Updated – Scott Walker Faces Tightening Noose in John Doe Investigation
Update II: WalkerGate, Spinning out of Control – It’s obvious that Walker has told so many lies and half-truths that he can’t even keep them straight anymore. I’m starting to think that Walker was indeed told to keep his yap shut, but he’s so scared that he’s no longer thinking straight. And he should be, there is already some pretty damning circumstantial evidence that has come out of the Walkergate trials already. Walker could very well end up losing the recall and then losing his freedom. – via C.D.
As Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker faces an unprecedented recall seen as Round one for the 2012 national elections in November, a John Doe investigation covering Walker’s tenure as Milwaukee County executive and his successful 2010 run for governor has reached into the inner circles of Scott Walker’s longtime aides and allies.
“A criminal complaint has uncovered a ‘secret email system’ that was ‘routinely used by selected insiders within the Walker administration’ for county business as well as unofficial purposes such as campaigning, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.”
Below are wrap-ups on the latest developments.
By Chris Liebenthal at Cognitive Dissidence
On Sunday, just five days ago, I wrote a piece about how the John Doe investigation, commonly referred to as Walkergate, into Scott Walker’s county executive staff and campaign staff, which appear to be the same thing in many instances, was about to take a caucus scandal twist.
I pointed out how it appeared that Walker’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Kelly Rindfleisch, was doing a lot of campaign work for then Assemblyman Brett Davis, who was Walker’s and WISGOP’s preferred choice for Lt. Governor.
Lo and behold, on Thursday morning, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisolm announced the arrest and charging of Darlene Wink and Kelly Rindfleisch.
In the complaint against Darlene Wink, who set off this whole investigation by leaving comments on JSOnline and other sites, we learn that not only was she leaving comments, but was actively fundraising and organizing campaign events from her county office on county time.
Most of the complaint is an itemization of the times that Wink was doing her political work, but there are some eye-catching names included in her emails. For example, there are references to squawk radio hosts James T. Harris and Vicki McKenna doing emcee duties for a fundraising event and having Charlie Sykes promote it on his show. I would love to see if there were email exchanges between Wink and the squawkers.
We do know that Wink did have email exchanges with Reince Priebus, then chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, to see if he could get Sarah Palin to help them with a fundraiser. Eventually, this fund raiser was scrapped due to lack of interest.
The most intriguing thing about Wink comes not from the complaint against her. Instead, we learn that Wink was given a plea deal. Instead of getting charged with felonies, which they could have easily convicted her for, they gave her the chance to make it two misdemeanors and probably won’t even see jail time. In exchange, Wink will testify against her co-defendants on other illegal campaigning allegations and most notably, regarding the “destruction of digital evidence.” In other words, we might have just learned what happened to all those missing computers and files that suddenly grew legs at the end of Walker’s term and walked away. Of course, many of the computers and what not had already been detained by the DA’s Office on November 1.
What did he know and when did he know it?
But when one is facing recall, they probably don’t want their name associated with a massive cover up like that.
If you thought that the names in the Wink complaint were interesting, the ones found in the complaint against Kelly Rindfleisch is a regular Rogues Gallery. Among the 57 pages of detailed explanation of the misconduct she is accused of doing, names like Robin Vos, Mike Huebsch, and, of course, Brett Davis. Also listed are Walker staffers Darlene Wink, Tim Russell, Tom Nardelli and campaign staffers such as Cullen Werwie, Keith Gilkes, Stephan Thompson and my personal favorite, Jill Bader.
Interestingly, after all of this came out, Walker basically put the governor’s office on lockdown, cancelling all of his events, including a trip to Wausau. Oddly, the weather for Wausau was in the mid-30’s and sunny, with patchy fog. Nothing that would keep him from making a trip. Besides, I’d bet my bottom dollar he’s traveled through worse weather to get to one of his out-of-state fundraisers.
Walker eventually came out with a statement, through his campaign, which was very terse:
“The Milwaukee County executive’s office expressed policy was that county employees were not permitted to use county time or resources to conduct any political activity. Scott Walker expected everyone to follow the law and made that clear publicly and privately,” Walker campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said in the statement.
Well, that takes care of that. I’m sure the Walker apologists will take this statement and the fact that Walker hasn’t been indicted (yet) to show that he is a victim just like the rest of the people in Milwaukee County and in all of the state.
But as we all already know all to well, just because Walker said something, doesn’t make it true. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. And this is no exception.
