Tag Archives: documents

Your Right to Know: Release John Doe II case records now

One of the most important court decisions in Wisconsin political history was argued largely in secret. The arguments were made in briefs that were heavily redacted or entirely shielded from public view. The evidence was hidden. Most of the litigants were anonymous.

The level of secrecy “is something I haven’t ever heard of happening in Wisconsin,” says David Schultz, a retired University of Wisconsin law professor who has watched the state Supreme Court for 40 years.

Unless the high court decides to unseal its files, the public will remain ignorant of the full facts and arguments it considered when it shut down the John Doe II investigation centered on Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign — known in court documents as “Unnamed Movant No. 1.”

Leaked and inadvertently unsealed records revealed that Walker raised large, undisclosed donations for ostensibly independent political groups, which in turn ran “issue ads” prior to the 2011 and 2012 Senate recall elections and the 2012 gubernatorial recall. These are unregulated, thinly veiled communications often intended to influence elections without expressly advocating for or against any candidate.

When two lawsuits aimed at killing the probe and a third filed by prosecutor Francis Schmitz attempting to save it made their way to the Supreme Court, the majority of justices agreed that most of the issues should be argued in secret to prevent “testimony which may be mistaken or untrue from becoming public.”

In July 2015, by a 4-2 vote, the court ended the probe, declaring that the conduct under investigation was not illegal and ordering that the evidence be returned to the subjects or destroyed. The court later amended its order to direct that the remaining evidence be turned over to the court. No one was ever charged.

But questions remain: What exactly did Walker do behind the scenes to fight the recalls? What evidence did prosecutors offer that two of the justices had conflicts of interest? Did prosecutors abuse their discretion in investigating activity that the subjects argued was protected political speech under the First Amendment?

And, importantly, did the court follow the law and precedent when it decided to shut down the investigation? Or did it, as Justice Shirley Abrahamson charged in her dissent, engage in a “blatant attempt to reach its desired result by whatever means necessary”?

In October, two nonprofit and nonpartisan groups — the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism — filed a public records request with Diane Fremgen, the clerk of the Supreme Court, asking that the case file be opened.

Fremgen denied the request, saying the court had directed her to maintain “certain filings” in the case under seal — even essential records such as motions and briefs filed with the court.

There are, we understand, concerns about releasing some exhibits attached to the court filings, on grounds that this evidence was illegally seized by prosecutors and should remain sealed. But Fremgen decided not to split those hairs, denying the entire request.

Abrahamson, for her part, has argued the case should be open, writing, “The public has a constitutional, statutory and common law right of access to judicial proceedings and judicial records.”

We agree.

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (www.wisfoic.org), a group dedicated to open government. Dee J. Hall is the group’s secretary and managing editor of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

 

Records show Trump released tax returns when he stood to gain

Donald Trump won’t publicly release his income tax returns but records reveal the New York businessman turned them over when it suited his needs.

The Associated Press is reporting that Trump provided his returns when he stood to make a profit, needed a loan or when dealing with legal matters.

The news service reports that Pennsylvania gaming regulators were given at least five years’ worth and eight boxes full of Trump’s tax documents.

Also, Nevada, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana and other state gaming officials had access to multiple years of Trump’s returns.

And large banks that lent Trump money over the years have obtained Trump’s returns.

In all cases reviewed by The Associated Press, each person, organization, company or government office that has seen Trump’s tax returns is barred from discussing their full contents by professional or legal restrictions.

So the public still knows little about Trump’s more recent finances.

At a press event today in Waukesha, Wisconsin Democrats plan to call on Trump to release his tax returns.

An announcement from Hillary Clinton’s campaign said the event at noon at the Waukesha DNC headquarters would involve Democratic supporters, including state Rep. Mandela Barnes.

In the debate earlier this week, Clinton questioned whether Trump’s tax returns might reveal that he has paid little or no taxes. Trump said he was “smart” for not paying federal income taxes in some years.

Documents first reported on by Politico show Trump didn’t pay any federal income tax during at least two years in the early 1990s because he lost more money than he earned.

Other documents show he didn’t pay any federal income taxes in 1978, 1979 and 1984.

