Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, is facing fresh scrutiny after thousands of previously sealed documents were released that suggest some of Walker’s top aides when he was Milwaukee County Executive illegally coordinated with campaign staffers during his 2010 gubernatorial election.
Almost 28,000 pages of e-mails were released by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals yesterday as part of the evidence gathered in an investigation into his county administration.
“These people are naysayers who want things bad to happen in Wisconsin so they are going to be circling again today,” Walker told the Associated Press. “It’s exactly what’s wrong with the political process that they’re hoping for something bad to happen in Wisconsin. It’s not. They’re going to do what they’ve done in the past which is over-hype things, and politically they’re going to be disappointed.”
The probe started after some money supervised by Walker’s office for a veterans’ charity went missing. As the investigation unfolded, prosecutors discovered several staff transgressions, including the widespread use of laptops and a secret wireless Internet router hidden in an armoire in the Milwaukee County office with the apparent intent of hiding communications from public access.
That three-year investigation, now known as John Doe I, resulted in convictions of six individuals tied to Walker, including two former deputy chiefs of staff. Although no criminal charges were filed against Walker, his political opponents believe he knew about the clandestine email system and turned a blind eye to illegal comingling of campaign and county resources.
Thousands of emails released today belonged to Kelly Rindfleisch, a former Walker deputy chief of staff who pled guilty to misconduct for performing political work for a lieutenant governor candidate on taxpayer time. The emails are from her private Gmail account, which she set up in Feb. 2010. Google later provided copies of the email to investigators.
Documents also show Fran McLaughlin, Walker’s former spokeswoman from his time as county executive, sent a majority of her campaign and political emails during regular work hours to Milwaukee public officials, including some that copied Walker, using personal email accounts.
Writing from his personal email account, Thomas Nardelli, Walker’s chief of staff in the Milwaukee County Executive’s office, relayed to campaign and official staff including McLaughlin that Walker had “asked that we conduct a conference call daily at 8:00 a.m. to review events of the day or of a previous or future day, so we can better coordinate sound, timely responses, so we all know what the others are doing.”
Critics contend the Nardelli email proves Walker personally asked for the coordination between campaign and county staff. “This wasn’t the work of a few rogue staffers – this was a coordinated effort that goes right to the top,” Michael Czin, national press secretary at the Democratic National Committee, said. “Just like in New Jersey, top aides used taxpayer resources to push a political agenda. And just like Chris Christie, Scott Walker has a lot of questions to answer.”
It is believed there is a second ongoing John Doe investigation related to spending and coordination of outside groups in Walker’s 2011 recall election. While Republican governors have been perceived by party insiders as “reformers” and the future of the GOP, Democrats assert that idea is “literally dead” given a federal investigation of New Jersey Gov. Christie and an indictment of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell – not to mention the questions emerging about Walker.
“With the revelations about the two criminal investigations involving Scott Walker and the potential abuse of taxpayer dollars to push a political agenda, Walker can no longer hide,” Democratic Governors Association Deputy Communications Director Sabrina Singh said. “He must explain to Wisconsin voters why his rhetoric of reform doesn’t match the reality of his record.”
Jonathan Wetzel, a Walker campaign spokesman, said the emails “are part of a legal process that was completed early last year” and Walker is “confident” that the communications were “thoroughly reviewed by the authorities.”
“The focus of Governor Walker remains on moving Wisconsin forward by helping employers create more jobs and reducing the tax burden on Wisconsin families,” Wetzel added. Walker is up for reelection as governor this fall.