MADISON, Wis.— A federal appeals court decided Thursday to unseal two dozen documents in a secret investigation into whether Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups in 2012.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals had planned to release nearly three dozen documents in the probe on Tuesday but held off after one of the groups, two unnamed parties and prosecutors leading the probe objected. It issued an order on Thursday, however, saying 10 documents would remain sealed and the rest would be released. It’s not clear when they documents will be made public.
Prosecutors have been looking into whether Walker’s 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups on advertising and fundraising. They’ve been using a so-called John Doe procedure, a proceeding similar to a federal grand jury where information is tightly controlled.
One of the groups, Wisconsin Club for Growth, has convinced a federal judge to put the probe on hold, arguing the investigation violates its free speech rights.
The prosecutors have asked the 7th Circuit to let them continue. Meanwhile, a coalition of media and open government groups has filed a side appeal demanding the court unseal hundreds of pages of documents linked to the investigation.
The court in June released 266 pages of documents that revealed the nature of the investigation. The coalition’s appeal is still pending — oral arguments are set for Sept. 9 — but the court planned to release 34 additional documents on Tuesday as part of its standard operating procedures.
Wisconsin Club for Growth, two unnamed parties and the prosecutors all filed motions Monday asking the court to keep all or a portion of the documents sealed, arguing the court needed to respect the secrecy of the John Doe proceeding, the documents would harm people’s reputations and releasing them now would undermine the investigation if it starts again.
The media and open government coalition countered with a court filing arguing that the public interest in the case trumps any need for secrecy.
The court didn’t offer any explanation for the release in its order Thursday.
Attorneys for the unnamed parties sent a letter to the 7th Circuit’s clerk pointing out the order contradicts itself because four documents that are supposed to remain sealed also are part of documents that are supposed to be released. They asked the court to keep them sealed. The court had not responded by late Thursday afternoon.
Attorneys for Wisconsin Club for Growth and lead prosecutor Francis Schmitz didn’t immediately return phone and email messages.