Trump has repeatedly refused to release his tax returns citing an IRS audit, but the IRS and tax experts have said an audit doesn’t bar Trump from making the documents public.

Since 1976, every major party nominee has released the returns and Clinton has publicly released nearly 40 years’ worth.

Trump’s tax returns would reveal his charitable contributions. The AP has reported that there is little record of substantial personal philanthropy from Trump.

The returns would also reveal how much Trump earned from his assets, helping someone work back to an approximation of his net worth to compare to his own estimation.

Putin says Panama Papers part of US plot to weaken Russia

President Vladimir Putin has denied having any links to offshore accounts and described the Panama Papers document leaks scandal as part of a U.S.-led plot to weaken Russia.

Putin also defended a cellist friend named as the alleged owner of an offshore company, describing him as a philanthropist who spent his own funds to buy rare musical instruments for Russian state collections.

Speaking at a media forum in St. Petersburg, Putin said Western media pushed the claims of his involvement in offshore businesses even though his name didn’t feature in any of the documents leaked from a Panamanian law firm.

Putin described the allegations as part of the U.S.-led disinformation campaign waged against Russia in order to weaken its government. “They are trying to destabilize us from within in order to make us more compliant,” he said.

The Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said the documents it obtained indicated that Russian cellist Sergei Roldugin acted as a front man for a network of Putin loyalists, and, perhaps, the president himself.

The ICIJ said the documents show how complex offshore financial deals channeled as much as $2 billion to a network of people linked to the Russian president.

Putin said Roldugin, a longtime friend, did nothing wrong. He said he was proud of Roldugin, adding that the musician spent his personal money to advance cultural projects.

Roldugin used the money he earned as a minority shareholder of a Russian company to buy rare musical instruments abroad and hand them over to the Russian state, Putin said.

“Without publicizing himself, he also has worked to organize concerts, promote Russian culture abroad and effectively paid his own money for that,” Putin added. “The more people like him we have, the better. And I’m proud to have friends like him.”

Putin contended that Washington has fanned allegations of Russian official corruption in order to weaken Moscow as the U.S. has become concerned about Russia’s growing economic and military might.

“The events in Syria have demonstrated Russia’s capability to solve problems far away from its borders,” he said, adding that Moscow has achieved its goal “to strengthen the Syrian statehood, its legitimate government bodies.”

Putin said it’s essential to prevent the collapse of the Syrian state to stem the flow of refugees to Europe.

He praised cooperation between Moscow and Washington in efforts to broker a cease-fire, which went into effect Feb. 27. The truce excludes the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida branch known as the Nusra Front.

But while lauding contacts on Syria, he signaled tensions on another issue, accusing the U.S. of breaching its obligations under an agreement to reprocess weapons-grade plutonium.

He said that while Russia has abided by the deal and built reprocessing facilities, the U.S. has opted for a different technology which, he alleged, allowed it to maintain the so-called “return potential” of keeping weapons-grade materials if it wishes to do so.

Putin said that a rift over the issue was one of the reasons behind his decision to snub a nuclear summit hosted by President Barack Obama in Washington.

70,000 more pages of Walker documents released

Nearly 70,000 pages of emails and attachments were released this week that had been collected during the first secret investigation into former aides and associates of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker when he was Milwaukee County executive.

Here are a few things to know about the latest documents made public in the now-closed case: 

WHAT WAS RELEASED?

Thousands of pages of emails from the personal accounts of six people from Walker’s county executive office were included. This was the fourth release of emails and documents collected during the investigation that a judge ruled in May must be made public. The first batch was released by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s office in August, followed by more in September and October. To date, roughly 24 gigabytes of data has been released, totaling more than 100,000 pages of material. Additionally, 27,000 pages of emails collected during the probe were previously released as part of an appeal made by Kelly Rindfleisch, one of the six Walker aides or associates convicted as a result of the investigation. Walker was never charged with wrongdoing.

WHAT’S NEW? 

Given the volume of emails already been released, much of what was made public Tuesday was not new. The emails show, once again, that Walker was deeply involved with decision-making by his county and 2010 gubernatorial campaign team. It was that activity of doing campaign work while on government time that was investigated as part of the probe that closed with no charges against Walker.

