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Profile: James E. (“Jim”) Doyle
a.k.a. Jim Doyle
James E. (“Jim”) Doyle was a participant or observer in the following events:
Governor Scott McCallum (R-WI), locked in a tight race with challenger Jim Doyle (D-WI), begins airing ads accusing Doyle, Wisconsin’s attorney general, of “bribing the mentally ill for votes.” McCallum’s ads accuse Doyle of being involved in an alleged vote-buying scheme, where a Democratic campaign volunteer at a Kenosha residential home, Frank Santapoalo, supposedly plied mentally challenged residents with bingo games, refreshments (soda and “kringle,” a type of pastry), and small cash prizes in return for their votes on absentee ballots. The ads call Doyle “crooked” and accuse the Doyle campaign of “vote-buying.” The McCallum campaign calls the allegations “Bingo-Gate,” and is joined in the allegations by state Republican chairman Rick Graber. An October 22 story by a reporter for WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee claims at least two residents of the home cast absentee ballots, and one of those two voters may have been a convicted felon (that allegation is soon withdrawn by WTMJ; there is a convicted felon living at the home, but that person did not fill out a ballot). Wisconsin law prohibits anyone from giving a voter anything worth more than $1 in value to influence their vote; according to WTMJ, the residents won an average of 75 cents in quarters as well as soda and pastries, ramping the value of their “gifts” to over the $1 limit. Video shot by WTMJ shows the home’s activity director, Tammy Nerling, telling the residents that there are absentee ballots upstairs in the home if they are interested in voting. The video also shows Santapoalo wearing a Doyle campaign sticker on his clothing. And a Democratic party worker, Angela Arrington, invited by Doyle to talk to the residents about absentee voting, is shown leaving the premises upon seeing the cameras on site. No one is seen on the videotape soliciting votes in return for money or sodas; moreover, the sodas were provided by the home, Nerling says, and not Santapoalo. Graber says: “They gave them quarters, they gave them food, and they gave them drink. [State law] says very clearly you can’t give them something of value in exchange for votes.” State Democratic Party spokesman Thad Nation says, “We haven’t seen any evidence that anything illegal was done.” Santapoalo and Nerling both say they do not recall anyone filling out ballots after the bingo game. Kenosha City Clerk Jean Morgan says that of the 33 absentee ballot forms taken to the home, about half have been returned. The ballots are not dated, she says, making it impossible to ascertain when they were completed. The residence orders absentee ballots for every election, she says. The owner of the residential home, Lee Hamdia, says no votes were bought at the bingo party, and calls reports to the contrary “misinformation and gross distortions.” Hamdia says that the two residents did cast ballots the same day as the bingo game, but were not induced to vote by the bingo game nor by any visitor to the home. The residents have denied having any “political discussion[s]” of any kind in their conversations with the volunteer. [Capital Times, 10/24/2002; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10/24/2002; Capital Times, 10/31/2002; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10/31/2002] Nerling says bingo games with small prizes are a staple of residence life, taking place several times a week, and often sponsored by outside groups, including political organizations of all persuasions. Santapoalo says he has a relative living at the home, and has been visiting there for about 12 years. Nerling and admissions director Trish O’Dell say the residents have the mental capacity to cast votes, and some of them have long-standing affiliations with political parties. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10/24/2002]
'Character Assassination' - Three former Wisconsin governors, Tony Earl, Martin Schreiber, and Gaylord Nelson, issue a joint statement calling the ads “character assassination”; Representative David Obey (D-WI) compares McCallum’s campaign tactics with the tactics of the late Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI) and calls the ads “despicable.” After the criticism is joined by negative observations in the national press, McCallum’s campaign begins airing “softer” versions of the ads that replace the characterization of “crooked” with the accusation that Doyle’s purported vote-buying “shames us.” The ads also continue alleging that a felon cast a vote at the home, even though Morgan says that is not the case, and continue alleging that Doyle was “caught bribing the mentally ill for votes” and “votes were bought,” charges that are not substantiated by evidence. Doyle’s campaign says McCallum toned down the ads because they were caught “red-handed” making false charges; the Doyle campaign says that the new versions of the McCallum ads are also false. McCallum’s campaign manager denies that the ads were toned down because of criticism over the earlier television ads, and McCallum says Doyle and his supporters are attacking the credibility of the allegations because “there isn’t a defense for what [Doyle has] done.… The issue is what they did to disenfranchise voters, every voter in Wisconsin. Jim Doyle ought to apologize for the national shame he has brought on the state of Wisconsin.” Wisconsin Republicans say they intend to ask for a federal investigation of the bingo party, a request that state Democrats call a “political stunt.” A state prosecutor is investigating the claims. Political science professor Ken Goldstein says: “I’ve watched a lot of ads. This one, unless I see a lot of good evidence from McCallum’s folks, is over the line.”
