self-described” Republican who acted as a special prosecutor in the second John Doe investigation said this:

“His description of the investigation as a ‘political witch hunt’ is offensive when he knows that the investigation was authorized by a bipartisan group of judges and is directed by a Republican special prosecutor appointed at the request of a bipartisan group of district attorneys,” Schmitz’s statement said.

He called Walker’s comments inaccurate but didn’t detail why.

“I invite the governor to join me in seeking judicial approval to lawfully release information now under seal which would be responsive to the allegations that have been made,” his statement said. “Such information, when lawfully released, will show that these recent allegations are patently false.” (Emphasis added.)

Considering it was the prosecution that launched years-long secret investigations and then placed gag orders — on pain of criminal punishment — on the targets, Schmitz’s call to “release information” is almost comical. Chisholm’s response, however, is especially revealing. The excesses of the John Doe investigations raise concerns that Wisconsin prosecutors are trying to criminalize political speech, and in response the lead prosecutor . . . threatens to criminalize political speech. As my friend Ken White at Popehat tweeted:

Exactly so. Yet if Chisholm thinks threats can deter future comment or further investigation of his actions and motivations, he’s sadly mistaken.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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