Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, is asking the state Department of Justice to further investigate the role of the now-defunct Government Accountability Board in investigations into Republicans, including two now-shuttered John Doe probes into Gov. Scott Walker and his allies.
Fitzgerald said he will seek approval from the Senate organization committee to authorize DOJ to reopen and expand an investigation that focused initially on determining the source of leaked documents from a Doe probe.
"There is enough evidence that GAB staff were acting incompetently at best, and criminally at worst, in the years surrounding the recall elections of 2011 & 2012," Fitzgerald wrote in a letter to Attorney General Brad Schimel. "It is of the utmost importance that we ascertain exactly what the GAB board, leadership, and staff were doing, and when, and what their motivations were."
State Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, said earlier on Tuesday that people should lose their jobs and potentially go to jail for their roles in a now-shuttered investigation that involved the seizure of a broad range of Wisconsin Republicans' private emails and chat messages.
She said there are "quite a few individuals" to blame for an "out-of-control" John Doe investigation, but specifically named former GAB director Kevin Kennedy — who she said had "ultimate power" — and later told reporters Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm "needs to be looked into as well." Kennedy declined comment, and Chisholm did not immediately respond to a request.
Vukmir did not offer specific responses to questions about whether John Doe Judge Neal Nettesheim or Schimel should face individual scrutiny. Schimel, in a report released last week, was the first to publicly acknowledge the existence of an investigation into whether Republicans were campaigning on state time.
Schimel's recommendations that the former GAB employees be subjected to contempt of court proceedings is not enough, Vukmir said.
"How can I sit back and think that a slap on the wrist is enough?" Vukmir said during a luncheon hosted by WisPolitics.
Vukmir said she is exploring her own legal options after learning that personal emails between her and her daughter were collected as a result of a John Doe investigation into Gov. Scott Walker and his allies.
Those emails, along with the others, were given to the GAB, which then investigated whether Republicans were campaigning on state time. The Wisconsin State Journal reported on Sunday that the ethics investigation was closed with no charges filed.
Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge William Hue, who authorized the release of the DOJ report, told the State Journal on Monday he should not have allowed information about the ethics investigation — which Schimel has referred to as "John Doe III" — to be released.
Although the GAB did not level charges against any of the Republicans investigated in the probe, Vukmir accused the agency of having been weaponized for political purposes.
"Clearly, it's my understanding after reading that report that the carelessness of — well, not even carelessness — putting things in a file marked 'Opposition Research,' that's not careless, that's showing intent, and personal emails between my daughter and me is just beyond the pale. It's wrong," Vukmir said.
According to the DOJ report, more than 500,000 emails and private messages were found on hard drives in the basement of the former GAB office 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."
The heads of the state Ethics Commission — one of two agencies created by Republican lawmakers to replace the GAB in 2015 — said last week the "Opposition Research" folder was not created by a GAB employee, but Schimel has said the folder's metadata shows it was created on a GAB server.
The DOJ report's intent was to investigate the source of documents leaked to the Guardian U.S. from the John Doe investigation. The agency named the GAB as the source of the leak, but did not recommend criminal charges against any individuals.
In a statement released on Monday, Schimel said "disclosing the existence of 'John Doe III' was critical to document the circumstances that allowed the leak to occur in the first place."