Attempt to Lower Voter Turnout? - Another political science professor, David Littig, says the ads are designed for undecided voters, using unsupported emotional appeals to either persuade them to vote for McCallum or to stay home and not vote for Doyle. “The whole tone of the [McCallum] campaign has been to suppress the turnout,” Littig says. Doyle agrees, saying: “If people vote I’m going to win this election easily. McCallum is playing a cynical game right now. He’s trying to do everything he can to keep people from going to the polls.” Former Senate candidate Ed Garvey (D-WI), who narrowly lost an election when his opponent leveled false charges that he stole $750,000 of union money, says of the McCallum campaign: “They must be completely worried that this thing is falling apart. If you are doing well, you don’t call the other guy a crook.” [Capital Times, 10/31/2002; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10/31/2002]
No Charges Filed - Two days later, the special prosecutor investigating the case refuses to file charges, saying no evidence exists of any wrongdoing (see November 2, 2002). McCallum will lose the election to Doyle. The New York Times will call the entire campaign as conducted by both parties highly negative, and will say that McCallum’s attempts to accuse Doyle of voter fraud and other allegations “appeared to backfire” with voters. [New York Times, 11/7/2002]
Entity Tags: Lee Hamdia, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Gaylord Nelson, Frank Santapoalo, Ed Garvey, David Littig, Angela Arrington, Ken Goldstein, Jean Morgan, Wisconsin Republican Party, Tony Earl, WTMJ-TV, Trish O’Dell, Tammy Nerling, Thad Nation, New York Times, Martin Schreiber, Rick Graber, Scott McCallum
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
A special prosecutor says he will not file charges in the alleged “voter fraud” by a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Wisconsin. Governor Scott McCallum (R-WI) charged his opponent, Attorney General Jim Doyle (D-WI), with buying votes from the residents of a home for the mentally challenged in Kenosha (see October 22-31, 2002). Special prosecutor Ted Kmiec says no charges will be filed because he cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any violations of state election law occurred. The residents did receive “gifts” in the aftermath of bingo games, Kmiec says—typically less than $2 in quarters and soda—but no evidence exists that votes were solicited for those gifts, no evidence of any political discussions from the Doyle volunteer hosting the games exists, and no one handed out campaign materials. The volunteer who hosted the games has been visiting the residential facility for at least 12 years, and has a family member staying there. Everyone who did cast an absentee ballot at the residence is an eligible voter, Kmiec adds. Doyle lambasts McCallum for issuing the charges and for running a spate of television ads accusing Doyle of being “crooked” and of “bribing the mentally ill for votes.” He demands an apology from McCallum and for the state news media to set the record straight. “This is a clean bill of health for my campaign and an indictment of Scott McCallum’s campaign of distortion and character assassination,” Doyle says in a statement. “No one was bribed. No one’s vote was influenced. Nothing improper took place. My campaign and I have been falsely accused.” For his part, McCallum and his campaign claim the investigation by Kmiec was tainted, because Kmiec was appointed by Kenosha County District Attorney Robert Jambois, a Doyle supporter. The McCallum campaign charges Kmiec with “a clear conflict of interest.” State Republican chairman Rick Graber says regardless of Kmiec’s findings, he still believes Doyle committed “voter fraud.” Graber says the Wisconsin Republican Party will continue with the allegations until the election on November 4. Doyle campaign director Bill Christofferson says that he now believes the reporter who made the initial allegations, WTMJ-TV’s Scott Friedman, himself asked the residence’s activities director, Tammy Nerling, to encourage residents to fill out absentee ballots. Nerling says Friedman asked her if his crew could film the residents voting, a request Christofferson says is “fishy” in retrospect. WTMJ says any allegations of complicity between Friedman and the McCallum campaign, or any suggestions that Friedman tried to encourage illicit voting behavior, are “outrageous.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 11/2/2002]
