Here’s a fun little pre-debate news dump: Scott Walker was named in a criminal investigation in 2011.
According to a new court filing, first reported by WisPolitics, Walker was named in a secret John Doe probe that investigated his staff at the Milwaukee County Executive’s office.
Walker was never charged with a crime, and he always maintained that the investigations didn’t target him. But these new filings indicate that he was, in fact, a target.
The court filing came in response to a civil suit leveled by Cindy Archer, a former Walker aide and one of the targets of the investigation. The filing shows that investigator Robert Stelter, in a request for a warrant as part of the secret probe, wrote that “there is probable cause to believe that Scott Walker ... committed a felony.”
In the last few years, there have two secret John Doe probes involving Walker’s team and allies. The first probe—which got Walker named as a target for criminal investigation—ended in March of 2013 after resulting in the conviction of six Walker aides and associates. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes, that first probe overlapped with a second John Doe investigation that looked for improper coordination between Walker’s team and conservative groups in the lead-up to the 2012 recall election. The state supreme court ended that second investigation in July—the latest in a streak of big wins for Walker allies.
The Cap Times noted that in June 2012—three months after setting up a legal defense fund to pay criminal defense lawyers—Walker told reporters that he was not one of the probe’s targets.
“One hundred percent wrong,” he said. “Could not be more wrong. It’s just more of the liberal scare tactics out there, desperately trying to get the [gubernatorial] campaign off target.”
The news of the filings divided Wisconsin along ideological lines, with conservatives jumping to Walker’s defense and liberals charging that this is just another case of Walker playing fast and loose with the truth.
Matt Kittle, editor in chief of the conservative news site Wisconsin Watchdog, said he doesn’t think Walker lied when he said he wasn’t targeted.
“It was clear then that he was a target of this probe, but, like so many of these individuals, he may not have been aware of it,” Kittle emailed.
And Brendan Fischer, general counsel for the progressive group Center for Media and Democracy, said it’s another example of mendacity on Walker’s part.
“I find it almost impossible to believe that he didn’t know,” he said.
Scot Ross, president of the progressive group One Wisconsin Now, concurred with Fischer.
“Scott Walker simply cannot be trusted,” he said. “Scott Walker repeatedly told the people of Wisconsin he wasn't under criminal investigation. Today, the evidence shows Scott Walker repeatedly wasn't telling the people of Wisconsin the truth.”
Fischer added that if prosecutors had leaked documents showing Walker was part of a criminal investigation, the resultant bad press might have kept him from winning the recall election.
“If this came out before the recall election, I think it’s very likely he wouldn’t be in office and he wouldn’t have won,” Fischer said.
And he argued that the probe’s secrecy ultimately protected the governor. That details of Walker’s involvement didn’t emerge until now, Fischer said, undermines charges that the probe was just a witchhunt to snag the governor.
Conservatives in the state maintain that the John Doe prosecutions were politically motivated, and aimed at taking down Walker. Will Swaim, the editor of the conservative news site Watchdog.org, said these efforts were “a Hail Mary pass to bring Scott Walker down.” And an unsuccessful one.
“This is a sign, I would argue, of prosecutorial ambition and desperation,” he said. “If I’m Scott Walker, I’m thinking, these guys simply will not give up.”
Walker’s campaign echoed that sentiment.
“The information released today comes from a case that has been closed for more than two years,” said Walker campaign spokesperson AshLee Strong. “It is another example of the politics involved in this process as people who could not prove things in a court of law are attempting to win in the court of public opinion.”