A conservative political group trying to shut down an investigation of Wisconsin Governor Scott Wakler has inadvertently gotten him fingered as the center of a criminal enterprise:
Prosecutors allege Gov. Scott Walker was at the center of an effort to illegally coordinate fund raising among conservative groups to help his campaign and those of Republican state senators facing recall elections during 2011 and '12, according to documents unsealed Thursday.
In the documents, prosecutors lay out what they call an extensive "criminal scheme" to bypass state election laws by Walker, his campaign and two top Republican political operatives — R.J. Johnson and Deborah Jordahl. This marks the first time prosecutors have disclosed the details of their probe.
The governor and his close confidants helped raise money and control spending through 12 conservative groups during the recall election campaigns, according to the prosecutors' filings.
The documents include an excerpt from an email in which Walker tells Karl Rove, former top adviser to President George W. Bush, that Johnson would lead the coordination campaign. Johnson is also Walker's longtime campaign strategist and the chief adviser to Wisconsin Club for Growth, a prominent conservative group.
"Bottom-line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin. We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like 9 congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities)," Walker wrote to Rove on May 4, 2011.
Beginning' in March 2011 there were "open and express discussions" of the need to coordinate the activities of entities like Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth, the Republican Party of Wisconsin, the Republican State Leadership Committee' and the Republican Governors Association, special prosecutor Francis Schmitz wrote. Conference calls were held between the Walker campaign, the governors associaton and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, he wrote.
The scope of the criminal scheme under investigation "is expansive," Schmitz wrote. "It includes criminal violations of multiple elections laws, including violations of Filing a False Campaign Report or Statement and Conspiracy to File a False Campaign Report or Statement."Walker, who is running for re-election and is considered a possible 2016 presidential candidate, responded Thursday by criticizing the case that prosecutors were trying to build."You've got two judges, both a state judge and a federal judge, who said that they didn't buy into the argument that has been presented at this point," Walker said, speaking to reporters after presenting awards at the 2014 Water Council Summit in Milwaukee. "I think their words speak pretty strongly both at the federal and state level."
Walker said he hadn't seen the material and couldn't respond directly to the Rove email. He indicated Johnson, his chief strategist, will remain with the campaign for the fall election."We've used him in the past," Walker said. "I don't see that changing in the future."
Later Thursday, Walker released a statement attacking Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. "The accusation of any wrongdoing written in the complaint by the office of a partisan Democrat district attorney by me or by my campaign is categorically false," he said in the statement.Walker said: "This is nothing more than a partisan investigation with no basis in state law. It's time for the prosecutors to acknowledge both judges' orders to end this investigation. Now my Democratic opponents will use these false accusations to distract from the issues important to the voters of Wisconsin."
Federal Appeals Judge Frank Easterbrook unsealed the court documents Thursday as he reviews a lawsuit attempting to end the John Doe probe. Two unnamed individuals this week tried to intervene in the case to prevent the release of the records, but Easterbrook rebuffed their request.
The lawsuit was brought by Wisconsin Club for Growth and one of its directors, Eric O'Keefe. They allege the probe has violated their First Amendment rights to free expression. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa ruled last month to halt the investigation.