Part 225 of 237 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War
MADISON, Wisconsin — This is what an abusive, politically motivated investigation looks like: The sun had yet to rise when deputies pounded on the door of Deborah Jordahl’s home in a quiet suburb of Madison. They had a warrant, and they were coming in. Armed law enforcement officers, led by Milwaukee County District Attorney investigator Anna Linden, proceeded to root through the home. They hauled out computers, smart phones, paper records and an array of “evidence” that had nothing to do with the investigation, private possessions that weren’t listed on the sweeping warrants.
DEBORAH’S STORY: Deb Jordahl, a Madison political consultant, was one of several Wisconsin conservatives targeted for years in the unconstitutional John Doe probe.
Through it all, Jordahl, her husband, and her teenage children were confined to the home’s family room, guarded by Dane County Deputy Sheriff Linda Kohlmeyer.
“At one point early on, I started to get up from the sofa,” Jordahl told Wisconsin Watchdog. “I told the deputy who was guarding us that I wanted to call my lawyer. She backed me down on the sofa and told me I could not call anyone.”
“I felt completely helpless in my own home.”
Jordahl has had a lot of helpless feelings since the coordinated John Doe raids of Oct. 3, 2013, but maybe nothing compares to watching her 15-year-old daughter, her “little girl,” sitting in her pajamas on the living room couch, crying, as a deputy told her she could tell none of her friends at school about that morning.
It has been described as “Wisconsin’s shame,” and now that the John Doe investigation is legally dead, Wisconsin and the nation are learning more about the horrifying accounts of the political probe — from the people who lived it.
Thanks to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s 4-2 ruling last week, which killed the investigation launched more than five years ago, people such as Deb Jordahl finally feel safe to tell their stories.
That’s bad news for Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, the Democrat who launched the John Doe, special prosecutor Francis Schmitz and the “nonpartisan” state Government Accountability Board that worked alongside the prosecutors in targeting and, accounts like Jordahl’s attest, intimidating dozens of conservative groups.
Jordahl, her business partner R.J. Johnson and long-time conservative activist Eric O’Keefe shared their experiences with Wall Street Journal senior editorial writer Collin Levy in a piece published Wednesday night.
While O’Keefe has publicly led the charge against the investigation and its prosecutors, Jordahl and Johnson are telling their stories on the record for the first time. Doing so before the Supreme Court’s ruling could have landed all three in jail, the consequence of the John Doe’s “screamingly unconstitutional” gag order.
In fact, it seems in January 2014 Schmitz was pushing for John Doe presiding Judge Gregory Peterson to hold O’Keefe in contempt of court for disclosing the “existence of his subpoena and the fact that search warrants were executed.”
Prosecutors were keenly interested in Johnson and Jordahl, political consultants who had worked with Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
In the Wall Street Journal piece, Johnson recounts being on a plane when the 2013 raids went down, and that his 16-year-old son was home alone at the time, awakened by six law-enforcement agents with guns and a warrant.
“He was told he couldn’t move, that he couldn’t call a lawyer, that he couldn’t call his parents. He was a minor and he was isolated by law enforcement,” Johnson told the Journal.
“My first reaction was incomprehension. We were baffled. We had no idea what this was about or that this is what they do over campaign finance issues. . . . It wasn’t until much later that we even began to understand that it was connected to the first Doe (investigation).”
He and Jordahl confirm what Wisconsin Watchdog in its series, “Wisconsin’s Secret War,” recently reported: That the John Doe prosecutors were engaged in a multi-year spying operation into conservative targets, some of whom still do not know that they were being monitored.
Jordahl told Wisconsin Watchdog the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office sent its lead investigator, David Budde, to search her Madison office — without her knowledge. The DA’s office has yet to provide an inventory of confiscated items.
Budde could not be reached for comment.
Chisholm did not return Wisconsin Watchdog’s call seeking comment Thursday. He and his assistants have not returned dozens of calls regarding the John Doe probe.
While the investigation may be over, Jordahl says the abuse continues. She said the prosecutors continue to mislead the public about their activities, particularly the raids. Chisholm, Schmitz and others have downplayed their role in the raids. In fact, Chisholm refuses to refer to the predawn operations as “raids.”
“If those unidentified persons feel that the unidentified sheriff deputies violated their rights in any manner, they may vindicate their rights in the proper forum, wherever that may be,” Douglas Knott, Chisholm’s attorney, wrote in an earlier motion.
But Milwaukee County District Attorney investigator Anna Linden was at the raid on Jordahl’s home, leading the activities. She signed the return warrant, according to a document obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.
Speaking to Bill Lueders of the left-leaning Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, a Democrat, earlier this year called accounts of the raids in National Review “highly suspicious,” and said he couldn’t believe “there would be a warning that you could not call an attorney or tell others of the warrant.”
Mahoney spoke specifically of the raid his deputies and FBI agents conducted in 2011 on the home of former Walker aide Cindy Archer, who has since filed a civil rights lawsuit against the prosecutors in state court.
Jordahl says she has four witnesses — her family — who will gladly testify they were told they could not contact their attorney while the raid was going on. It was Mahoney’s deputy who gave that order.
The warrants insist on secrecy.
“This John Doe search warrant is issued subject to a secrecy order,” read the warrants, reviewed by Wisconsin Watchdog. “By order of the court pursuant to a secrecy order that applies to this proceeding, you are hereby commanded and ordered not to disclose to anyone, other than your own attorney, the contents of the search warrant and or the fact that you have received this search warrant.”
The warrants conclude, “Violation of the secrecy order is punishable as contempt of court.”
Schmitz released a statement saying he was disappointed by the Supreme Court ruling and asserting that there has been “no fact-finding hearing conducted at any level establishing, for example, that search warrants were executed unprofessionally or that persons were denied an opportunity to contact their attorneys.”
Jordahl says the damage from John Doe continues.
“Our rights have been repeatedly abused and, given what we’ve learned from various lawsuits, we may not even know the half of it,” she said. “Yet even now that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ended the investigation, the prosecutors continue their assault by claiming that our accounts of the raids are not true. I cannot stand by while they lie to media about what they did, what my children saw them do.”