MADISON (AP) – Investigators looking into the 2012 recall campaign of Gov. Scott Walker and other conservative groups are trying to salvage their probe despite rulings this week by a federal judge that put it in jeopardy.
The investigation, which has been ongoing for nearly two years, comes as Walker’s star is rising in the Republican Party and he considers running for president in 2016.
Here are some key questions as the legal battle over the investigation continues.
WHAT HAPPENED THIS WEEK?
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa ruled that the investigation into possible illegal coordination between the governor’s recall campaign and conservative groups supporting him was a breach of free-speech rights. He also ordered prosecutors to return all property seized in the investigation and to destroy all copies of information obtained in the probe. The judge, who was appointed by George H.W. Bush, issued the ruling in a lawsuit filed by Wisconsin Club for Growth, a conservative group that said the so-called John Doe investigation amounted to harassment.
Randa’s ruling was put on hold less than 24 hours later by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said Randa should not have halted the investigation while he was still considering prosecutors’ appeal of his earlier decision that they were not immune from being sued. The appeals court also blocked the portion of Randa’s order requiring prosecutors to return or destroy evidence they had collected.
Randa on Thursday, just 17 hours after the appeals court ruling, said the prosecutors’ appeal was frivolous, thereby reinstating his temporary injunction blocking the investigation.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?
Prosecutors could ask for another stay while the appeal to Randa’s order is pending. The appeals court has also set a schedule to receive briefs from attorneys in the appeal, with the last deadline on July 30.
While the federal case is ongoing, there are also three other lawsuits pending in state court connected to the investigation.
The special prosecutor leading the investigation, Francis Schmitz, has asked an appeals court to reverse a judge’s decision in one lawsuit to quash subpoenas in the case. A second lawsuit involves two unnamed parties asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to challenge the investigation, and three other unnamed parties argue that Peterson lacks authority to run such a probe.
WHAT IS A JOHN DOE INVESTIGATION ANYWAY?
It is the name given to investigations allowed under Wisconsin law which are done largely in secret and overseen by a judge. Prosecutors can collect evidence and compel people to testify, just like in regular investigations, but the activity is largely shielded from the public.
Information has leaked out about the latest probe through court rulings, redacted court filings, and leaks made by Eric O’Keefe, the director of Wisconsin Club for Growth, one of the conservative groups being targeted.
WASN’T WALKER INVOLVED IN AN EARLIER JOHN DOE?
Yes, the first John Doe investigation into the Milwaukee County executive’s office under Walker lasted three years and ended in 2013 with six convictions. Walker was interviewed but never charged.
The second investigation ordered by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm began in August 2012, less than two months after Walker won a recall election spurred by anger over the law he pushed that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers.
The current investigation, dubbed John Doe II, focused on alleged illegal coordination between and among Walker’s recall committee and “all or nearly all right-of-center groups and individuals in Wisconsin who have engaged in issue advocacy from 2010 to the present,” Randa said in his Tuesday ruling.
WILL THESE INVESTIGATIONS HURT WALKER POLITICALLY?
They haven’t so far.
Walker’s Democratic opponents tried to use the first investigation against him during the 2012 recall, but Walker easily defeated Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Walker’s opponent for re-election this year, former Trek Bicycle Corp. executive Mary Burke, hasn’t made the ongoing probe as large of a focus of her campaign. Outside groups critical of the governor have tried to argue that the investigations show Walker is untrustworthy.
For his part, Walker has said he’s not letting the investigations distract him from the job of being governor.