It’s understandable if all of us who have been outraged by the abuse of power by Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm and his Walker Witch Hunt are breathing a big sigh of relief over today’s news that John Doe investigation is officially closed. It’s great to have official confirmation of what we suspected all along – Governor Walker and his administration did nothing illegal. But relieved, vindicated, or however we are feeling, we can’t just leave today’s news and move on with our lives. There are serious questions that must be addressed:
(1)How do we reform a John Doe process that has become an invitation for abuse of power by politically ambitious District Attorneys? The John Doe process itself is broken. It has turned into a selectively secret tool of political harassment. Individuals testifying before a John Doe are bound to silence by court order. They have their lives and reputations trashed by leaks out of the DA’s office and have no way to defend themselves or explain their role in the investigation without breaking the court order. It is a process that is hopelessly one-sided, and needs to be reformed. Interestingly, even as he ends it, John Chisholm has locked in this uneven playing field by placing a gag order on all John Doe documents and participants as a condition of his decision to end the probe. Why? What is he hiding? What is he afraid we’ll find out if the individuals his office has harassed for over 2 years have a chance to speak out and tell their side of the story?
(2)Who pays? I want a full and accurate accounting of exactly how much of my taxpayer money was spent to keep the world safe from Darlene Wink, Kelly Rindfleisch, and Tim Russell? Two years. The full resources of the DA’s office in the most crime-ridden county of the state. Does anyone ever do a cost benefit analysis of these things? Not to downplay the significance of white collar crime, but the punk with a gun demanding my wallet is a bigger problem for me than some overzealous public employee sending out an e-mail that blurs the line between government and politics. Maybe if the DA’s office had spent as much time and effort actually prosecuting violent criminals in Milwaukee as it did on this John Doe, Police Chief Ed Flynn wouldn’t have to cook the books to show a decrease in real crime in Milwaukee.
(3)Who holds the media accountable? Over the past 2 years, we have been treated to a constant parade of leak-fueled rumor, innuendo, and – in the end – completely false allegations surrounding this investigation. Tomorrow, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel will no doubt run a major story on the closure of the John Doe. Will they spend one drop of ink mentioning that, in their mad dash for maximum sensationalization they put a mug shot of Andrew Jensen – a man never accused or charged with anything but jailed nonetheless – on the front page of their paper? Will they run any retractions for the multiple Dan Bice stories parroting leaks and rumors out of the DA’s office that turned out to be completely baseless? Will they admit they jumped to conclusions that they should not have? Will they run feature articles rehabilitating the images and reputations of all the individuals they cast suspicion on over the past two years? When real journalists get it wrong, they admit it and correct it. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel got a LOT of things wrong over the course of this John Doe. Will they make it right?
On one hand, today is a great day because this absurd witch hunt has been officially shut down. On the other hand, if we all just pat ourselves on the back, breathe a sigh of relief and move on after today, we will be accomplices the next time the John Doe process is abused by some politically ambitions hack seeking to raise his profile by tearing down a political opponent’s.
And don’t fool yourself; unless we fix this now, there will be a next time.