The Wisconsin Army National Guard headquarters is located at 2400 Wright St. in Madison.

The state Department of Justice offered to take over investigations into allegations of sexual assault and harassment within the Wisconsin National Guard from military officials to get federal authorities “off the back” of the guard’s chief, a new email shows.

“I’m hoping if I keep doing him favors, I’ll get a ride on an F-35,” Delanie Breuer, former chief of staff to former Attorney General Brad Schimel, joked about Adjutant General Donald Dunbar in a Sept. 13, 2018 email to her boss.

The email was obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Cap Times just after federal investigators completed an investigation into whether the Wisconsin National Guard was properly handling allegations of sexual misconduct — a review called for by Gov. Tony Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.  

The DOJ in October 2018 agreed to make available investigators to the Wisconsin National Guard to review such allegations. Earlier this year, a guard spokesman said all reports made by victims who want an investigation are first referred to the DOJ or local law enforcement.

But in the 2018 email, Breuer said the purpose of the agreement was to keep the National Guard Bureau out of state investigations and would not add any new responsibilities to the department.

“The purpose of the (agreement) is mainly to get the federal National Guard Bureau off the back of (Dunbar) – (the National Guard Bureau) is currently stepping in on all investigations that don’t otherwise have a neutral third party,” Breuer wrote. “It basically spells out what (Division of Criminal Investigations) would already do. ... It’s just putting it in writing for (Dunbar).”

Breuer, who is no longer with DOJ, said Thursday the agreement was meant to codify what DOJ was already doing and to meet requirements set by the National Guard Bureau. 

"DOJ took all sexual assault complaints seriously, and was not aware of any cases happening at (Department of Military Affairs) unless they were referred to DOJ," she said. 

Schimel did not immediately respond to a voicemail with questions about the email.   

Gillian Drummond, a DOJ spokeswoman, said as of Thursday that the Guard has not referred any cases to the agency for investigation. 

Drummond said Attorney General Josh Kaul, who took office in 2019, believes that all sexual assault and harassment allegations must be taken seriously and that the email did not reflect his viewpoint of the agreement.

"Wisconsin Department of Justice has been waiting to revisit the MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the Wisconsin National Guard pending the results of the federal investigation," she said. 

The letter suggests Dunbar sought to avoid including federal investigators in cases involving sexual assault and harassment despite the National Guard Bureau recommending he do so. 

A spokesman for the guard did not immediately respond to questions.

Since 2013, the guard has had jurisdiction to investigate 20 cases of sexual assault. Of those cases, four were sent out of state to the National Guard Bureau, said guard spokeswoman Jackie Halverson, in an email earlier this year.  Halverson said that Dunbar had the right to determine whether state or federal investigators were best suited to take on a case. 

Between 2013 and 2017, the guard received 52 reports of sexual assault overall. 

Those alleging sexual assault in the National Guard are able to make two kinds of reports: restricted and unrestricted. 

A restricted report remains confidential and is not investigated. For a report to be investigated, a soldier must file an unrestricted report. Soldiers can choose to make their previously restricted reports unrestricted at any time.

When an unrestricted report is filed, it is automatically referred to local civilian law enforcement, which reviews the complaint and decides whether to investigate and pursue criminal charges. Under Wisconsin’s Military Code of Justice, local law enforcement officials have primary jurisdiction over all sexual assault claims. 

In at least three unrestricted report investigations over the last decade, Wisconsin National Guard officials have asked sexual assault victims to sign a letter waiving their right to have civilian authorities investigate their case in order for military authorities to do so instead.  

When the National Guard initiates its investigation, the sexual assault allegations become known within the same chain of command that could include alleged perpetrators.

Regardless of how law enforcement proceeds with a complaint, the National Guard also investigates all unrestricted reports of sexual assault through an internal administrative process, Halverson said.

 Katelyn Ferral, public affairs and investigative reporter for the Cap Times, is examining sexual assaults in the National Guard system and how they are handled during a nine-month O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University. This story, and others, is being co-published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which is a partner in the effort.

Marquette University and administrators of the program played no role in the reporting, editing or presentation of this project.

Katelyn Ferral is The Cap Times' public affairs and investigative reporter. She joined the paper in 2015 and previously covered the energy industry for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. She's also covered state politics and government in North Carolina.