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Walker was principal target in John Doe investigation

Gov. Scott Walker "was the principal target" of a halted John Doe investigation, according to a GAB official.

Gov. Scott Walker “was always the principal target” of a now-halted criminal investigation into his recall campaign, the state’s top ethics administrator wrote in a June 2014 email released Friday.

The email from Government Accountability Board Ethics Division Administrator Jonathan Becker was written within minutes of special prosecutor Francis Schmitz issuing a statement on June 26, 2014, saying Walker was not a target of the probe. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ended the investigation in July saying the investigation’s legal theory was invalid.

“I am thoroughly disgusted by your proposed press statement and it is simply not true,” Becker wrote. “The other side wants to obfuscate the case and make it seem like we are attacking independent (groups) and it needs to be clear that we are investigating a CANDIDATE’S improper coordination.”

The email was one of thousands of pages of never-before-seen documents released Thursday and Friday as part of the resolution of a lawsuit by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and the GAB. The group argued the GAB’s involvement in the investigation was improper, but the case was settled in December with no finding of wrongdoing.

Walker’s name is not visible in the email, as targets of the investigation were blacked out in the file, but the context and timing of the email make it clear that Becker was referring to Walker.

“(Blank) was always the principal target. Did you really think it was only Club for Growth?” Becker wrote. “If (blank) and his campaign weren’t coordinating there is no case.”

The statements are similar to previously released documents showing former GAB lawyer Shane Falk similarly chastising Schmitz for his statement.

Wisconsin Club for Growth director Eric O’Keefe said the emails show the GAB was biased. GAB spokesman Reid Magney said the records show staff raising questions and issues as directed, which is part of the normal investigative process.

Schmitz’s 2014 statement came at a time when the outcome of the investigation was up in the air and Walker was running for re-election against Democrat Mary Burke, which he ultimately won by a comfortable margin. Walker frequently referenced the press release to underscore that he had done nothing wrong.

The investigation was looking into coordination between Walker’s campaign and the Wisconsin Club for Growth. Previously released documents showed Walker was raising money for the group, which was being operated by Walker campaign consultant R.J. Johnson. The GAB and investigators argued the club should have registered as a campaign subcommittee and disclosed its donations, such as $700,000 from a company that had been seeking to build an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected the legal arguments in shutting down the investigation. Three district attorneys involved in the case plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Walker spokesman said Friday “The Wisconsin Supreme Court confirmed no laws were broken, a ruling that was also stated by both a state and federal judge.It is time to move past this unwarranted investigation that has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.