Mr. O’Keefe is the Director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth and a friend of mine via our joint support of the libertarian-focused Cato Institute. Previously I have written about the witch-hunt conducted by Wisconsin state prosecutors against Eric’s freedom of speech rights.
Here the Wall Street Journal details Eric O’Keefe’s victory over the “tyrannical behavior” of the prosecutors via a decision handed down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The WSJ concludes, “The legal exoneration shouldn’t pass without noting the hardship the secret probe imposed on its targets and on political debate in Wisconsin.”
One target did speak up in public in real time— Eric O’Keefe, who went on the record in limited ways with me not long after he was subpoenaed in October 2013 as part of the prosecutors’ investigation of conservative speech during the Wisconsin recall elections. The director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth knew that violating the gag order put him at personal risk, but he told me then that he had to fight because it was an assault on basic constitutional freedoms and “we have done nothing illegal.” A Journal editorial exposed the extent and dubious legal basis of the Doe investigation for the first time.
As the legal challenges went on in state and federal court, Mr. O’Keefe’s disclosures to us made him a bull’s-eye for prosecutors and local media. “I did not want to see the inside of a jail cell,” Mr. O’Keefe says, but “I didn’t want to shirk my duty to confront tyrannical behavior.”
In a Jan. 24, 2014, filing with John Doe Judge Gregory Peterson, Special Prosecutor Schmitz wrote that “the Wisconsin Club for Growth (hereafter WiCFG), acting through Eric O’Keefe, has demonstrated contempt for the John Doe process, secrecy order, and Wisconsin legal system.” The filing added that Mr. O’Keefe had “disclosed the existence of his subpoena and the fact that search warrants were executed,” and included footnotes to our editorials as evidence.
Now the 60-year-old Mr. O’Keefe is willing to provide more details about his decision. He says he talked it over with his children, and he and his wife, Leslie, discussed “how she should operate if I was arrested for contempt of court.” The maximum penalty in Wisconsin is a $10,000 fine and one year in jail. “She asked if she could bail me out of jail. My position was ‘no.’ ”
The prosecutors were especially interested in Mr. O’Keefe’s correspondence with R.J. Johnson and Deborah Jordahl, political consultants who had worked with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Mr. Johnson was on a plane when the raids happened, and his 16-year-old son woke up at home to find 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,” Mr. Johnson says.
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