Steven Biskupic. [Source: Urban Milwaukee (.com)]US Attorney Steven M. Biskupic of Wisconsin investigates allegations that a travel firm used its influence with Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI) to improperly land a government contract (see October 19, 2005). Doyle denies any involvement with the affair and refuses to reopen bidding on the contract, saying the contract with Adelman Travel was awarded properly. Doyle also refuses to return $20,000 in donations from Adelman CEO Craig Adelman and board member Mitchell Fromstein, a decision Jay Heck of the liberal organization Common Cause says is a mistake: “You should always return money that’s in question because the longer you hang onto it, the worse it’s going to be.” Heck says transparency proposals by Doyle’s Republican opponents, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker (R-WI) and US Representative Mark Green (R-WI), would be of no real use. Furthermore, Heck notes, both Walker and Green have taken money from special interests along with Doyle. “All of them are taking money that at some point will compromise public policy because they have to raise so much of it and it almost all comes from special interests and it all comes with strings attached,” he says. Green accepted almost $54,000 in donations from health care insurers and pharmaceutical interests before voting for a controversial, industry-supported Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10/21/2005]
The Omega World Travel agency claims that it was improperly denied a $750,000 contract by the Wisconsin state government in favor of another firm with ties to Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI). The other firm, Adelman Travel, is owned by Craig Adelman, a major contributor to Doyle’s political campaign. Adelman and a member of the firm’s board of directors, Mitchell Fromstein, both donated $10,000—the maximum allowed under the law—to Doyle’s re-election campaign. Omega contends that the bidding process was rigged to favor Adelman Travel. State purchasing division supervisor Georgia Thompson (see 2001) says Omega and Adelman Travel were essentially tied as frontrunners during the bidding phase. Doyle denies any involvement in the selection of Adelman Travel as the state’s supplier of travel services. Doyle’s opponent for the 2006 gubernatorial race, Representative Mark Green (R-WI), says the affair has “cast a cloud on state government.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10/19/2005] Omega declined to formally contest the contract award. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10/21/2005] Department of Administration Secretary Stephen Bablitch will say there is no evidence that Adelman Travel was awarded the contract improperly, and will note that the firm lost out on three of the four contracts it bid for. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 1/24/2006]
Georgia Thompson. [Source: Truth in Justice (.org)]Georgia Thompson, the supervisor of Wisconsin’s state government travel spending (see 2001), is indicted by a federal grand jury. She is charged with manipulating the bid process on a state travel contract, intending to “cause political advantage for her supervisors” (see October 19, 2005 and October 2005). The indictment also says her actions “were intended to help her job security.” If convicted, Thompson could receive up to 20 years in prison. The grand jury probed a contract Thompson and the state’s purchasing division awarded to Adelman Travel, whose executives have made $20,000 in campaign contributions to Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI). Doyle was not interviewed by the jury and denies any involvement in the contract award process. The jury was convened by US Attorney Steven Biskupic. Investigators say Thompson was not fully cooperative with their probe, and some witnesses have told the jury that Thompson pushed for Adelman to receive the contract over another bidder, Omega World Travel. The travel bidding affair has become something of a political football, with Wisconsin Republicans using it to accuse Doyle of corruption. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker (R-WI), expected to challenge Doyle for the governor’s office in 2006, says that Doyle’s administration “condoned unethical and illegal behavior.… Today’s indictment provides further confirmation that the Doyle administration is damaged and must be removed from the Capitol. Jim Doyle’s political connections to this aide are, without question, mentioned as a defining piece of the evidence used to bring forth this indictment.” Another Republican challenger, Representative Mark Green (R-WI), says electing him would help restore the public’s confidence in elected officials: “The Doyle administration’s ethical lapses have cast a cloud over state government that grows darker and darker each day.” Department of Administration Secretary Stephen Bablitch says there is no evidence that Adelman Travel was awarded the contract improperly. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 1/21/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 1/24/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 1/27/2006]
