No criminal charges following John Doe leak investigation
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel is recommending disciplinary action, but no criminal charges, following his investigation of a leak of information collected during a now-closed secret probe into Gov. Scott Walker's campaign.
In a report to the judge overseeing the probe released Wednesday, Schimel concluded the leak came from the former Government Accountability Board, but couldn't determine who exactly was behind it.
"Although probable cause certainly exists to believe that a crime was committed, DOJ does not currently possess proof beyond a reasonable doubt necessary to convict any particular person of a criminal offense at this time," Schimel said.
The report also discloses that Justice Department investigators discovered a previously unknown secret investigation "into a broad range of Wisconsin Republicans" related to illegal campaigning on state government time. The GAB, which was disbanded in late 2015, held thousands of private emails from Wisconsin Republicans in several folders on their servers marked "Opposition Research," the report said.
Investigators received chat logs or emails from Walker; U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson; U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy; Assembly Speaker Robin Vos; and Reince Priebus, the former Wisconsin Republican Party chairman who went on to head the Republican National Committee and serve briefly as President Donald Trump's chief of staff.
Many of the emails obtained were personal and "completely unrelated to campaigns" and DOJ was unable to determine why investigators had them, Schimel said in the report.
Republican state senator and U.S. Senate candidate Leah Vukmir, who had emails discussing personal health issues with her daughter seized, called the revelation "upsetting," "appalling" and "sickening."
"I am horrified to learn again just how invasive this witch hunt was into nearly every part of every major Wisconsin conservative's life," Vukmir said.
Schimel asked the judge overseeing the probe to refer former GAB attorney Shane Falk for discipline for violating a previous court order. The report said that Falk's hard drive containing secret documents cannot be found, but Falk denied being the source of the leak, according to Schimel's report.
Falk said Wednesday he likely remained under a court order not to talk about the investigation and declined to comment.
Schimel also asked the judge to initiate contempt proceedings against Falk; special prosecutor Francis Schmitz; former GAB director Kevin Kennedy; GAB employee Molly Nagappala; Milwaukee County District Attorney Administrator James Krueger; former GAB attorney Jonathan Becker; Elections Commission attorney Nathan Judnic; Milwaukee Assistant District Attorney David Robles; and Milwaukee County District Attorney Investigator Robert Stelter.
Schmitz said he was "completely surprised" to hear about Schimel's report and cooperated with investigators.
No one else named in the report commented when reached Wednesday by AP.
Schimel said those named "grossly mishandled secret John Doe evidence and related materials and then failed to turn over all evidence as ordered by the Wisconsin Supreme Court."
"The systemic and pervasive mishandling of John Doe evidence likely resulted in circumstances allowing the Guardian leak in the first place, and now prevents prosecutors from proving criminal liability beyond a reasonable doubt," Schimel wrote.
The report determined that at least 60 people had authority to review and handle secret information, and potentially hundreds of others could have had access.
The GAB, which oversaw both elections and ethics in Wisconsin, was disbanded and reconstituted by the Legislature in late 2015 as two separate boards.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge William Hue, who is overseeing the investigation, said he received the report Tuesday afternoon and hoped to close the case within 40 days.
"I'm just considering (DOJ's recommendations) now," he said in an interview.
The original investigation looked into whether Walker's 2012 recall election campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups. The state Supreme Court shut down the probe in 2015, ruling the coordination was legal. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, letting the earlier ruling ending the probe stand.
The 1,300-pages of leaked documents included details of how Walker raised millions of dollars from Wisconsin Club for Growth, a conservative group that was supposed to be independent but that coordinated fundraising to help Walker and Republicans in the state Senate targeted for recall in 2011 and 2012.
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.