A couple thousand "nobles sauvages" and nerdy savants from across the republic are letting loose this weekend.
With the recall election only a day away, Federal prosecutors are closing in on Governor Scott Walker, according to veteran political reporter David Shuster, former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, and former district attorney Bob Jambois.
In a conference call organized by state Democrats on Saturday evening, June 2, Shuster, Lautenschlager, and Jambois laid out evidence that Walker is a target of a federal investigation.
Wisconsin Democratic Party Communications Director Graeme Zielinski added that there is evidence of wrongdoing after Walker’s time as Milwaukee County Executive, and that the investigation includes criminal activity during his time as governor.
Based on conversations with a lawyer who has knowledge of the investigation, “We believe that Scott Walker set up a secret computer network in the governor's office and Department of Administration offices, and that the John Doe investigation is seeking evidence of crimes he committed in Madison,” Zielinski said.
Walker denied the allegations. At a campaign event on Saturday, Walker answered “absolutely not” to reporters’ questions—raised by David Shuster’s reporting for Take Action News—about whether he had been informed, either formally or informally, that he might be a target of federal prosecution. “I’ve never heard a single thing about that, other than spin from the left,” Walker said. He described the allegations as “just more of the liberal scare tactics out there desperately trying to get the campaign off target.”
“I stand by my reporting 100 percent,” Shuster said in the conference call. “It’s clear to me that he is, in fact, a target in a Federal investigation.”
Despite copious reporting, especially in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, about the Milwaukee County district attorney’s probe of alleged violations when Walker was county executive—including a secret email network maintained by his staff for the purpose of conducting illegal campaign activity on county time, the theft of funds intended for the widows and orphans of Iraq War veterans, and possible favorable treatment of campaign donors seeking public contracts, not much has been written about the FBI probe.
“The Wisconsin press has only reported about the John Doe—the state component,” said Zielinski. “They have not reported on the Federal component of this.”
“I’ve been reporting on Federal grand juries for twenty years” —including Justice Department probes of former Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker, Monica Lewinsky, Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, and Jack Abramoff—said David Shuster, a former reporter for Fox News and anchor for MSNBC, who now works with Take Action News.
In his reporting on FBI involvement in the current probe of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Shuster said he consulted with Justice Department attorneys in the public integrity section and “I got independent confirmation that he’s a target.”
Shuster said that he had learned Scott Walker’s attorneys had been seeking to have their client publicly cleared of wrongdoing for the last five or six weeks, in the run-up to the recall election. Prosecutors could not clear him, Shuster said, because Walker is a target.
The ongoing John Doe investigation by the Milwaukee County District Attorney has led to criminal charges against three of Walker’s former aides, an appointee, and a major donor. Thirteen of Walker’s associates have been granted immunity—including Walker’s spokesman, Cullen Werwie.
Recent campaign finance filings show that Walker has transferred a total of $160,000 into a criminal defense fund—the only criminal defense fund maintained by a governor of any state in the nation.
Walker’s opponent in the recall election, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, has repeatedly called for Walker to disclose the names of donors to his criminal defense fund, and to release emails relating to the investigation of wrongdoing on his watch in the county executive’s office.
In Saturday’s conference call, former prosecutor Bob Jambois said that when he was general counsel to the state Department of Transportation, he released thousands of pages of records and called a press conference to put to rest allegations of wrongdoing. “If Scott Walker thinks this is so unfair, why doesn’t he open up these 1,400 emails,” he said.
Jambois suggested that the emails Walker has not released must relate to a private email network, since reporters have been unable to access them through an open records request.
Lautenschlager agreed that “Walker should have produced evidence to clear himself” if he was not a target of investigation, and that it would be “malpractice” for his attorneys not to seek a letter from prosecutors clearing him.
She also disputed Walker’s contention that he could not speak publicly about the investigation because prosecutors did not want him to.
“There is no happier person than a prosecutor when a target starts speaking publicly,” she said.
As state attorney general, Lautenschlager said that she worked by a “rule of thumb” when investigating wrongdoing by politicians “not to say anything within two months of an election,” unless prosecutors could clear the politician in question, to avoid the appearance of a politically motivated prosecution.
While that rules out an indictment before the election on Tuesday, she said, Scott appears to be “on that pathway toward indictment.”
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "What’s at Stake in Wisconsin."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter