In the run-up to the Scott Walker recall election in Wisconsin last year, the Democratic Party there was aggressively pushing the claim that the Republican governor was on the verge of getting an indictment as part of a probe into improprieties by some of his former staffers. When I was reporting on the race for my former employer, a state Democratic Party spokesman told me flat-out that a Walker indictment was imminent.
It was a cynical partisan effort to smear the governor, who was then leading in the polls. (Indeed, Walker would go on to win the recall by a larger margin than he won election in the first place.) I didn’t report on the Democratic Party official’s claim because I was wary of repeating accusations by an interested party that I could not prove one way or the other. It wasn’t like the investigators were going to share their information with me.
Other were not so reluctant. Numerous outlets, mainly left-leaning ones, reported the possibility that Walker may get indicted. These included: MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, Forbes, the Daily Beast, the Nation, the Huffington Post, and Mother Jones, as well as numerous blogs such as Daily Kos. The most egregious was probably Current TV, whose correspondent David Shuster reported:
According to government lawyers familiar with a Milwaukee criminal corruption probe, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is now a “target” of the investigation.
The legal sources, who are not involved in Wisconsin’s recall, spoke on condition of anonymity. They said Walker faces “serious legal challenges,” including “a possible indictment,” regardless of the election results on Tuesday.
The sources indicate Walker’s status was clarified more than a week ago, allegedly following a series of requests by Walker’s legal team that prosecutors publicly clear him of any wrong doing before the recall election.
Shuster, back when he was with MSNBC, had once reported in 2006 that then-White House strategist Karl Rove was on the verge of being indicted. It never happened.
To be sure, the other outlets all noted the Walker indictment was only a possibility not a sure thing. That was probably good enough for the Democrats. As long as there were stories linking Walker and the word “indictment” they were presumably very, very happy.
In reality, Walker was never in any trouble. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported, the investigation closed this week with no charges filed against Walker:
The nearly three-year-old John Doe investigation into aides and associates of Gov. Scott Walker is closed, the judge who is overseeing that probe said Friday. Neal Nettesheim, a retired state appeals court judge, said he entered an order Feb. 21 concluding the probe. The decision was made public after Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm concluded paperwork in the case.
No new charges will come from the John Doe investigation, Nettesheim said.
Chisholm confirmed the end of the investigation in a statement. “After a review of the John Doe evidence, I am satisfied that all charges that are supported by proof beyond a reasonable doubt have now been brought and concluded. As a consequence, last week my office petitioned for, and Judge Nettesheim has granted, the closure of the John Doe investigation.”
The probe did result in charges against six individuals, including three Walker aides, a Walker appointee and a major Walker contributor. Two ex-aides have entered plea agreements.
Ordinarily this would be pretty embarrassing for a governor (although as the Journal-Sentinel notes, the investigation was launched when Walker’s chief of staff contacted prosecutors over concerns that money missing from a veteran-related fund).
Instead, by promoting the idea he was going to be indicted, the state Democrats managed to turn it into another win for Walker.