WI DOJ Report on Leak and Mishandling of Documents in "John Doe" Investigations

The Wisconsin Department of Justice completed an investigation and report on the 2016 leak of 1500 pages of documents from the so-called "John Doe" investigations, expansive and intrusive investigations into alleged coordination and prohibited political activity by Republicans in Wisconsin.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court eventually held that the activity under investigation was constitutionally protected First Amendment speech and halted the politically motivated investigations that had terrorized conservative citizens of Wisconsin.

The report was released on Tuesday and unsealed by the court yesterday contains details about the gross mishandling of evidence and people's confidential information:

Moreover, DOJ is deeply concerned by what appears to have been the weaponization of GAB [Government Accountability Board] by partisans in furtherance of political goals, which permitted the vast collection of highly personal information from dozens of Wisconsin Republicans without even taking modest steps to secure this information. 

In the following pages, this report will explain how the former GAB never fully divested itself of evidence from the John Doe investigations and how former GAB employees and current employees of the Wisconsin Ethics Commission (Ethics) left sensitive evidence unsecured in the former GAB office space and on former GAB computer systems. This report also describes how DOJ investigators, in searching for the leaked documents, discovered what this report calls “John Doe III,” a previously unknown and secret investigation into a broad range of Wisconsin Republicans. John Doe III reached far beyond John Doe II’s original (and unsubstantiated) allegation centering on unlawful “coordination” during Governor Walker’s 2010 election and 2012 recall election. As explained more thoroughly below, this secret investigation collected hundreds of thousands of private emails from dozens of Wisconsin Republicans (and at least two national conservative leaders, Ed Gillespie and Leonard Leo). In searching for the leaked documents and the leaker, DOJ investigators found over 500,000 of these John Doe III emails in the basement of the former GAB in two unsecured boxes labeled “Shane Falk.” Moreover, for reasons that perhaps may never be fully explained, GAB obtained and then held thousands of private emails from Wisconsin Republicans in several folders on their servers marked “Opposition Research.”

The 88-page report details the misdeeds of the Government Accountability Board (GAB), now reorganized as the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, employees and investigators, some of whom are attorneys.  Because the documents and sensitive personal information were unsecured, Attorney General Brad Schimel concludes that no criminal charges can be filed for the leak as it is nearly impossible to identify the leaker.  But he did make the following disturbing findings:

  • The Leak Was A Crime 

  • The Motivation Of The Leaker Was To Influence The U.S. Supreme Court 

  • The Leak Did Not Come From The Wisconsin Courts 

  • The Leak Did Not Originate From Any District Attorney’s Office Or Francis Schmitz

  • The Leak Originated From The Former GAB

  • The Partisan Atmosphere At GAB Contributed To The Leak 

  • GAB’s Mishandling Of Evidence Created The Opportunity For The Leak Of Records 

  • Members Of The Prosecution Team Still May Not Have Fully Divested Themselves Of All Records Relating The John Doe Investigation 

Attorney General Schimel also recommends disciplinary proceedings and contempt proceedings against nine persons for repeated violations of court orders.

While this is some level of vindication for the Wisconsin citizens whose free speech rights were violated and a step in the right direction, it is also a chilling reminder of how liberals are willing to use the power of government to suppress the speech of their political opponents and are shockingly careless about the people whose lives they are disturbing and ruining.