The Wisconsin Department of Justice is recommending disciplinary action against several former employees of the now-shuttered Government Accountability Board following the completion of an investigation into documents leaked to the Guardian U.S. from a secret investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's campaign and his conservative allies.
The agency is not recommending criminal charges.
The report, released Wednesday, also references a third John Doe investigation into Wisconsin Republicans, previously unknown to the public.
The leak, the contents of which were reported on by the Guardian U.S. more than a year ago, violated both state law and a secrecy order from the state Supreme Court, which shut down the investigation in July 2015. The Guardian report, which showed multiple instances of Walker soliciting contributions from wealthy donors for Wisconsin Club for Growth, was assembled with documents from a now-shuttered John Doe investigation.
According to the DOJ report, released Wednesday, "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."
The agency also argues the GAB was weaponized "by partisans in furtherance of political goals" and collected personal information about Wisconsin Republicans without taking steps to secure it. GAB employees left "sensitive evidence unsecured" in the agency's office space and on its computer systems, according to the report.
While searching for the documents leaked to the Guardian U.S., DOJ investigators found a "previously unknown and secret investigation into a broad range of Wisconsin Republicans" the report refers to as "John Doe III."
The investigation collected "hundreds of thousands of private emails from dozens of Wisconsin Republicans (and at least two national conservative leaders, Ed Gillespie and Leonard Leo)." According to the report, more than 500,000 of these emails were found in the basement of the former GAB in boxes labeled "Shane Falk," the name of a former GAB attorney. Also according to the report, thousands of private emails and instant message conversations from Wisconsin Republicans were held on GAB servers in folders marked "Opposition Research."
Among the 35 Republicans whose complete personal email accounts, chat and messenger logs, contact lists, IP login information and cloud storage account information were stored are state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa; Stephan Thompson, a former top aide to Walker who now heads a super PAC backing Vukmir; Dan Romportl, chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau; and political consultants R.J. Johnson and Deb Jordahl.
"Because of the very broad nature of the search warrants, the John Doe III investigators obtained emails and chat logs from hundreds and perhaps thousands of other individuals who corresponded with the individuals listed above," according to the report.
Investigators described the breadth of information contained in the so-called "Falk boxes" as "breathtaking," pointing in particular to more than 150 personal emails between Vukmir and her daughter which included medical and other personal information.
According to the report, none of the hard drives contained in the box were password-protected.
DOJ investigators concluded that the Guardian leak was a crime, but were unable to determine "the precise details about how the crime was committed or by whom."
The report found that the leak could not have come from the Wisconsin courts system and ruled that it did not come from any district attorney's office or from special prosecutor Francis Schmitz.
"The key to this investigation remains that the five unique packets of Relativity documents were created by (former GAB employee) Molly Nagappala, sent to Shane Falk via Gmail, and placed on Shane Falk’s hard drive along with all of the other leaked documents," the report states.
The report argues GAB employees "did not act in a detached and professional manner," and says the leak could have been avoided had the agency taken "simple precautions" to secure its records.
DOJ is asking the state Supreme Court to refer Falk to the Office of Lawyer Regulation and to initiate contempt proceedings against Falk, Schmitz, Nagappala, former GAB director Kevin Kennedy, former GAB attorney Jonathan Becker, Elections Commission counsel Nathan Judnic, Milwaukee assistant district attorney David Robles, Milwaukee administrator James Krueger and Milwaukee district attorney investigator Robert Stelter.