Who’s in Charge? Gov. Walker Talks About Wisconsin Witch Hunt; Witch Hunters Not Pleased

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
AP Photo/Cliff Owen

While visiting Iowa this weekend, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker commented on the wildly out-of-control “John Doe” prosecution waged by partisan Democrats in his state. One of the many objectionable features of this crusade was that the targets were legally gagged from talking about it. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm responded to Walker’s comments by threatening him. Whatever Chisholm’s virtues as a D.A. might be, a keen sense of irony is evidently not among them.

The Wisconsin Witch Hunt has been an abiding interest of mine for years – rarely have so many been terrorized by so few for so little gain, until judges pulled the brakes on this crazy train – but Walker himself rarely discusses it in public. His remarks over the weekend were prompted by detailed accounts of Wisconsin residents who dared to support conservative political initiatives, and found themselves on the business ends of police raids they likened to home-invasion robberies. For details, see this piece by David French at National Review.

There’s no way to do it justice by excerpting it, but imagine a half-dressed woman tumbling out of bed in the middle of the night and pleading with an army of armed agents not to shoot her dogs, and you’ll have the general tenor of these eyewitness accounts. No matter how outrageous the conduct of the raiding parties, the targets were told they couldn’t tell a soul what happened to them, due to the gag-order provisions of the enabling Wisconsin law.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recounts Walker’s comments in a Des Moines radio interview:

“I said even if you’re a liberal Democrat, you should look at (the raids) and be frightened to think that if the government can do that against people of one political persuasion, they can do it against anybody, and more often than not we need protection against the government itself,” Walker told the radio station.

“As (the National Review) pointed out, there were real questions about the constitutionality of much of what they did, but it was really about people trying to intimidate people…” Walker said.

“They were looking for just about anything. As I pointed out at the time, it was largely a political witch hunt.”

Observing this from his National Review perch, David French noted that Walker’s reference to his story was actually rather mild criticism, “especially when the criticized conduct included officers swarming into homes, taunting, yelling, denying access to lawyers, barging into sleeping kids’ rooms, threatening to batter down doors, and then demanding silence from the victims.” No officer was ever actually charged with a crime.

But it was too much for Chisholm, who decided a good way to make people stop criticizing your intimidating behavior is to intimidate them into silence. “As to defamatory remarks, I strongly suspect the Iowa criminal code, like Wisconsin’s, has provisions for intentionally making false statements intended to harm the reputation of others,” he growled, in a statement quoted by the Journal-Sentinel.

That sounds uncomfortably like the don’t you dare call us violent, or we’ll kill you argument we hear from some of the livelier quarters of the world. To paraphrase “Fight Club,” the first rule of the Wisconsin Witch Hunt is that you do not talk about the Wisconsin Witch Hunt, and that’s the second rule, too.

Perhaps a bit of the game was given away by special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, a “self-described Republican” who “called Walker’s comments inaccurate but didn’t detail why,” as the J-S put it. (That’s the Third Rule of the Wisconsin Witch Hunt: no details.) Schmitz invited Walker to “join me in seeking judicial approval to lawfully release information now under seal which would be responsive the allegations that have been made.”

Chisholm swiftly seconded that motion: “Stripped of niceties, Mr. Schmitz is saying the governor is deliberately not telling the truth. The truth is always a defense, so let’s get the truth out in a legal manner, not through lies, distortions, and misrepresentations.”

I’ll bet the targets of the Witch Hunt would have loved to get the truth out, long ago, but they were locked up in soundproof legal boxes and forced to keep quiet, while their neighbors wondered why swarms of armed officers were storming through their house and marching off with their belongings. Other Wisconsin conservatives got the message that supporting certain political causes could have unpleasant consequences. (Remarkably, this effort to crush the unions’ political enemies didn’t work, and Walker got re-elected. The Wisconsin conservative is a hardy breed!)

Now that the final fate of this whole investigation is being decided by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it sounds an awful lot like Chisholm and Schmitz are trying to goad Walker into unsealing information the court might rule was gathered improperly, or at least score a few last points against Walker by making him look furtive by refusing to play their game. “Many of the documents they’re likely to put out are things where they’re going to make wild statements,” the Governor told reporters in Iowa.

And if the witch hunters had their way, nobody else would be making any statements at all.