State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R–Brookfield):
‘Elena, I have something I need to tell you.” Those were the first words I said to my 29-year-old daughter Thursday afternoon. I was calling to let her know that according to the Wisconsin Justice Department report released Wednesday, my personal emails, along with approximately 500,000 of those belonging to my colleagues in the Wisconsin Senate and other Republican leaders, were acquired in a John Doe investigation.
The emails had been kept in the Governmental Accountability Board building in a unsecured file called “opposition research.” Personal emails with Elena were included, I had learned. Some of our emails even involved discussion of her medical records. These communications didn’t belong in the hands of the government but were collected as part of a politically motivated investigation into Gov. Scott Walker.
Under Wisconsin law, prosecutors can ask a judge to authorize a “John Doe” investigation, which is intended to protect the wrongly accused or allow investigators the ability to establish probable cause before filing charges. But in a gross manipulation of the law, in 2012 a liberal judge named Barbara Kluka allowed Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, to conduct a secret investigation into whether Gov. Walker had broken campaign-finance laws. He had not.
Mr. Chisholm weaponized an arm of the government, which was supposed to be Wisconsin’s ethics watchdog, to issue broad subpoenas and warrants for documents. The agency even worked with law enforcement to conduct paramilitary raids on people’s homes.
These raids and seizures were the result of a mere accusation of campaign-finance violation, for which there was no basis. As it turns out, investigators at the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board took it upon themselves to acquire the personal emails of Republican politicians, including me.
As of June 2016 the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board no longer exists. I wrote legislation that led to the agency’s elimination, and this has been one of my proudest accomplishments as a state senator.
Yet I am still considering legal options for the invasion of my personal privacy. I was appalled at the news, especially because those who ran the John Doe investigation read and kept the emails between my daughter and me. This was criminal behavior, and the individuals involved ought to see jail time.
Unaccountable investigations and special prosecutors have become typical. Take a look at the investigation of the president by Robert Mueller. More than $3 million in taxpayer funds, and what has been accomplished? From Lois Lerner and the IRS to James Comey and the FBI, something is rotten with the way justice is implemented in America today.
In addition to being a mom and a nurse, I am a conservative state senator. I fear fewer people like me will seek office after seeing what I’ve gone through. Why would a mom want to speak on her political beliefs if she thought it might make her family the target of a government agency? Why would anyone want to become an elected official if it might mean that private conversations are not protected from unreasonable search and seizure?
Elena will be fine. But I don’t want her to live in a country where the government deprives people of due process or their right to speak freely. If it can happen in Wisconsin, it can happen elsewhere. Let the stories of Wisconsin’s John Doe abuses be a warning for the rest of the country that liberty really does require vigilance.