In the Rindfleisch complaint, on page 50, we see this exchange that Walker sent regarding the damage control after Wink was caught and had resigned from her position in the county:
That clearly indicates that Walker knew exactly what his staff was doing and was ordering them to start covering their tracks. This was also about the time that Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan started doing his own open records requests into Walker’s office.
It also contradicts his statement regarding his policy of doing politicking from his governmental office. But we already knew that when he got busted soliciting for political help from a person he had thought was David Koch
If the investigation were to end with this, they could probably indict Walker with the information they already have. But this is far from over.
Remember that commercial realtor Andrew Jensen was to report to the DA’s Office just yesterday. And there are indications that they are looking at a pay-for-play scenario regarding the realtors, some of which are Walker’s staff, both in the county and in his campaign.
And the complaints show that there was two way communications between Walker’s executive office and his campaign. All of the campaign workers could be looking at possible charges as well.
And I am hearing things of yet another mess that might be coming down the pike besides the ones that are already known.
And there are a couple, three questions that I am pondering:
- How is Rebecca Kleefisch handling the realization that she’s hooked up her minivan to a guy and a whole political party that didn’t even want her as Lt,. Governor?
- Are any of Walker’s big time out-of-state donors calling asking for their money back since every day makes Walker look more like a losing bet?
- Does anyone still believe that Walker turned in these people like he claimed after Tim Russell got arrested?
Over the last few weeks I’ve been openly asking questions related to recent developments in the John Doe investigation of Scott Walker aides. First were the questions related to the arrest of longtime Walker campaign/county aide Tim Russell. Next came the questions about open records and Walker staff involvement with the shill ScottforGov blog. Now more charges have been issued on more Walker aides and naturally that brings an entirely new set of questions. Those include some serious questions for Scott Walker directly. First lets quickly review some of the recently reported findings.
Yesterday the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office announced charges against longtime Walker aide Darlene Wink and former county/campaign aide Kelly Rindfleisch. Wink had already admitted to leaving political comments on blogs when she was on county time. She resigned in May 2010 when it was discovered. But these charges allege that she was also doing extensive planning for Walker fundraisers and communicating regularly and directly with Walker’s campaign and others.Kelly Rindfleisch was hired at the beginning of 2010, the same year that Walker hoped to win the race for governor. In the communications revealed in her criminal complaint she admits to a friend that “half of what I’m doing is policy for the campaign.” Indeed the complaint reveals that she had more than 1,000 emails to top Walker campaign staffers on county time. Those contacts included Keith Gilkes, Stephan Thompson and Jill Bader. There were also communications longtime Walker friend and county/campaign aide Jim Villa, who had an unofficial advisory role with Walker’s 2010 campaign.The complaint for Rindfleisch actually includes an email from Scott Walker to Tim Russell. It is his reaction to the Dan Bice story about Darlene Wink posting political comments on county time. In the email Walker said the following to Russell:
“We cannot afford another story like this one. No one can give them any reason to do another story. That means no laptops, no websites, no time away during the work day, etc.”Perhaps the most remarkable thing that was revealed in the criminal complaint is that selected high level Walker administration officials were using a “secret email system” and network to communicate with each other and with the Walker and Brett Davis campaigns. Not only were they using this secret network for campaign related communications but according to the complaint they were also using it for official county business.Key Questions for Scott Walker:
- When Scott Walker emailed Tim Russell with the above listed message, why did he use his campaign email account? This was at the very least a county personnel issue and it was county business. Why would Walker use his campaign email to conduct what was clearly county business?
- Scott Walker’s email to Russell specifically mentions “no laptops”, so that shows us that he knew that his top staff were busy using such laptops on county time. How and when did he find that out? It was obviously important to him so why didn’t he follow up on that order? Remember that according to the complaint, Kelly Rindfleisch continued doing campaign work on county time after that incident.
- Could someone please explain the employment dates of Kelly Rindfleisch because the timeline looks pretty damning? She had an extensive political and fundraising background including for the infamous Republican legislative caucus. She was hired at the beginning of a big election year to do what she described at least partially as “policy work for the campaign”. Then she left the county job only weeks after Walker won the 2010 election. She was doing work for/with the Walker campaign until only days ago. Again, the timing of her employment stinks to high heaven. What is the story on that?
