Scott Walker responds to John Doe files leak: nothing to see here

Wisconsin governor says investigation was ‘baseless’ after leaked files showing influence of corporate cash in politics were published by Guardian US

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker broke his silence on Thursday over leaked documents obtained by Guardian US, which revealed his links to a complex network of conservative donors and the influence of corporate cash in the election process.

In an interview with Milwaukee’s WTMJ 620, the Republican governor described as “baseless” the legal investigation into alleged campaign finance violations that produced the 1,500 pages of documents.

“It’s what we often see in media outlets where you get bits and pieces shaped to push their agenda,” Walker said. “The bottom line is we’ve had several courts in this state that have shut this down, this baseless investigation down, because it clearly didn’t show that what was done that was not lawful there.”

Known as the “John Doe investigation”, several Wisconsin prosecutors launched a probe into what they suspected were criminal campaign finance violations by the campaign committee of Walker, a former Republican presidential candidate who dropped out early in the primary race. The prosecutors claimed Walker’s committee operated a coordinated network that involved outside lobby groups, thereby allowing unlimited amounts of corporate money to funnel into a third-party group closely aligned with his campaign. In July 2015, the Wisconsin supreme court halted the investigation.

In saying prosecutors misunderstood campaign finance law to pick on people and groups “wholly innocent of any wrongdoing”, the state’s high court took the extraordinary step to order all documents produced as part of the investigation to be destroyed and later held under seal – however at least one set survived that was leaked to Guardian US.

Walker told the radio station that unspecified people related to the investigation who “lose in the court of law, repeatedly” now “want to play this out in the court of public opinion – and do so with only bits and pieces, without the full story”.

“The bottom line is that people, not only at the supreme court level, but even initially at the circuit court level, where a distinguished reserve judge – who, as far as we can tell, has no aligned political allegiance with anyone – initially shut this down,” Walker said. “And that assertion’s been held many times over.”

Charlie Sykes of WTMJ then proceeded to ask Walker about headlines on Wednesday following the John Doe leak, particularly that Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature in 2013 passed new laws making it difficult for victims of lead paint poisoning to file lawsuits against lead producers, following a $750,000 donation to a group aligned with the governor.

Walker said the donation was irrelevant to his support for the lead law.

“The shocking thing for many,” Walker said, “might be that people actually in elected office do the things they’ve said. I, and plenty of others in the legislature, have said for years – almost a decade or more now – that lawsuit reform was an important issue in the state.”

The governor said he disagreed with a previous court ruling “that said you can be sued as an employer, even if there’s no evidence your company had anything to do with what they’re suing about”.

“We thought that was wrong, we thought that sent a bad sentiment,” Walker said. “We thought that would discourage people hiring people in the state of Wisconsin, and bring business to the state.”

The leak prompted Milwaukee County district attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat who launched the John Doe investigation, on Wednesday to proclaim his support for determining the source of the leak, and said it’s “not merely a violation of the John Doe secrecy order, it’s a crime under Wisconsin law”.

In his interview, Walker echoed the sentiment. “I think those involved in law enforcement in this state – if they want people to take seriously the order of the court – should certainly do that, no matter what the issue is,” he said. “Otherwise, what kind of system do we live in?

“As I mentioned, in this case, the worst part about it is, they’ve lost in the court of law because several courts have said this is a baseless investigation, and yet, now, they’re trying to leak bits and pieces of it in the court of opinion, without people knowing all the facts.

“And the things people should focus in on,” he continued, “are the fact this has been shut down, because they couldn’t provide a basis for showing anything was illegal.”

The US supreme court will consider later this month a petition from the prosecutors asking for a full review of the decision to shut their case down.


Ryan Felton in Detroit

The GuardianTramp

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