Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel is pushing back against criticism of his decision not to investigate a leak to the Wall Street Journal of materials related to a secret John Doe investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's campaign and his conservative allies.
Schimel told the Wisconsin State Journal last week he will likely convene a grand jury to investigate a leak to the Guardian U.S. of evidence collected in the John Doe probe.
Since then, Democrats including state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, have criticized his decision not to also investigate a previous leak to the Wall Street Journal's editorial page by Eric O'Keefe, the director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth and a target in the Doe probe.
"Is AG Schimel the Attorney General for the entire State of Wisconsin, or just for extreme right-wing activists? Once again, he has made clear he is only interested in investigating The Guardian leak, rather than investigating what The Guardian leak revealed — an unprecedented political scheme to circumvent Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws," Taylor said in a statement last week.
The leak of a set of 1,500 documents to the Guardian U.S., which reported on them in September, showed multiple instances of Walker soliciting contributions from wealthy donors for Wisconsin Club for Growth.
"I’ve got to tell you, I’m really puzzled by the criticism that I wouldn’t go after the leak to the Wall Street Journal," Schimel said Monday in an interview with the Cap Times. "There’s a very significant difference between the people we’re looking at (in the Guardian U.S. leak) and the individual who leaked to the Wall Street Journal, because that’s a private citizen. The courts have no authority to order a private citizen to have a gag order on them."
O'Keefe shared information about the investigation with the Wall Street Journal before filing a lawsuit against the prosecutors in the Doe case. He told conservative radio host Vicki McKenna in a 2014 interview that that subpoena he was issued in 2012 included a gag order, and has said he violated it frequently because he believed it to be unconstitutional.
Schimel said the court had no authority to place O'Keefe under those restrictions.
"How can you possibly tell a private citizen who feels they’ve been wronged by government, that has invaded their home, taken their property and more concerning, taken property that contains their thoughts and ideas, and they can’t cry out and say, 'I was wronged'? That’s incredible to me, that anyone who has respect for our constitutional republic and the First Amendment in particular wouldn’t get," Schimel said. "That’s as bad as telling a reporter that you can’t report on something. You can’t do that."
It would be "unethical" for Schimel to investigate O'Keefe for sharing information, and the case would be thrown out "in a heartbeat," Schimel said.
The state Supreme Court last month rejected calls from Schimel to order an investigation of the Guardian U.S. leak and to appoint a special master to oversee that investigation.
The leak violated both state law and a secrecy order from the state Supreme Court, which shut down the investigation in July 2015.