Several emails show Walker suggesting minor changes to press releases, writing his own responses, and pushing back against news stories he did not view as favorable. In an April 1, 2010, email sent to his chief of staff Tom Nardelli, Walker outlines his media strategy and tells Nardelli: “No one should be commenting on anything until we have a chance to talk and until we agree on our message.”

In another email string two weeks later, Walker, his campaign staff and his county staff try to quickly react to questions about why he wasn’t doing public service announcements about donating blood. “Let’s get to the bottom of it fast before we get a beating. Tick tock,” wrote Walker’s campaign adviser R.J. Johnson. Ultimately, they determine the request for Walker to do the announcements went to a campaign email account he didn’t personally check. “It does beg the question about who reads the email (at) scott(at)scottwalker.org,” Walker wrote to his county and campaign staff.

WHAT WAS NOT RELEASED?

Even though the emails come from personal computers of county workers, any material dubbed to be non-public, such as private employee information, personal medical information and attorney-client communication, was removed. There will be one final release of documents totaling “a few” gigabytes of data next month, said Milwaukee County attorney Paul Bargren.

WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER JOHN DOE?

These records were collected during the first so-called John Doe investigation of Walker, which ended in 2013. A John Doe investigation is Wisconsin’s version of a grand jury probe where information is tightly controlled and investigators go about their work in secret.

A second investigation began in 2012 and focused on alleged illegal coordination between Walker’s recall campaign and more than two dozen conservative groups. That investigation is on hold after the judge overseeing it in January blocked subpoenas prosecutors requested.

That case is pending before the state Supreme Court.

Walker says he didn’t solicit mining company money

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is saying that he played no role in soliciting donations from a mining company on behalf of a key conservative group that ran ads supporting him during the 2012 recall attempt and that he didn’t even know the company donated to the group.

While at a Kenosha campaign stop over the weekend, Walker said he was not aware of $700,000 donated by Gogebic Taconite in 2011 and 2012 to Wisconsin Club for Growth, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

When asked if the donations and subsequent legislation last year — which streamlined state mining requirements and paved the way for an iron mine in northern Wisconsin — were part of some pay-to-play scheme, Walker said, “That’s a ridiculous argument.”

Walker said he had long been supportive of easing regulations on mining.

Court documents released last week by a federal appeals court show that prosecutors believe Walker solicited donations for Wisconsin Club for Growth to get around campaign finance limits and disclosure requirements as he fended off the recall attempt.

Aides told Walker to tell donors that they could make unlimited donations to Wisconsin Club for Growth without having the gifts publicly disclosed. Wisconsin Club for Growth then funneled the money to other conservative groups that advertised on Walker’s behalf.

It’s not clear from the documents whether Walker followed the instructions from his team. But the documents say millions of dollars later moved from donors he was set to speak with to Wisconsin Club for Growth, which in turn funded groups backing Walker in the recall election.

The documents are part of a secret investigation into whether Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups during the run-up to the June 2012 recall, which was spurred by anger over Walker’s signature law stripping most public workers of nearly all their union rights. The probe has dogged Walker as he is locked in a dead heat with Democratic Mary Burke in the governor’s race and considers a 2016 presidential run.

At a later Racine stop over the weekend, Walker said he helped solicit contributions to Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2011 primarily to help Republican state Senators who faced recalls.

He said he is not raising funds for Wisconsin Club for Growth in the current election. He also said he doesn’t believe he raised funds for the group during his 2010 campaign for governor.

A federal judge in Milwaukee halted the secret probe in May after Wisconsin Club for Growth filed a lawsuit alleging the investigation violated its free speech rights and the prosecutors are liberals out to harass and tarnish conservatives.

The prosecutors have asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to allow them to restart the probe. The court released the documents tied to that appeal in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of media and open government groups.

The documents became briefly available on a federal court website last Friday. Attorneys have been arguing over which ones should be made public, and the records were quickly removed.

More Clinton White House records to be released

The National Archives said it plans to release 2,000 pages of documents from former President Bill Clinton’s administration on June 6, covering a wide range of topics including Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, gays in the military and the Supreme Court nominations of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

The papers have been closely watched this spring as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton considers a second presidential campaign. The former first lady’s new book on her State Department years, “Hard Choices,” will be released next week.

