MILWAUKEE (WITI) — Newly released documents show prosecutors believe Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was at the center of a nationwide "criminal scheme" to illegally coordinate fundraising with outside conservative groups.
No charges have been filed against Walker or any member of his staff.
The documents became public Thursday, June 19th as part of an ongoing lawsuit challenging the investigation by the conservative group Wisconsin Club for Growth.
One of the filings from prosecutors outlines previously unknown details about the investigation that began in 2012 -- as Gov. Walker was facing a recall election.
The documents show prosecutors believe one of Gov. Walker's top campaign operatives used the non-profit Wisconsin Club for Growth as a hub to coordinate campaigns during hotly-contested recall battles.
Prosecutors claim the operative funneled money through political groups that are not required to show how the money is spent.
"The alleged coordination means that they were taking invisible money to advance campaign purposes, even though they were banned from doing that," UW-Milwaukee Professor of Governmental Affairs Mordecai Lee said.
Prosecutors say Gov. Walker, his chief of staff and others who worked for him were discussing illegal coordination with a number of national groups and prominent figures, including GOP strategist Karl Rove.
In the documents, prosecutors say Gov. Walker was in on the scheme.
Meanwhile, Republicans are calling the case a witch hunt.
"Were you at the center of a nationwide criminal scheme?" asked FOX6's Mike Lowe.
"No. I think it's pretty clear, you've got two judges, both a state judge and a federal judge who said they didn't buy into the argument that has been presented at this point. I think their words speak pretty strongly both at the federal and the state level," said Gov. Walker.
The more than 250 pages relating to the once-secret John Doe investigation were made public on Thursday because of a federal appeals judge.
The documents appear to show Gov. Walker himself knew that one of his top campaign operatives was coordinating with outside groups.
One of the most explosive revelations -- the documents contain an email from Gov. Walker to Republican political strategist Karl Rove. In it, Gov. Walker tells Rove that R.J. Johnson is going to run the statewide coordination campaign.
"Bottom line -- R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin . We are running nine recall elections and it will be like nine Congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities.)" -- the email said.
Gov. Walker says he plans to keep Johnson working for his campaign.
In a conference call, prosecutors say Gov. Walker admitted to knowing how his operative was moving money.
The documents come in the context of a close race for governor. Walker's Democratic challenger Mary Burke spoke with FOX6 News shortly after the release of the documents.
"If that's true -- and I haven't seen it, that's very disappointing," said Burke.
"I think what happened (Thursday) is significant," Lee said.
Lee says at question is whether Gov. Walker illegally coordinated with outside political groups and hid millions in campaign contributions.
"We've got this principle that we as a voter have a right to know where he or she is getting their money," Lee said.
FOX6 News asked Lee what these documents mean for Gov. Walker politically -- both for the governor's race and a possible run at the White House.
Lee says it really depends on what happens in court.
Currently, an appeals court is deciding whether the investigation into this alleged campaign coordination can continue.
When Gov. Walker was asked how voters should react to these new documents, he said he wants them to simply look at the facts of the case.
Gov. Walker has issued a statement that reads as follows:
"The accusation of any wrongdoing written in the complaint by the office of a partisan Democrat District Attorney by me or by my campaign is categorically false. In fact two judges, in both state and federal courts, have ruled that no laws were broken.
This is nothing more than a partisan investigation with no basis in state law. It’s time for the prosecutors to acknowledge both judge’s orders to end this investigation.
Now my Democratic opponents will use these false accusations to distract from the issues important to the voters of Wisconsin."
Retired Wisconsin State Appellate Judge Gregory A. Peterson’s order states three times that no violation of the law was committed:
“I conclude the subpoenas do not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws.”
“Therefore, the subpoenas fail to show probable cause that a crime was committed.”
“Therefore, the subpoena issued to FOSW fails to show probable cause.”
Federal Court Judge Rudolph Randa stated in his federal order to shut down the investigation and that no violations occurred:
“While the defendants deny that their investigation is motivated by animus towards the plaintiffs‘ conservative viewpoints, it is still unlawful to target the plaintiffs for engaging in vigorous advocacy that is beyond the state‘s regulatory reach.”
“Therefore, for all of the foregoing reasons, the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim that the defendants‘ investigation violates their rights under the First Amendment, such that the investigation was commenced and conducted ―without a reasonable expectation of obtaining a valid conviction.”
“The Defendants must cease all activities related to the investigation, return all property seized in the investigation from any individual or organization, and permanently destroy all copies of information and other materials obtained through the investigation. Plaintiffs and others are hereby relieved of any and every duty under Wisconsin law to cooperate further with Defendants‘ investigation. Any attempt to obtain compliance by any Defendant or John Doe Judge Gregory Peterson is grounds for a contempt finding by this Court.”
Meanwhile, a federal judge has rejected a request by five media groups to unseal the entire record in this case.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa ruled Thursday against the media coalition, saying releasing the documents would subject those involved to "unwanted public scrutiny."
Randa's order came hours after a 7th Circuit Appeals Court judge made public the more than 250 pages of material in this case -- after prosecutors and Wisconsin Club for Growth did not object.
Two unnamed people objected to the release of those documents and the entire record.
Randa ordered them to work with both prosecutors and Wisconsin Club for Growth to determine within two weeks which records should remain secret.