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Special Prosecutor: Scott Walker Not A Target Of Investigation

2013 Conservative Political Action Conference

The special prosecutor investigating alleged campaign finance irregularities in Wisconsin said this week that Governor Scott Walker is not a target of a criminal investigation:

A special prosecutor in Wisconsin said on Thursday that Gov. Scott Walker was not the target of an investigation that has become an issue in the hard-fought governor’s race.

Last week, in court papers in a civil suit, the special prosecutor’s office described Walker as being at the heart of a “criminal scheme” to violate election laws by coordinating efforts with conservative national groups to win recall elections in 2011 and 2012.

No charges have been returned in the probe, known as a John Doe investigation, which was halted by a court. That decision is under appeal.

The charge of Republican Walker’s involvement has become an attack motif for his opponents, including Democrat Mary Burke. In statements and television appearances, Walker has maintained that he is innocent.

On Thursday, special prosecutor Francis Schmitz had his lawyer, Randall D. Crocker, say in a statement that he “has made no conclusions as to whether there is sufficient evidence to charge anyone with a crime.”

“At the time the investigation was halted, Gov. Walker was not a target of the investigation,” Crocker said. “At no time has he been served with a subpoena.”

Crocker said the documents that were made public were never designed to be released and outlined a prosecutor’s theory.

“In recent days, the documents and the allegations contained within have received significant media coverage,” said Crocker. “Contained in the documents is a reference to the request for production of documents that relates to an alleged criminal scheme. Gov. Walker’s name was included in this reference.

“While these documents outlined the prosecutor’s legal theory, they did not establish the existence of a crime; rather, they were arguments in support of further investigation to determine if criminal charges against any person or entity are warranted.”

As I noted when these documents were released, the idea that the information contained therein placed Walker in any real political jeopardy seems far-fetched. This would seem to be especially true given the fact that a Federal Judge had closed the investigation as frivolous, something that judges rarely do. More broadly, it occurs to me that releasing documents like this, which amount essentially to the attorney work product of the prosecutors involved in the matter, may have been improper. These types of documents are rarely made public precisely because they often contain information that is developed during the course of an investigation but never ultimately pursued either because the fact did not pan out or because there was no clear violation of the law even if the fact are assumed to be true. Releasing documents that describe someone as being at the “center” of a criminal investigation when they haven’t even been charged, and apparently are not even the target of the investigation, seems to me to be unfair. At least when someone is formally charged in court, they have rights and the ability to defend themselves. In this case, Walker has to do deal with the fact that there was a massive document dump that made allegations against him, while the subsequent reports that he isn’t the target of an investigation are unlikely to get nearly the same amount of attention in the media.

To paraphrase former Labor Secretary under Ronald Reagan Raymond Donovan after he was acquitted on racketeering charges that seemed to have no merit, where does Scott Walker go to get his reputation back? After his acquittal, Donovan returned to private business as the head of the company that had been at the center of the criminal trial, where he remained until the company was sold in 2007. (Source)

Walker, of course, is in a very different position from Donovan was thirty years ago. Donovan had to resign his position in order to defend himself  against serious criminal charges. Walker is the sitting Governor of Wisconsin currently in the middle of a battle for re-election and, if he wins, likely to leap to the near the top of the list of potential candidates for the 2016 Republican nomination. For Walker, the real test will be what, if any, impact all of this will have on his race against Mary Burke as we head toward November. So far, there has not been any polling released that was taken since the documents were released  so it’s far too early to judge what kind of an impact the will have. No doubt, this announcement by the special prosecutor will help to blunt any damage Waker may have suffered in that regard. Indeed, given the fact that Walker has shown a remarkable ability to emerge victorious when he’s been the target of political attacks, I’d say the smart money should be on him. Nonetheless, it’s somewhat disturbing that document dumps like this can have potentially serious impacts on political races, and I suppose its fortunate for Walker that this happened in June and not a month before Election Day.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    So the press just sensationalized a news story? Say it ain’t sooo…

    But Doug?

    This would seem to be especially true given the fact that a Federal Judge had closed the investigation as frivolous, something that judges rarely do. More broadly, it occurs to me that releasing documents like this, which amount essentially to the attorney work product of the prosecutors involved in the matter, may have been improper.

    It would have very clarifying if you had mentioned that this document dump was ordered by this same judge.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. Bob Beller says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Rand ordered the release based on media requests since the “Secret John Doe Investigation” was no longer secret (never really had been). The Plaintiffs, specifically Club For Growth and Eric O’Keefe didn’t have a problem with it since it would shed light on things they’d not been allowed to talk about for months under threat of prosecution.

    Obviously the disgraced DA’s didn’t mind since they knew they couldn’t get this won in court anymore, they were hoping for the “court of public opinion” to give them their conviction.

    I’m surprised Schmitz came out publicly about this, since he’s named in the Civil Rights lawsuit that is pending.

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  3. Robert Levine says:

    I think it entirely possible that “not a target of this investigation” was followed by a very quiet “at this time.” It’s hard to reconcile the idea that Walker’s out of the woods with the prosecutor’s assertion that he was at the center of a criminal scheme.

    Walker is in electoral trouble for many other reasons; this particular case hasn’t had much impact. I think it’s overly optimistic that this case won’t hurt him, especially if that optimism is based on rulings from a judge who’s pretty openly partisan and who has been rebuked repeatedly by higher courts. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong, but even a mis-set microwave oven is right once a day.

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  4. superdestroyer says:

    @Robert Levine:

    I find it odd that every progressives likes to claim that the judge is partisan but never mentions that the prosecutor is just as partisan. I love how the left leaning media like MSNBC breathlessly claimed that Walker was in serious legal trouble after the documents were released but ignored the prosecutors walking back everything in the documents after they were released. The same can be seen in the reporting of Chris Christie were according to MSNBC, he has been on the verge of being indicted several times.

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  5. Robert Levine says:

    @superdestroyer: You mean the special prosecutor in the case who was one of three candidates short-listed by the Bush Administration to become US Attorney for Milwaukee? Clearly a partisan Democrat.

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