Opinion: Columnists

Liberals have bubkes on Scott Walker

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Opinion,Philip Klein,Columnists,Wisconsin,Scott Walker,Magazine

On the night of June 5, 2012, as it became apparent that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker would fend off a $22 million recall effort lodged against him, dejected MSNBC host Ed Schultz found a silver lining for liberals: “Scott Walker could very well be indicted in the coming days.”

The following March, a nearly three-year secretive investigation was closed, without any charges filed against Walker.

Walker became a leading hate figure among the American left for having the temerity to challenge public sector unions as part of his efforts to avert a budget crisis. Over time, his reforms gained popularity, and liberal efforts to stop him failed in the courtroom and at the ballot box.

This year, Walker faces re-election, and should he win, his clout with the conservative base, coupled with his successes in a traditionally Democratic state, could make him a formidable presidential candidate in 2016. Thus, it’s even more imperative for liberals that he be stopped.

On Feb. 19 there was collective euphoria amid the release of 28,000 emails and other documents related to the expired secretive investigation, which had led to the indictment and conviction of six former aides and allies to Walker when he served as Milwaukee County executive.

Given that investigators who had access to these documents for years and heard testimony from hundreds of witnesses found no wrongdoing by Walker, it was unsurprising that the document release turned out to be a dud.

Of course, this didn’t prevent headlines attempting to create the specter of scandal surrounding Walker where there is no evidence of one.

“Scott Walker, eyeing 2016, faces fallout from probes as ex-aide's e-mails are released,” read the Washington Post headline. The Huffington Post reported on an email finding that as county executive he had ordered the firing of a government-paid doctor who had worked as a thong model. And BuzzFeed wrote about racist emails forwarded by former Walker staffers even though there was no evidence that Walker even was aware of the emails. But hey, it allowed BuzzFeed to get the keywords “Scott Walker” and “racist” in a single headline.

Others tried to connect the old Walker emails to the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal engulfing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. John Nichols, longtime Walker foe at the Nation, ran with the absurdly desperate “A therefore Z” headline: “E-mails, Charges, Probes! Chris Christie? No, Scott Walker.”

In reality, if any scandal is likely to emerge from the state of Wisconsin, it’s one of politically motivated abuse by prosecutors.

The probe at the center of the current news reports was launched in May 2010 by the office of Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat with a history of financial contributions to Democratic candidates as well the state party. Documents made public confirmed that a day before Walker's November 2010 election victory, prosecutors expanded their probe and seized computers from his offices.

Despite the lack of evidence against Walker, prosecutors kept the probe open through the 2012 election year, during which time Walker faced recall, and a judge only closed it in March 2013.

Before the probe was closed, however, Chisholm’s office launched a second probe targeting conservative groups that helped Walker survive the recall effort. This one is ongoing.

Both probes were launched under “John Doe” laws of Wisconsin, which allow prosecutors to conduct secret investigations in which targets cannot publicly defend themselves.

What little we do know of the second investigation comes from Wisconsin Club for Growth director Eric O'Keefe, who put himself in legal jeopardy by speaking to the Wall Street Journal about the probe. Last November, the Journal's editorial page reported that the probe issued sweeping subpoenas to 29 conservative groups, with at least three of the targets having their homes raided at dawn.

In January, however, a judge quashed subpoenas to conservative groups and ordered prosecutors to return seized property. And in February, O'Keefe subsequently launched a lawsuit challenging the “John Doe” probe for violating free speech rights.

Whether or not the second probe produces anything on Walker, it will have served the Left’s purpose if it can be used to create a cloud around him and sideline groups that are trying to exercise their free speech rights by supporting his candidacy.

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