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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Our Own Watergate

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So the three-year John Doe criminal investigation some hoped would terminate the political career of Republican Gov. Scott Walker ends not with a bang, but a whimper.

The secret investigation convicted six of Walker’s political associates—including three individuals who served as top staff during his tenure as Milwaukee county executive—and exposed a criminal enterprise operating in his office.

But District Attorney John Chisholm never succeeded in establishing a direct connection linking Walker to the crimes committed by those around him.

That included a former deputy chief of staff and another appointee who separately stole nearly $75,000 intended for families of wounded and killed war veterans.

Timothy Russell, that former deputy chief of staff now serving two years in prison for embezzlement, also set up a secret email and Wi-Fi system in the county executive’s office for the purpose of carrying out illegal political activity when Walker was running for governor.

But if Republicans think the investigation ending without charges against Walker has removed the stench of corruption from the governor’s office, they’re kidding themselves.

Watergate ended without President Richard Nixon going to prison either. Only his close political associates and appointees ever served time. Nixon himself was pardoned for crimes he never admitted committing by the man he appointed vice president after his first one had to resign for accepting bribes.

 

The Party of Law and Order?

The most disheartening reaction to the John Doe investigation over the past three years was how little state republicans cared whether their governor was directly involved in the criminal activities carried out in his office when he was county executive.

Remember when Republicans claimed to be the party of law and order? They used to pretend to be really tough on crime. That resulted in a tax-wasting prison boom that now incarcerates more of our own citizens than any other nation on earth.

But when prosecutors started looking into what Walker knew about crimes committed in his own office, Republicans weren’t about to wait for the facts to be determined.

Instead, they openly attacked District Attorney Chisholm and even retired Appeals Court Judge Neal Nettesheim, the highly respected judge who presided over the secret investigation to determine what crimes were committed and who committed them.

It was nothing less than an attack on law enforcement and on criminal justice itself.  Republicans didn’t care whether any evidence was uncovered to prove whether or not Walker had committed crimes. Their concern was totally partisan. They did everything possible to attack law enforcement for doing its job.

It’s absolutely true that Democrats had similar partisan concerns. They eagerly awaited proof Walker was just as dishonest and corrupt as they’d always considered him to be. They trumpeted every sleazy detail that became public in court documents and court testimony.

There was one real difference, though. Democrats hyped facts as they came out. Republicans had no qualms about spreading total lies.

Chisholm runs as a Democrat in Milwaukee County. Republicans saw that as a perfect opportunity to attack the John Doe as a partisan witch hunt even though they knew it wasn’t true.

The truth is every successful partisan candidate seeking countywide office in Milwaukee County runs as a Democrat (Walker doesn’t count; county executive is a non-partisan office).

Even Sheriff David Clarke, the right-wing extremist who brags his gun is bigger than anyone else’s, runs as a Democrat (much to the embarrassment of Democrats everywhere).

The other brazen lie Republicans spread was that even though a John Doe investigation is required by law to be secret, the district attorney’s office “leaked like a sieve.”

The only details about the crimes in Walker’s office coming from prosecutors and appearing in the media came directly from formal charges when they were filed, and from testimony in open court.

The unauthorized leaks to the media violating the secrecy of the process actually came from defense attorneys angling for plea deals for Walker’s own associates.

It’s not unusual in corruption cases for underlings to be the only ones to take a fall. We’ve all watched those Republicans on TV series “Scandal.” Protecting the deniability of the man at the top is an accepted part of the political corruption process.

But the cost to the political system in Wisconsin was far more than the $200,000 Walker’s criminal defense fund paid to high-powered criminal attorneys, and the additional $200,000 paid to the Republican law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich for “compliance” issues.

Walker always insisted he was cooperating fully. You wouldn’t think full cooperation would be so expensive.

Innocent until proven guilty is a basic legal principle we all should support even though Republicans used to trash it as “getting off on a technicality.” Walker is now perfectly free to run on the election slogan, “Never Been Indicted.”

But Wisconsin, which once had a squeaky clean image, will be much longer restoring its reputation as a state where politicians and their supporters respect the law.

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