Georgia Thompson, a Wisconsin state purchasing executive, is convicted of two felony charges of manipulating the bid process on a state travel contract, intending to “cause political advantage for her supervisors” (see October 19, 2005, October 2005, and January 24, 2006). The indictment said her actions “were intended to help her job security,” though it did not allege the existence of a so-called “pay to play” scheme that traded campaign donations for contracts. Thompson was charged with improperly steering a travel contract with the state, worth $750,000, to a travel firm whose executives made political donations to Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI). She pled not guilty to the charges, and was not asked by prosecutors to take a deal in return for testifying about alleged improprieties by Doyle and other administration officials. Her lawyer, Stephen Hurley, said at the time: “They can squeeze all they want. There’s nothing to squeeze out.” Hurley called the charges against her “the most bizarre application of the statute I’ve ever seen.” US Attorney Steven Biskupic, a Bush administration appointee, is using the Thompson case to find evidence of criminal corruption within the Doyle administration. Thompson faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Wisconsin Republicans have dubbed the affair “Travelgate,” and are using it to drub Doyle in campaign ads. Doyle is expected to face stiff competition from Republican challengers in the November 2006 election. During the trial, prosecutors did not allege that Thompson colluded with anyone in the Doyle administration to rig the contract process. Instead, they said Thompson carried out the improprieties on her own in order to curry favor with her superiors. Biskupic called her actions “politically motivated bid-rigging,” and said she inflated her scores for Adelman Travel in the bid assessment process “for private gain for herself and others” rather than using the criteria established by state law. Hurley called Biskupic’s logic “bizarre,” and noted that Thompson did not profit in any way from her alleged bid-rigging. In fact, Hurley said, her actions saved the state $27,000. Hurley said during the trial that she had no way of knowing about the campaign contributions, and her job did not depend on which company received the contract. Evidence presented during the trial showed that Adelman Travel was involved in setting the parameters for the contract awarding criteria months before being invited to take part in the bidding, though Thompson was not involved in those dealings. Thompson testified that she is not politically active and knew nothing of the politics behind the contract. She said she was not pressured to award Adelman Travel the contract. She said that she had a negative reaction to Adelman’s competitor for the contract, Omega World Travel, because unlike Adelman Travel, it was not a local firm, and she found Omega’s representatives “pushy, abrasive, and East Coast” in their manner. Through tears, she testified: “As a consumer, you can say, ‘Gee, I need a new refrigerator,’ look in the Sunday paper, see that there are refrigerators for sale, and say, ‘Okay, this is the one I want. This looks like the right price.’ You go in to buy it, and you don’t like the salesperson, so you don’t buy it. In state government, you can’t do that.” If you do, she said, the contract could be called into question. In his closing arguments, Biskupic called Thompson a liar, noting that her testimony in court was different in some aspects to statements she had given reporters. Doyle says after the conviction is issued: “It is clear that Georgia Thompson acted on her own and that no other state employee was involved.… As I have stated before, I have zero tolerance for ethical lapses in government. When public servants abuse the public’s trust, they forfeit their rights to continue in the state’s employ.” Doyle says that Thompson will likely be fired after a review is conducted. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 2/3/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/3/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/6/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/9/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/13/2006] She will resign her position shortly after her conviction. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/5/2007]
Kevin Barrett. [Source: Public domain]State lawmakers call for the dismissal of a University of Wisconsin-Madison instructor after he voices his opinion that the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks. Part-time lecturer Kevin Barrett appeared on a local radio show and claimed the alleged hijackers were “a bunch of losers who couldn’t even fly planes,” and that evidence indicated the WTC was destroyed by controlled demolition. Subsequently, State Representative Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater) issues a statement saying Barrett “needs to be fired” for using his position at the university to advance the idea “that September 11 was a creation of the government.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/29/2006; Wisconsin State Journal, 6/30/2006] Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green also demands that Barrett be fired, and Governor Jim Doyle (a Democrat) questions whether Barrett is competent to teach. [Associated Press, 7/6/2006; Associated Press, 7/10/2006] Yet Barrett says that, for the Introduction to Islam course he is scheduled to teach, 14 of the 16 weeks will have nothing to do with politics. Only one week will cover different viewpoints on 9/11, including the theory that it was an “American operation.” Following a 10-day review, UW-Madison announces it will keep Barrett on and let him teach the controversial theory about 9/11. [WKOW, 7/10/2006; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7/10/2006] Sixty-one of the state legislature’s 133 members sign a letter to the university, urging it to fire Barrett. Stephen Nass states: “The leadership of the UW System operates at its own peril if it continues to ignore views of the taxpayers.” [Associated Press, 7/20/2006; Los Angeles Times, 7/25/2006] Barrett tells the Associated Press he is pleased about the attention the controversy has brought to his cause. He says, “If these idiots had just kept their mouths shut, nobody would have ever heard of me. I’ve been trying to get publicity for years.” [Associated Press, 7/6/2006]
