Schimel defends not asking journalist for source of leak

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FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2017, file photo, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to the media at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis. In a report released Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel is recommending disciplinary action, but no criminal charges, following his investigation of a leak of information collected during a now-closed secret probe into Walker's campaign. (AP Photo by Scott Bauer, File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel didn't ask a journalist to reveal who leaked documents to him that were collected during the investigation of Gov. Scott Walker's campaign out of respect for the reporter's free speech rights, Schimel's spokesman said Thursday.

The Republican Schimel was unable to conclude who leaked 1,300 pages of material to the Guardian following his yearlong investigation. In a report released Wednesday, Schimel recommended that disciplinary action, but no criminal charges, be taken against nine people involved in the John Doe probe into Walker's campaign.

A John Doe investigation is similar to a grand jury in that proceedings and evidence collected is expected to remain secret.

Also on Thursday, a Republican state senator called for the resignations of the leaders and attorneys of the state's elections and ethics commissions, which grew out of the former Government Accountability Board. All four worked for the GAB, which helped lead the Walker probe.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2015 halted the investigation that resulted in millions of pages of emails and other documents being seized by investigators from Republican office holders, operatives, staff members, fundraisers and others. The court determined that the coordination between Walker's campaign and outside groups was legal.

The Guardian leak came just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2016 declined to take the case.

Schimel determined that the documents came from the GAB office, but he was unable to pin down who leaked them. Instead, he said systemic failures with the investigation and a lack of overall security led to at least 60 and maybe hundreds of people having access to emails and other material courts had ordered to be secret.

The documents leaked to the newspaper included details of how Walker raised millions of dollars from the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a conservative group that was supposed to be independent but that coordinated fundraising to help Walker and state Senate Republicans who were targeted for recall in 2011 and 2012.

The documents also showed that Walker and the Legislature approved a 2013 bill to retroactively protect paint manufacturers from liability after a billionaire owner of a lead producer contributed $750,000 to a political group supporting Republicans in recall elections.

Schimel's spokesman, Johnny Koremenos, said the Guardian is well known for accepting anonymous leaks and protecting leakers' identities. It is also known for using technology that masks the ability of law enforcement officials to determine the source of the leak, Koremenos said.

Calling the Guardian reporter in for an interview would have been an "aggressive and potentially coercive action" that Schimel did not take "out of respect for (the reporter's) first amendment rights," Koremenos said in an email.

He also said that approaching the Guardian "very well could have tipped off the leaker and made DOJ's job - already a difficult one - even more difficult." But Schimel's investigation was far from secret. Wisconsin legislative leaders voted publicly in December 2016 to authorize him to conduct the investigation, and Schimel talked about his desire to convene a grand jury in the case.

Koremenos did not immediately respond to a follow up question asking how the leaker could have been tipped off by DOJ contacting the newspaper.

Schimel is asking a judge overseeing the case to refer former GAB attorney Shane Falk for discipline for violating a previous court secrecy order. The report said that Falk's hard drive containing secret documents cannot be found, but Falk denied being the source of the leak, according to Schimel's report.

Schimel also asked the judge to initiate contempt proceedings against Falk; special prosecutor Francis Schmitz; former GAB director Kevin Kennedy; GAB employee Molly Nagappala; Milwaukee County District Attorney Administrator James Krueger; former GAB attorney Jonathan Becker; Elections Commission attorney Nathan Judnic; Milwaukee Assistant District Attorney David Robles; and Milwaukee County District Attorney Investigator Robert Stelter.

Schimel said those named "grossly mishandled secret John Doe evidence and related materials and then failed to turn over all evidence as ordered by the Wisconsin Supreme Court."

Republican Sen. Steve Nass said Thursday that Judnic along with Elections Commission Administrator Michael Haas; Ethics Commission Administrator Brian Bell; and Ethics Commission attorney David Buerger should all resign.

Bell and Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Elections Commission, did not immediately reply to messages.

___

Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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