Wisconsin panel OKs investigation into John Doe leaks

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Assembly has authorized Attorney General Brad Schimel to investigate how evidence collected during a secret investigation into Republican Gov. Scott Walker's campaign was leaked to a newspaper.

The Guardian US in September published hundreds of sealed documents from the so-called John Doe investigation, which was shut down by conservative state Supreme Court justices in 2015.

The Assembly Organizational Committee voted 5-3 on Wednesday to allow Schimel to investigate the leaks. The "no" votes all came from Democrats. Minority Leader Peter Barca, who sits on the committee, issued a statement saying Schimel should focus on potential legal violations described in the documents.

"It is hard to understand why Republicans would focus solely on the leak and not the potential crimes," Barca said.

Schimel, a Republican, asked the state Supreme Court in October to appoint a special master to look into the leak. The high court refused in November, saying it's up to the executive branch to investigate.

Schimel said earlier this month that he would likely seat a grand jury to investigate. State Justice Department Johnny Koremenos said in an email that Schimel had "reviewed and accepted the authorization" but did not say what might happen next. Asked for a response to Barca's statement, Koremenos said only that the agency will investigate all violations of the law. He did not elaborate.

Wisconsin law allows the attorney general to appear as a party in a civil or criminal matter at the request of the governor or one legislative house.

A group of prosecutors led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, launched the John Doe probe to determine whether Walker's 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside conservative groups. The state Supreme Court said in its ruling halting the probe that such coordination is legal as long as it doesn't become express advocacy, a political term for advertising that specifically asks voters to defeat or elect a candidate.

The leaked documents showed how Walker's top campaign adviser was coordinating with the group Club for Growth on how to spend the millions Walker was raising to help himself and Republican senators win 2011 and 2012 recall campaigns. The Guardian also reported the documents showed a leading manufacturer of lead that was once used in paint was among a host of corporate leaders who donated to Club for Growth.

Democrats launched the recalls out of anger over Walker's signature law that limited public unions' collective bargaining rights.


Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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