Wisconsin Department of Administration supervisor Georgia Thompson (see 2001 and June 13, 2006) is sentenced to 18 months in prison for allegedly steering a state travel contract to a firm whose executives contributed $20,000 to the campaign of Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI—see October 19, 2005, October 2005, and January 24, 2006). She was convicted of misapplying government funds and of defrauding the state of its right to honest services. Aside from her prison term, Thompson is sentenced to pay $4,000 in fines and serve three years of supervised release. The jury concluded that the firm, Adelman Travel, would not have been awarded a $750,000 contract had Thompson not manipulated the selection process. “People are deserving of good and honest government,” says District Judge Rudolph T. Randa. “There has been too much of this recently; people tend to lose confidence.” Thompson is appealing the conviction. The judge and attorneys for both sides have acknowledged the political nature of the case. Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Rick Wiley has already used Thompson in attack ads targeting Doyle for the upcoming election, with one ad saying, “Jim Doyle has rigged contracts for cash, he’s rigged votes to make political attacks, and by failing to protect our electoral process, this election is ripe for fraud once again.” Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Joe Wineke says of the ads, “For months, Republicans have been trying to use the Georgia Thompson case for their own political advantage and to smear Governor Doyle.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 9/22/2006]
A federal court of appeals overturns the conviction of former Wisconsin government official Georgia Thompson, who was convicted of two felony counts of manipulating a state bidding process to favor a Wisconsin travel agency whose executives had made campaign donations to Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI—see June 13, 2006). The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacates the conviction and orders Thompson released from jail (see September 22, 2006) immediately. US Attorney Steven Biskupic, who prosecuted Thompson, says he will most likely not appeal the decision. The three-judge panel finds Thompson was wrongfully convicted after oral arguments were presented by both Biskupic’s office and Thompson’s attorney, not waiting for written submissions. Judge Diane T. Wood called the evidence submitted by Biskupic “beyond thin,” telling prosecutors: “I have to say, in comparison to some of the cases this court has seen, that’s a pretty thin set of facts to show some sort of tight political relationship. Am I missing something?” Judge William Bauer wondered why others were not prosecuted, asking why, if prosecutors felt Doyle and others were complicit in the alleged crimes, only Thompson was left to “carr[y] the sack.” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook noted Adelman Travel had the lowest bid and assailed math used to score competing bids. “Because they flunked high school math doesn’t mean a felony was committed,” he said. Doyle, a former state attorney general, says the court did an “extraordinary thing” by entering an order finding Thompson innocent and ordering her immediate release. Decisions like this usually take weeks or months to be rendered. Doyle says Thompson did nothing wrong, calls her “an innocent woman who was used as a political football,” and says she deserves her job back and to be awarded back pay. “She was doing her job, and then she got caught up in all of this,” he says. Doyle defeated gubernatorial challenger Mark Green (R-WI) in the November 2006 elections; Green attempted to make the Thompson “Travelgate” affair a centerpiece of his campaign, and repeatedly accused Doyle and his administration of corruption. Thompson’s attorney, Stephen Hurley, argued in oral presentations that Thompson did not personally profit from the contract going to Adelman Travel, contending that her actions did not constitute “dishonest gain,” a criteria many courts have applied to corruption cases. Hurley says that as a result of her conviction, she lost “her job, her life savings, her home, and her liberty; and it cost Georgia her good name.… At sentencing, the government urged a longer period of incarceration because Georgia did not accept responsibility. Today, the government ought to accept responsibility for the consequences of its acts.” Wisconsin Republican Party director Mark Jefferson says Thompson’s exoneration means nothing, and the Doyle administration should still be investigated regarding the contract process. [Associated Press, 4/5/2007; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/5/2007] Wisconsin lawyer Chris Van Wagner later says of the appeals court’s decision: “That is more than a legal ruling; it’s a slap in the face. This, no question about it, is a major affront to the government in many ways. Most significantly, it said you should have never brought this case.… Two or three cases out of 100 are vacated. This case wasn’t just vacated and sent back for a retrial, but rather the judges ordered an acquittal.” [Christopher T. Van Wagner, 4/2007] Law professor Michael O’Hear agrees that the decision is unusual. “If this was a finding of insufficient evidence, what they’re saying is it’s unjust that Georgia Thompson has been in prison the last few months,” he says. [Wisconsin State Journal, 4/6/2007]
