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Ghost of John Does past haunts Wisconsin officials

Of note: This week we highlight the fallout triggered by Attorney General Brad Schimel’s release of a Dec. 6 investigative report calling for a prosecutor and eight other officials to be held in contempt of court over leaked documents from a closed John Doe probe into campaign activities of Gov. Scott Walker. Among the revelations in Schimel’s report was a previously undisclosed investigation by the now-shuttered Government Accountability Board into potential illegal campaigning by GOP lawmakers. We present the stories in chronological order so you can see how the controversy over the records leaked to The Guardian played out earlier this month. For background on John Doe I, which led to the other two investigations, read our 2015 story.

WisconsinWeekly is produced by us, Andy and Dee J. Hall, a couple who founded the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Andy is the executive director and Dee is the managing editor.

Dem and GOP ethics regulators clash with Attorney General Brad Schimel over John Doe report

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Dec. 12, 2017 

The leaders of the Wisconsin Ethics Commission called on Attorney General Brad Schimel to correct and clarify portions of his investigative report that implied staff members had not cooperated in his investigation into the handling of secret John Doe records. Schimel declined, adding that any errors in the report were minor.

Robin Vos, Scott Fitzgerald to state ethics, elections chiefs: Resign

Wisconsin State Journal – Dec. 15, 2017

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald call for Elections and Ethics Commission administrators Mike Haas and Brian Bell to resign after Schimel alleges the agency where they had worked mishandled confidential John Doe evidence. Mark Thomsen, chairman of the Elections Commission — one of the two agencies that succeeded the now-shuttered Government Accountability Board — dismissed the letters, calling them “partisan game-playing.”

DOJ report reveals previously unknown ethics investigation, now closed

Wisconsin State Journal – Dec. 17, 2017

The Wisconsin State Journal raises questions about Schimel’s report on leaked documents from Walker’s recall campaign in 2012. Schimel’s report revealed a previously undisclosed ethics investigation by the GAB during the 2012 recall campaigns, which concluded without criminal charges or penalties. Under state law, inquiries such as these are to remain secret unless they result in action against an official.

Judge acknowledges he shouldn’t have authorized release of ethics probe details

Wisconsin State Journal – Dec. 19, 2017 

In a related story, the judge who authorized Schimel’s report acknowledges he should not have allowed the disclosure of the previously unknown ethics investigation. Jefferson County Circuit Judge William Hue accepted responsibility in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, but did note that Schimel never asked whether releasing details from the investigation would be permitted.

The Latest: Elections head accuses GOP leaders of slander

Associated Press – Dec. 22, 2017 

The administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission accuses the two highest-ranking Republicans in the Legislature of slander, the Associated Press reported. AP created a timeline of the fast-moving developments in the story, including a letter by Michael Haas sent Dec. 21 to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Speaker Robin Vos claiming their allegations of criminal behavior by him and other former Government Accountability Board staffers had “no factual or legal basis.” The letter came after Fitzgerald and two other Republicans voted to instruct Schimel to launch another investigation into the GAB’s role in the now closed John Doe investigations.

Ethics Commission administrator Brian Bell calls for investigation to clear his name

Wisconsin State Journal- Dec. 23, 2017 

Following calls from Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald to resign, Ethics Commission administrator Brian Bell called for a investigation into himself to clear his own name. A lawyer from the Ethics Commission called the request “new territory for the commission,” as no one has ever asked the commission to investigate his or her own conduct before.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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