By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The chairman of the Wisconsin Elections Commission said Thursday that Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel can’t be trusted to conduct an “objective and complete investigation” into former employees of the now-defunct Government Accountability Board.
Elections chair Mark Thomsen, a Democrat, sent a letter to legislative leaders asking instead that if they wished to review past actions of the GAB, they order an independent review by an “impartial factfinder or by a bipartisan factfinding body.”
The letter came hours before a Republican-controlled Senate committee was to vote on approving an investigation by Schimel into activities of the former GAB. Schimel’s spokesman, Johnny Koremenos, had no immediate comment.
Republicans contend that previous secret John Doe investigations into alleged illegal campaign activity involving Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans were part of a partisan witch hunt. Schimel released a report earlier this month that found a crime was committed when secret information collected during the investigations was leaked to a newspaper. Schimel accused the former GAB of being “weaponized” to make partisan attacks against Republicans.
Schimel couldn’t find who leaked more than 1,300 pages of documents, but he concluded the information came from a missing hard drive of the former GAB attorney Shane Falk. Schimel recommended that nine people, including Falk and five other former GAB employees, be held in contempt for violating judicial secrecy orders.
Schimel did not recommend discipline against Elections chair Michael Haas or Ethics chair Brian Bell. Both are former GAB employees.
But the top two Republicans in the Legislature said Bell and Haas must resign because they have lost trust because of “concerns over partisan influence remaining” from the GAB. Both have refused to step down and the boards that hired them have stood by them.
The Ethics Commission scheduled a meeting for Friday to discuss the call for Bell to resign. Board chairman David Halbrooks, a Democrat, said Thursday that his support for Bell hadn’t waivered but that he wanted all six commissioners to meet to discuss the issue. The board is composed of three Democrats and three Republicans.
Thomsen, the Elections Commission chairman, told lawmakers he had no qualms with there being a thorough review of past GAB actions but that he doesn’t want Schimel being the one doing it. He also asked for a legal opinion from the Legislature’s attorney over whether such a review by Schimel would be permitted by law.
Thomsen said he was concerned about Schimel’s fairness, given what he called “incorrect assumptions and flawed logic” in his report on the leak to “paint GAB investigative activities in the worst possible light.”
“This self-serving and partisan report gives me little confidence that any additional investigation by the Attorney General will be useful to the public or lawmakers who want to know the truth,” Thomsen wrote.
He called it “wrong and morally repugnant” for lawmakers to attack the motives and reputations of former GAB employees.
“This character assassination and slander must stop,” he said.