Scott Walker's Jury Duty Is National News at AP; Judge's Rejection of Fishing Expedition Against Him Isn't

A search at the national web site of the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, on the name of Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker (not in quotes) returns only two recent relevant items. One relates to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, where Walker is described as saying, in AP's words, "that (last week) he didn't know enough about the situation to comment ... (and) has remained silent in the days since details emerged." The other relates to Walker's brief jury duty stint last week.

Giving items relating to Walker national attention makes sense, given that his name frequently comes up as a possible GOP 2016 presidential contender. But if the two items just mentioned merit national coverage, why doesn't the fact that an out-of-control Democratic Wisconsin prosecutor attempting to dig up "coordination" between interested outside parties and Walker's 2012 campaign to turn back a recall effort just had his hat handed to him in court? On Friday evening, a Wall Street Journal editorial had the news (bolds are mine throughout this post; the link to a previous WSJ editorial was added by me):


Wisconsin Political Speech Victory
A judge blocks subpoenas against conservative allies of Scott Walker.

ScottWalkerWideC2012

Chalk up a big victory for the First Amendment. On Friday a Wisconsin judge struck a major blow for free political speech when he quashed subpoenas to conservative groups and ordered the return of property to the targets of a so-called John Doe campaign-finance probe.

John Doe probes operate much like grand juries, allowing prosecutors to issue subpoenas and conduct searches while gag orders require the targets to keep quiet. We wrote about the kitchen-sink subpoenas and morning raids by special prosecutor Francis Schmitz that targeted dozens of conservative groups that participated in the battle to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker ("Wisconsin Political Speech Raid," Nov. 16, 2013).

Now we learn that Judge Gregory A. Peterson ruled on Friday that at least some of those subpoenas were improper. They "do not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws," he wrote. His opinion remains under seal but we obtained a copy.

The quashed subpoenas were sent to Friends of Scott Walker, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Inc., the Wisconsin Club for Growth, and Citizens for a Strong America, as well as their officers and directors. Judge Peterson's order doesn't apply to other subpoena targets, but they can presumably get the same result if they file a motion with the judge and have a similar factual basis.

The order is all the more remarkable because it bluntly rejects the prosecutor's theory of illegal coordination between the groups and the Walker campaign.

... "There is no evidence of express advocacy" and therefore "the subpoenas fail to show probable cause that a crime was committed," Judge Peterson wrote.

... This means that prosecutors essentially invented without evidence the possibility of criminal behavior to justify the subpoenas and their thuggish tactics. At least three targets had their homes raided at dawn, with police turning over belongings, seizing computers and files, and even barring phone calls.

The judge's order vindicates our suspicion that the John Doe probe is a political operation intended to shut up Mr. Walker's allies as he seeks re-election this year. No one has taken public credit for appointing the special prosecutor, but we know the probe began in the office of Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf.

... The John Doe process has become a political weapon intended to serve partisan ends regardless of the law. Kudos to a judge who was brave enough to read the law and stop it, but there's more free-speech defending to do.

Note that it was the Journal's editorialists who obtained the judge's ruling, apparently without the help of its beat reporters.

It turns out that the AP did a story on the judge's ruling, but treated it only as a local matter.

I could only find the unbylined story at about a dozen Midwestern outlets (three are here, here, and here). The final excerpted paragraph below from the report is a real howler:

Wis. judge's ruling deals setback in secret investigation into recall elections

A Wisconsin judge quashed subpoenas and ordered the return of property to the targets of a secret campaign-finance investigation that reportedly involves Gov. Scott Walker's campaign and conservative groups, according to a newspaper report.

Judge Gregory A. Peterson ruled Friday some of those subpoenas were improper, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday in a story on its opinion page.

Peterson, an Eau Claire County reserve judge, is overseeing the so-called John Doe investigation into Walker's campaign and more than two dozen conservative groups.

Peterson wrote that the subpoenas "do not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws." His opinion remains under seal, but the newspaper said it obtained a copy. Peterson told The Associated Press he could not comment Saturday, citing the secret investigation.

... Voicemail messages from the AP left Saturday for the groups were not immediately returned.

Last month, Walker declined comment about the investigation in an interview with the AP but said he hopes it ends soon because otherwise, "It's like trying to have a discussion with both hands tied behind your back."

It's unknown whether special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, a former assistant U.S. attorney, is also looking at Democrats and their supporters.

Don't make us laugh, guys.

If I were with the groups involved, I wouldn't talk to the AP either.

A search on ["Scott Walker" John Doe] (typed exactly as indicated between brackets) returned about 24 relevant items. Other than the dozen AP items mentioned earlier and an item in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — which reported that it "has not turned up any Democratic candidates or liberal interest groups involved in the recall elections that have been contacted by John Doe prosecutors" (what a surprise) – no other establishment press outlet has taken an interest in what the Journal reported.

Does anyone think that the AP or the rest of the press would ignore a similarly favorable story involving a potential Democratic presidential candidate? They'd be going after the out-of-control prosecutors – which is what they should be doing now, if they cared about doing their jobs.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.