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Gov. Scott Walker speaks during a press conference at the state Capitol in Madison in January.

PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

Gov. Scott Walker declined repeatedly on Friday to say whether he thinks the heads of Wisconsin's Ethics and Elections Commissions should resign, saying only that a scathing state Department of Justice report "speaks for itself." 

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, called for the resignations of Elections Commission administrator Michael Haas and Ethics Commission administrator Brian Bell on Thursday. Fitzgerald said Friday if they do not resign, the Republican-led Senate will make moves to force them out.

Fitzgerald and Vos cited concerns with "partisan influence remaining" in the two commissions that replaced the now-defunct Government Accountability Board. 

The push to oust Bell and Haas comes in the wake of a DOJ investigation into leaked documents from a now-shuttered secret probe into Walker and his allies.

According to the DOJ report, 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.

Members of the Ethics and Elections commissions have argued that any problems tied to the GAB do not exist in the new commissions.

In his report, Attorney General Brad Schimel recommended disciplinary action against several former GAB employees, but not Bell or Haas. Schimel told reporters earlier this week he is not calling for anyone's resignation.

Asked about the letters from Fitzgerald and Vos, a Schimel spokesman said Friday the attorney general will "will leave personnel decisions in the hands of the commissions' members and hopes the leak investigation report helps members make informed decisions."

"I think the Department of Justice’s report speaks for itself," Walker said when asked by reporters whether he agrees with the Republican legislative leaders.

"I think the report clearly defines what they thought about the folks involved there. Like I said, I think it speaks for itself," he said when pressed on the question. "Obviously the legislative leaders chose to take a step beyond that, but in terms of my view on it, again, I think the report itself speaks for itself."

Asked whether he has a view on whether they should step down, he said the report is "pretty clear about the concerns that were raised there."

All told, he said the report "speaks for itself" five times in a span of eight questions about the issue. 

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Asked whether the commissions should have consistent leadership going into an election, he said, "Well, I think it’s good to have leadership, period, whether it’s consistent or not, the bottom line is there should be capable people in that position and any other out there."

"Again, that's something we'll certainly review," he said when asked whether the current administrators are capable.

He also declined to say whether he shares Republican lawmakers' concerns that a partisan influence exists within the commissions.

"Again, I think the report addresses that and speaks for itself," he said. "You can see there’s a pattern. I can say it many different ways. I might say, ‘Merry Christmas, and the report speaks for itself.’ ‘Happy Hanukkah, the report speaks for itself.’"

Haas said earlier Friday that he was "very surprised" to receive the letter asking for his resignation.

"I look forward to continuing the important work of administering elections on behalf of all Wisconsin residents and taxpayers, and I call on the Legislature to support that work," Haas said in a statement.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.