More than 15,000 pages of records from the Clinton White House have been distributed since February, offering details into the administration’s unsuccessful attempt to overhaul the health care system, how it responded to GOP victories in the 1994 elections and how the former first lady’s aides sought to shape her public image.

The records to be released on June 6 could offer more insight into Clinton’s decisions during the 1990s.

Gore’s presidential campaign dominated the final year of the administration — including a lengthy recount saga in Florida —and he ultimately lost to George W. Bush despite winning the popular vote. Clinton’s administration created the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy that addressed gays serving in the armed services, and it dealt with two Supreme Court vacancies during his first term.

Another topic will involve records related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Congress passed the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which established an assassination records review board during Clinton’s tenure to carry out release of records.

Other topics will include the administration’s handling of international crises in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia; its response to terrorism; the Oklahoma City bombing and efforts to spread democratic reform in Cuba.

The memos, drafts of speeches and other papers are being disseminated through the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Records released show Walker’s fundraising tactics

Newly released records show that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign partnered with a Republican lieutenant governor candidate in 2010 to tap wealthy donors who had already given all they could to Walker, a move designed to bolster their potential ticket.

The behind-the-scenes navigating of Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws by Walker staffers was revealed on Feb. 19 as part of the release of 28,000 pages of documents collected during a criminal investigation into one of the governor’s aides.

Walker, who faces re-election this year and is considering a run for president in 2016, was not charged with any wrongdoing in the investigation that closed last year with convictions against six of his former aides and associates.

Democrats are hoping Walker could be sunk by the investigation, which has shadowed him for years. But it was unsuccessfully used against him in his 2010 run for governor and recall attempts in 2012 — and it hasn’t hurt his fundraising ability. That gubernatorial race broke state spending records at $36 million, and the recall hit $81 million, largely because state laws limiting donations don’t apply until a recall election is officially set. That allowed Walker to collect checks as large as $500,000 from backers.

The newly released records show how Walker’s campaign was working closely with Republican lieutenant governor candidate Brett Davis’ campaign to milk all they could out of Walker’s supporters during his first run for governor, in 2010. The plan eventually fell apart because Davis lost in the primary election. Walker at the time was the Milwaukee County executive.

In one February 2010 email with a subject line of “Damn it,” Walker’s deputy chief of staff in his Milwaukee County office demands that Walker’s campaign manager, Keith Gilkes, provide her with a list of people who had maxed out their donations to Walker.

“Where’s my maxed out donor list?” Kelly Rindfleisch wrote. “Do I have to do everything?”

“Yeah, yeah – we are working on it,” Gilkes responded. “We don’t drop everything just to make Kelly happy in this office.”

Six days later, Walker’s deputy campaign manager supplied the donor list. And it’s clear from the emails that Rindfleisch at least didn’t care for Rebecca Kleefisch, who defeated Davis in the September 2010 primary and became Walker’s running mate for lieutenant governor, a position she still holds.

“Ugh, I just hate Becky,” Rindfleisch wrote in a March 30, 2010, email to Davis’s campaign manager Emily Loe.

Rindfleisch was convicted in 2012 of misconduct in office, a felony, for doing campaign work for Davis on government time while in Walker’s county executive office. Rindfleisch, who is appealing her conviction, was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation.

The records released on Feb. 19 were collected during the Rindfleisch investigation.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, in a conference call with reporters, attempted to link the investigation with scandals that have hit Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

“If these ethical scandals are the way (Republican governors) lead, that’s got to be something we all make sure voters pay attention to,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Walker said his political opponents would spin the records to their advantage, but he said the documents revealed no surprises.

Court records previously released showed that Walker’s aides in the county office set up a secret wireless router in his office to email one another about both country and campaign business. The newly released emails showed numerous examples of where Walker’s campaign workers were communicating during normal business hours with his county staff.

In one email, sent March 22, 2010, Walker’s administration director, Cynthia Archer, told Rindfleisch she could consider herself part of the “inner circle,” adding that she frequently used her private email account to communicate with Walker.

