Home Finance Opper declines to bring charges against Brandtjen in campaign finance case | Waukesha Co. News

Opper declines to bring charges against Brandtjen in campaign finance case | Waukesha Co. News

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WAUKESHA — Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper announced Friday that she will not be seeking criminal charges against state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, saying there was a lack of admissible evidence but that did not mean she is cleared of wrongdoing.

“Nothing in this decision should be interpreted as a conclusion that the actions of Rep. Brandtjen were lawful nor laudable. I do not reach such a conclusion,” Opper wrote Friday in a letter to a lawyer for the state Ethics Commission. “I am simply concluding that I cannot prove charges against her. While the intercepted communications may be compelling in the court of public opinion, they are not in a court of law. In short, this decision does not clear Rep. Brandtjen of any wrongdoing; there is just not enough evidence to move forward to let a factfinder decide.”

An email to Brandtjen and a voicemail message left at the Wisconsin Ethics Commission were not immediately returned Friday. Brandtjen, in an email to Conley Media two weeks ago, said, “I have done nothing wrong.”

In February, the state Ethics Commission recommended to prosecutors in several counties that they file felony charges against a fundraising committee for former President Donald Trump as well as Brandtjen, a Menomonee Falls Republican, and others for allegedly conspiring to skirt campaign finance laws to donate money to the campaign of Adam Steen against state Rep. Robin Vos in the 2022 primary election for Assembly, in which Vos won.

The Associated Press reported that Brandtjen, a Trump ally, worked to unseat Vos after Vos fired former Supreme Court Justice Mike Gableman, who was leading a probe looking into alleged fraud in the 2020 election. Vos began the investigation under pressure from Trump, but eventually distanced himself from the false claims of election fraud and those who desired to overturn President Joe Biden’s win in Wisconsin.

The Ethics Commission recommended that charges be brought against Trump’s Save America political action committee, Brandtjen, Steen’s campaign, eight other individuals and three county Republican parties. The commission alleged they took advantage of Wisconsin laws that allow for unlimited donations to political parties, but then illegally funneled at least $40,000 to Steen through local parties in Langlade, Chippewa and Florence counties. Assembly candidates are limited to $1,000 in donations from an individual source. But state law also allows county parties to give candidates an unlimited amount.

It also alleged Brandtjen had conversations with others in the scheme and herself made a $3,000 donation to the the Langlade County GOP.

In her letter, Opper said among the materials she reviewed in the matter were audio recordings believed to have been taken from Steen’s campaign phones, including four calls between Steen and Brandtjen, although the veracity of same was never proven. But based on them, the Ethics Commission concluded there was probable cause to believe Brandtjen had committed a crime.

But those same phone calls led her to “conclude there is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt to support a criminal prosecution,” Opper wrote. Under state law, it is legal for someone to “intercept” an oral communication when that person is a party in that conversation or is given permission by a party to it to do so. But state case law precludes such intercepted communications from being used as evidence in court, drawing a balance between the need to intercept communications to fight crime and the right to privacy of free people, Opper wrote. Citing a precedent case, Opper wrote, “although one-party consent tapes are lawful, they are not ‘authorized by (certain statutes)’ and therefor the contents cannot be admitted as evidence in chief,” she wrote.

“Furthermore, any information derived from the intercepted communication could not be used,” Opper wrote. “Without the intercepted communications, the knowledge and intent of Rep. Brandtjen necessary to sustain a conviction cannot be proven, nor could a conspiracy be established.”

If county prosecutors don’t initiate charges within 60 days from the date of the Feb. 23 referral, the commission said it will go to another district attorney or the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the AP reported.

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