Entity Tags: Frank Easterbrook, Diane T. Wood, Adelman Travel, William Bauer, Steven M. Biskupic, Stephen Hurley, Michael O’Hear, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Georgia Lee Thompson, Mark Jefferson, Chris Van Wagner, Mark Andrew Green
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Critics say that the legal pursuit of former Wisconsin state purchasing official Georgia Thompson, whose conviction on corruption charges was overturned by a federal appeals court (see April 5, 2007), may have been politically motivated. State Representative David Travis (D-Westport) says Thompson was persecuted by US Attorney Steven Biskupic, a Bush administration appointee. “I think it’s right out of the Karl Rove playbook,” he says, referring to White House political chief Karl Rove. “I never thought I’d see a prosecution like this. That woman is innocent. He’s ruined her life.” Republicans used Thompson’s prosecution and conviction (see June 13, 2006) as a centerpiece of their attempt to thwart the re-election attempts of Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), who survived a 2006 challenge by Mark Green (R-WI), who accused Doyle of corruption throughout the campaign. Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) calls on Congress to investigate the prosecution, saying the prosecution ties into Congress’s investigation into the firing of eight US Attorneys (see December 7, 2006 and December 20, 2006). “Congress should also look into whether partisan politics influenced, or even dictated, the investigations conducted by the US Attorneys’ offices in order to stay in the [Bush] administration’s good graces,” Baldwin says. “The 7th Circuit acquittal of Georgia Thompson, after a widely publicized pre-election prosecution, certainly raises serious questions about the integrity and motivation of the prosecutor.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asks Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to turn over all of the Justice Department’s records in the Georgia Thompson case to the committee, “including any communications between the Justice Department, the White House, and any other outside party, including party officials.” Leahy, joined by Wisconsin’s two senators Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Russell Feingold (D-WI), also asks Gonzales to turn over records related to voter fraud investigations in Wisconsin (see Early 2005) and any records pertaining to Biskupic’s possible firing. Wisconsin Democrats have long considered Thompson’s prosecution an attempt to besmirch Doyle before the 2006 election, and have accused Biskupic of mounting a politically motivated pursuit of an innocent government official. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/7/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007] Feingold says in a statement that Thompson was the victim of a “miscarriage of justice,” and adds, “In light of ongoing concerns about the politicization of US Attorneys’ offices around the country, I am seeking further information from the Department of Justice on how this case and voter fraud cases after the 2004 election came about and whether there was improper political pressure to pursue them.” [Federal Document Clearing House, 4/10/2007]
Denials of Political Motivations - Biskupic’s First Assistant US Attorney (FAUSA) Michelle Jacobs says that the prosecution of Thompson was not politically motivated, and the office received no contact from the White House or the Justice Department. “They acted on the evidence as they found it, convinced a jury of 12 that there was criminal conduct, convinced a judge who has been sitting on a state and federal bench for 33 years that the verdict was sound,” Jacobs says. “But we just did not convince the court of appeals, and we’ll respect the court of appeals decision.” Andy Gussert, president of the state employees union AFT-Wisconsin, says Congress should look into the Thompson case because servants should “not become political footballs to be kicked around.” He adds: “This prosecution raises additional questions that resonate with concerns about the recent firings of US Attorneys. If people are to have faith in our judicial system, those questions will need answers.” Former State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, who was involved in the Thompson investigation, says the investigation was not politically motivated. Lautenschlager is a Democrat, but is considered a political enemy of Doyle’s.
