Gov. Scott Walker isn't saying much about a new secret criminal investigation into a variety of state issues, but he is questioning the timing of when news broke about the probe.
Walker would not say Monday during a stop at Beechwood Sales and Service in New Berlin whether he, his attorneys or any staff members have been contacted in the probe. His spokesman referred questions to Walker's campaign, which did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on the new investigation Monday. On Tuesday, the Journal Sentinel reported that Walker deflected questions about the probe, calling it a "side bar" issue and saying he didn't want to get "pulled into" questioning because of the investigation's secrecy rules.
"In terms of a lot of the questions regarding that issue, I really don't have a lot to say," Walker said. "I'm going to stay focused, as I am today, on helping the people of this state create more jobs, create more opportunity and balance the budget, as we have."
The Journal Sentinel reported Monday that officials have named a special prosecutor, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Francis Schmitz, in the case, which has now spread to five counties. The investigation is looking into, among other things, a legislative leader and the governor's 2012 recall race.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald declined to comment about the investigation Monday.
A John Doe investigation is much like a federal grand jury, allowing prosecutors to gather evidence and compel testimony in secret.
The Journal Sentinel said the new investigation was following up on leads it picked up during an earlier John Doe that lasted for nearly three years and resulted in six criminal convictions. Three of those convicted were former aides to Walker when he worked as Milwaukee County executive. Also convicted were a Walker appointee and major campaign donor.
Walker suggested Monday that the latest investigation, which opened in February 2012, may have been driven by politics.
"From our standpoint, we assume with there now officially being a candidate for governor on the Democrat side, there are going to be stories like this coming out — in some ways, I think, distracting from our good work on improving the economy and providing $100 million worth of tax relief," Walker said.
Democrat Mary Burke announced her candidacy against Walker earlier this month.
"It defies logic that a probe into criminal activity which began early last year has anything to do the emergence of a strong challenger to him," said Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate in an emailed statement. "The public has a right to know if their governor is a target of this criminal probe, if he's provided testimony or if his actions spurred this probe."