WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was not a target of an investigation into allegedly illegal campaign coordination related to the state's 2011 and 2012 recall elections, according to a lawyer for the special prosecutor running the probe.
"At the time the investigation was halted, Governor Walker was not a target of the investigation," Randall Crocker, the attorney for special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, told the Wisconsin State Journal on Thursday. "At no time has he been served with a subpoena."
The statement comes one week after a federal appeals court released a treasure trove of documents from the investigation, in which the prosecutors were laying out the evidence they had of a "criminal scheme" to coordinate the political efforts of independent conservative groups with the Walker campaign. It appears that an argument was being developed that Walker's campaign was at the center of this "scheme."
The documents released last week show that prosecutors had issued subpoenas for "the production of documents related to the criminal scheme of R.J. Johnson, Deborah Jordahl, Governor Scott Walker and Friends of Scott Walker to utilize and direct 501(c)(4) organizations, as well as other political committees."
But in a statement also released Thursday, Schmitz said, "[I]t is wrong for any person to point to this sentence in a legal argument as a finding by the special prosecutor that Governor Walker has engaged in a criminal scheme. lt is not such a finding."
The investigation was halted in May when a federal judge ruled in a lawsuit that the prosecutors had overstepped their bounds with their long-running inquiry. The problem, according to U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa, was that the allegedly coordinated political ads and other materials produced by the outside groups constituted "issue advocacy" -- they stopped short of calling for the election or defeat of a particular candidate -- and that the Wisconsin state law on coordination does not cover issue advocacy.
The prosecutors disagreed with Randa's interpretation of the state law, but he was not persuaded.
"The plaintiffs have found a way to circumvent campaign finance laws, and that circumvention should not and cannot be condemned or restricted," Randa wrote. "Instead, it should be recognized as promoting political speech, an activity that is 'ingrained in our culture.'"
Randa ordered all evidence to be destroyed or returned and the prosecutors to pay a fine. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit quickly stayed this part of the ruling and held that the prosecutors may argue that the investigation was properly undertaken.
None of the comments from Schmitz's lawyer deny that Walker was part of the investigation. But no criminal charges have been brought against the governor or any of his aides or associates as a result of the probe.
The lawsuit now before the 7th Circuit was brought by the outside groups involved, including the Wisconsin Club for Growth and a number of state business organizations, seeking to block the subpoenas. The groups contend that their First Amendment rights of association and speech have been infringed upon and demand an end to the investigation.
Beyond the fate of any specific charges that might be brought against individuals in Wisconsin, the case could mean big changes for campaign finance law in that state and beyond. Depending on how the appeals court rules and whether the case reaches the Supreme Court, it could effectively erase the current rules against coordination between campaigns and supposedly independent groups.