Thompson Nearly Destitute - Thompson’s lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says Thompson has been left almost entirely penniless by the case. She lost her $77,300-a-year state job, about $60,000 in back wages, and owes somewhere between $250,000 and $400,000 in legal fees. She was forced to cash in her state pension and sell her $264,700 condominium, which she had paid off entirely. Travis says the federal government should pay her lost wages and legal costs, and compensate her for her time in prison. State officials say they are prepared to offer Thompson her old job or a similar position at the same salary, and are investigating whether they can reimburse her back wages and pay her legal bills. Thompson says she does not want her old job back, but would like another job in the same division. She is very concerned with staying out of the public spotlight. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/7/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007]
Biskupic Considered for Firing - Unbeknownst to Congress or the press, Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of people to be fired. Biskupic himself will soon claim that he did not prosecute Thompson for political purposes (see April 14, 2007).
Entity Tags: David Travis, Andy Gussert, Tammy Baldwin, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Stephen Hurley, Russell D. Feingold, Steven M. Biskupic, Patrick J. Leahy, Herbert Kohl, Georgia Lee Thompson, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Michelle Jacobs, Karl C. Rove, Peg Lautenschlager, Mark Andrew Green
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
An editorial by Adam Cohen in the New York Times concurs that Wisconsin state employee Georgia Thompson was the victim of a politically motivated prosecution. Thompson’s conviction on corruption charges was recently overturned (see April 5, 2007), and critics are now alleging that state Republicans used the Thompson case to help defeat incumbent Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), who defeated a Republican challenger in November 2006 (see April 7-10, 2007). “The entire affair is raising serious questions about why a United States Attorney put an innocent woman in jail,” Cohen writes. Cohen implies that US Attorney Steven Biskupic of Wisconsin may have pursued the Thompson allegations in order to avoid being fired in the 2006 US Attorney purge (see December 7, 2006 and December 20, 2006). “Members of Congress should ask whether it was by coincidence or design that [Biskupic] turned a flimsy case into a campaign issue that nearly helped Republicans win a pivotal governor’s race,” he writes. The appeals court that overturned Thompson’s conviction was “shocked,” Cohen writes, at the lack of evidence against Thompson. Moreover, Biskupic, the US Attorney for Eastern Wisconsin, took over the case even though it originated in Madison, in the Western District. And he spoke to reporters about the investigation, in apparent defiance of Justice Department guidelines saying federal prosecutors can publicly discuss investigations before an indictment only under extraordinary circumstances. Cohen says the scheduling of the prosecution “worked out perfectly for the Republican candidate for governor. Mr. Biskupic announced Ms. Thompson’s indictment in January 2006. She went to trial that summer, and was sentenced in late September, weeks before the election.” While Biskupic has denied that the timing of the prosecution was “tied to the political calendar,” it was, says Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Joe Wineke, “the No. 1 issue” in the governor’s race. Cohen then writes: “Most of the eight dismissed prosecutors came from swing states, and Democrats suspect they may have been purged to make room for prosecutors who would help Republicans win close elections. If so, it might also mean that United States Attorneys in all swing states were under unusual pressure. Wisconsin may be the closest swing state of all.” President Bush lost Wisconsin by a vanishingly small margin of 12,000 votes in 2004, and by an even narrower margin in 2000. Wisconsin politicians say that Karl Rove, the White House’s political chief, told them Wisconsin was his highest priority, because he believed that having a Republican win the 2006 gubernatorial race would help Republicans win in the 2008 presidential election. Cohen concludes by pointing out the irony of one element of the prosecution: Biskupic charged that Thompson committed the alleged crime to obtain “political advantage for her superiors” and to improve her own “job security.” Cohen writes, “Those motivations, of course, may well describe why Mr. Biskupic prosecuted Ms. Thompson. [New York Times, 4/16/2007]
Biskupic Considered for Firing - Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of attorneys under consideration for removal.
