MADISON, Wis. – Conservative targets of a Democrat-launched John Doe investigation have described the secret probe as a witch hunt.
Attorneys for conservative activist Eric O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth point to subpoenas requested by John Doe prosecutors that sought records from “at least eight phone companies” believed to serve the targets of the investigation. O’Keefe and the club have filed acivil rights lawsuit against John Doe prosecutors, alleging they violated conservatives’ First Amendment rights.
Subpoenas also demanded the conservatives’ bank records, “emails from every major private email provider” and other information in what some have described as a mini-NSA (National Security Agency) operation in Wisconsin.
“In fact, Defendants’ submissions confirm and expand upon the scope and intensity of retaliation previously demonstrated,” O’Keefe’s attorney wrote in documents ordered unsealed by the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
The documents raise serious concerns about the tactics of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, two of his assistant DAs and others involved in the investigation targeting dozens of conservatives.
Chisholm, a Democrat, launched the dragnet two years ago, and, according to court documents, with the help of the state Government Accountability Board, the probe was expanded to five counties. The John Doe proceeding compelled scores of witnesses to testify, and a gag order compelled them to keep their mouths shut or face jail time. Sources have described predawn “paramilitary-style” raids in which their possessions were rifled through and seized by law enforcement officers.
Prosecutors have operated the secret investigation under the legal theory that at least 29 conservative organizations may have illegally coordinated with Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign during Wisconsin’s partisan political recalls of 2011 and 2012. Two judges, including the federal judge presiding over the civil rights lawsuit, have said the prosecutors’ theory doesn’t hold water. The presiding John Doe judge quashed subpoenas issued in the raids because prosecutors failed to show evidence that a crime had been committed.
The probe officially ended in March 2013 with six convictions, including Rindfleisch’s conviction on a felony charge of misconduct in office. Four of the convictions had nothing to do with the original scope of the probe.
Rindfleisch is appealing her conviction, charging the prosecutors trampled her Fourth Amendment rights with general warrant-style searches of her data. Oral arguments in that case are set for next month.
The documents released Friday were filed before U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa shut down the investigation in May through a preliminary injunction. In arguing for the injunction, O’Keefe and the Club for Growth said that without court intervention, “these efforts (by the prosecutors) will never end, nor will their inevitable chilling effect on their targets’ exercise of fundamental First Amendment rights.”
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