Walker told The Associated Press in November 2012 that he had built a firewall to ensure county workers were not ordered to do campaign work while on county time.

“Oftentimes, there’s not a distinction between asking a political question in the official office and the campaign office,” Walker said then. “All those things are things that need to be coordinated. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Associated Press writers contributing to this report were M.L. Johnson and Taylor W. Anderson in Madison; Mike Cronin in St. Paul, Minn.; Doug Glass in Minneapolis; and Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee.


Report: FDA allowed harmful antibiotics in farm animals

The Food and Drug Administration allowed 30 potentially harmful antibiotics, including 18 rated as “high risk,” to remain on the market as additives in farm animal feed and water, according to records obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The data, released on Jan. 28, show the use of the drugs in livestock likely exposes humans to antibiotic resistant bacteria through the food supply, the NRDC said. The FDA’s reviews of the antibiotics occurred between 2001 and 2010, yet the drugs remain approved and, in many cases, on the market for use in industrial animal agriculture operations.

“Drugmakers never proved safety. And FDA continues to knowingly allow the use of drugs in animal feed that likely pose a ‘high risk’ to human health,” said Carmen Cordova, NRDC microbiologist and lead author of the new NRDC analysis. “That’s a breach of their responsibility and the public trust.”

Cordova added, “This discovery is disturbing but not surprising given FDA’s poor track record on dealing with this issue. It’s just more overwhelming evidence that FDA — in the face of a mounting antibiotic resistance health crisis — is turning a blind eye to industry’s misuse of these miracle drugs.”

The NRDC report, “Playing Chicken with Antibiotics,” shows safety reviews of various drugs in the penicillin and tetracycline drug classes — antibiotics considered important to human medicine, which together comprise nearly half of all antibiotics used in animal agriculture in the United States.

NRDC, in the report, said FDA papers obtained through freedom of information requests, show:

• None of the 30 antibiotics would likely be approved as new additives for livestock use if submitted under current FDA guidelines, because drugmakers have not submitted sufficient information to establish their safety.

• 18 of the 30 antibiotic feed additives reviewed were deemed to pose a “high risk” of exposing humans to antibiotic resistant bacteria through the food supply and of adversely affecting human health.

• Drug manufacturers never submitted sufficient information for the remaining 12 products to establish safety, meaning there is no proof of their safety for humans when used in animal feed and the products could not be approved today.

• 29 of the reviewed additives fail to satisfy FDA’s first iteration of safety requirements from 1973.

A large body of scientific work on bacterial cross- and co-resistance has established that the misuse of one antibiotic can lead to bacterial resistance to other antibiotics.

According to the NRDC, the 30 penicillin- and tetracycline-based animal feed additives could reduce the effectiveness of a range of other medically important antibiotics that are solely used to treat people.

FDA first recognized the risks from the use of antibiotics in animal feed in 1977 when it proposed to withdraw approvals for animal feed containing penicillin and most tetracyclines. NRDC won a lawsuit against the FDA for failing to follow through and address the threat posed by the misuse of penicillin and tetracyclines in the livestock industry.

The FDA appealed, and a decision is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York.

100,000 call for Manning to receive Nobel Peace Prize

About 100,000 people have signed an internet petition saying they think gay Army Pfc. Bradley Manning should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The petition is being circulated by RootsAction.org and the co-founder of the cyber activist group, Norman Solomon, says he has plans to deliver the petition to the Nobel committee in Oslo later this week.

Manning was formally nominated for the prize by recipient Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, who has said, “I can think of no one more deserving.” She said Manning, convicted of espionage for relaying hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, helped end the Iraq War and “and may have helped prevent further conflicts elsewhere.”

Manning faces up to 136 years in prison for leaking diplomatic cables, plus 470,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and some warzone video while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010.

He said he leaked the material to expose wrongdoing by the military and U.S. diplomats.

Prosecutors said Manning is a traitor and leaking the material threatened U.S. security and the lives of servicemembers.

Barack Obama is the last American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He received the honor in 2009, the first year of his presidency.

On the Web…

http://rootsaction.org/featured-actions/615-bradley-mannings-nobel-peace-prize