Former Wisconsin procurement officer Georgia Thompson, wrongly convicted of corruption in 2006 (see 2001 and June 13, 2006) and freed by an appeals court in 2007 (see April 5, 2007) amid speculation that her prosecution was politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007), was pressured by federal prosecutors to turn on high-ranking Democrats in Wisconsin state government, according to officials involved in the case. In return, prosecutors promised leniency or dropping the charges in their entirety. Her lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says prosecutors wanted her to testify against Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), the then-Department of Administration Secretary Marc Marotta, and other elected officials. The pressure came from US Attorney Steven Biskupic and others in his office, according to Hurley and co-counsel Marcus Berghahn. “I began to get the impression that the indictment was being used to squeeze her,” says Hurley, saying that these attempts continued even after Thompson’s sentencing (see September 22, 2006), with offers to seek a reduced sentence if Thompson produced evidence that Doyle or others in his administration had broken the law. Hurley, who has been a criminal defense attorney for over 30 years, says: “It was the only time in my career that, after the person was sentenced, the prosecutor has called to renew the discussion. I’ve never had that happen before.” Reporter Bill Lueders writes, “These offers, though not necessarily indicative of improper conduct, suggest that Biskupic and his staff prosecuted Thompson as part of a larger agenda, with potential political overtones.” Biskupic has denied any political motivations behind the prosecution (see April 14, 2007) and refuses to discuss any plea offers with Lueders. Former Dane County assistant district attorney John Burr, a past president of the Association of State Prosecutors, says of Biskupic’s plea offers: “You can’t tell me it was not politically motivated. The powers that be over there thought they were going to go all the way to the governor.” Biskupic’s office, says Burr, prosecuted Thompson to get to Doyle and others. And, “[w]hen they didn’t find anything, they were stuck with it. It blew up in their faces.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green (R-WI) used the Thompson prosecution as the centerpiece of his campaign against Doyle in the 2006 elections, accusing Doyle of running a corrupt administration. Doyle defeated Green in the election. Many have speculated that the case can be tied to the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006), with Biskupic pursuing the Thompson case to curry favor with the Bush administration and keep himself from being fired. Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of those being considered for firing. Biskupic insisted throughout the prosecution that the case was entirely about Thompson, and not about Doyle or other elected officials, but in his closing arguments, he cited Doyle, Marotta, and others as “players” in the affair, saying: “She’s the link. She’s the one who made this happen. What a terrible coincidence for her that she is in the middle of all this.” One juror later said that “nobody in the jury room had any doubt whatsoever” that Doyle and others were involved, though there is no evidence to support such a conclusion. Former US Attorney Frank Tuerkheimer says there is nothing untoward or unusual about Biskupic trying to “flip” Thompson to get information about higher-ups. “In principle, there is nothing wrong with it,” he says. “There’s no question in my mind that Biskupic was after Thompson to get higher-ups.” The problem was, Tuerkheimer adds, that “Biskupic had a theory of criminality that was ridiculous”—that Thompson was acting at others’ behest. “It just bothers you ‘cause the woman got screwed.” Tuerkheimer notes that Biskupic had Thompson jailed pending her appeal, which was unusual for such a case. She had no criminal history, was not a flight risk, and had a legitimate case for appeal. Most people in her position would have been allowed to stay out of jail pending the appeal. Why did Biskupic insist on having her jailed? Tuerkheimer replies, “It appeared to me that they were trying to pressure her to talk.” [Madison Isthmus, 5/18/2007] Doyle says he is alarmed by the reports that Biskupic and others tried to pressure Thompson into testifying against members of his administration. “The story is pretty alarming, particularly given that she had testified under oath that nobody had ever asked her to do anything inappropriately,” Doyle says. “Even after… testifying under oath they were still trying to get her to give information that just wasn’t true.” Doyle refuses to say directly that the prosecution was politically motivated, but asks rhetorically, “Does anybody really think that Georgia Thompson, if it hadn’t been an election year, that this would have ever happened to her?” Biskupic’s chief assistant Michelle Jacobs denies that the prosecution had any political components to it, saying: “We would never, and have never, encouraged a defendant to lie to us. To suggest that it is somehow untoward or unusual to approach a post-trial defendant, even a defendant who has testified, about cooperating with us, it’s just not unusual.” [Associated Press, 5/18/2007]
Entity Tags: James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Bush administration (43), Bill Lueders, Georgia Lee Thompson, Steven M. Biskupic, Mark Andrew Green, Michelle Jacobs, Marc Marotta, John Burr, Frank Tuerkheimer, Stephen Hurley, Marcus Berghahn
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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