- What is up with Walker’s top past/present campaign staffers? What? Didn’t a single one of them wonder why county employees were communicating with them on a regular basis during work hours? Reading the extensive communications, you certainly get the idea that it didn’t bother them one single bit.
- How many open records requests were thwarted by the existence of the Walker administration’s secret network?The taxpayers of Milwaukee County and the people of Wisconsin should demand some answers and it should be Scott Walker that directly gives them.
By Michael Leon
“We can’t afford another story like this one. No one can give them any reason to do another story.”
The revelation that Scott Walker’s inner circle was responsible for setting up a secret e-mail-computer system that was used to conceal illegal fundraising is a predictable outcome from this extremist and secretive bunch that literally locked the doors to the people’s house of Wisconsin, the state capitol.
There is no commitment to representative democracy from this gang facing recall. That’s why they feel no need to abide by Wisconsin Open Meeting laws, and feel entitled ordering the arrest of opposition representatives who try to gain entry into their own offices like in the Winter-Spring of 2010.
|Scott Walker’s Criminal Path to Power|
Truth is these are not very bright guys as the John Doe investigation into Walker’s tenure in Milwaukee County and his 2010 campaign is demonstrating, as each new arrest flushes out a new act of corruption, never mind jetting around the country bagging $millions in out-of-state campaign funds.
“This was a shadow government meant to further the political career of Scott Walker,” said Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. “All of them knew what was right and what was wrong, and they chose the crooked path.”
Walker says he didn’t know. Few take his assurances at face value anymore.
Scott Walker Email to Aide Tim Russell
Clearly by mentioning ‘laptops’ Walker is aware of the illegal scheme to do campaign work in the government office with campaign laptops and on a private campaign network.
The complaint also details how Rindfleish did fundraising for Lt. Gov. candidate Brett Davis, which the complaint states ‘persons associated with the Friends of Scott Walker campaign committee generally favored Brett Davis over other candidates for the office of Lieutenant Governor.’
Here’s the kicker, though: Even though Rindfleish has been under the investigative cross hairs for months, the Walker campaign had kept her on the pay roll up until a week ago!
Speaking of keeping people on the pay roll, guess who was Brett Davis’ campaign manager aka the guy that was helping coordinate all this illegal activity out of Walker’s government office? The governor’s current spokesperson, Cullen Werwie. – Uppity Wisconsin
What did Walker mean in his e-mail on the secret system in which he says, “We can’t afford another story like this one. No one can give them any reason to do another story.”
Wisconsin citizens might be more assured had Walker written, ‘What we are doing is wrong. This whole secret system is wrong and should not have been set-up in the first place; our commitment is to serve Milwaukee and Wisconsin and not Scott Walker.’
The Walker campaign has hired former U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic to respond to the request [subpoenaed emails by John Doe prosecutors], paying his firm nearly $110,000 over the past year, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
By John Nichols
Just hours after he delivered a State of the State address that he hoped would set the tone for his campaign to avert a recall election threat, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was hit with exactly the sort of news that embattled politicians fear most.
Two former aides to Walker—one of whom was in the employ of his campaign until just days ago—have been charged with felonies and misdemeanors in the ongoing “John Doe” investigation of wrongdoing by aides, political allies and campaign donors with links to the embattled governor.
These charges follow closely on the filing of felony charges against Tim Russell, a former Walker deputy chief of staff and one of the governor’s closest aides over the past decade.
The aides charged Thursday were, according to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, engaged in fundraising activities and other political work while working on the staff of Walker when he served as county executive.
Chisholm explains in a fifty-seven-page complaint that Russell and the newly indicted aides established a “secret email system available to and used by select ‘insider’ staffers for both official and unofficial business.” That system was built around a wireless router that was kept in an armoire in the office of Walker’s deputy chief of staff’—just a few feet from Walker’s office. Its existence was “never disclosed to county employees outside a closely held group within the Walker administration.”
The complaint discuses the exchange of thousands—yes, thousands—of e-mails involving fundraising and political activity. Many of these e-mails from the deputy chief of staff who is now charged with four felony counts of misconduct in public office, Kelly Rindfleisch, and top political aides to Walker, including Keith Gilkes, who went on to serve as the governor’s chief of staff.
Walker has said that during the campaign he was in constant communication with Gilkes about fundraising and campaign strategy.
And Rindfleisch, it appears, was in constant communication with Gilkes and other campaign aides.
Despite the fact that it is illegal for county officials to use their offices for campaign work, Rindfleisch revealed in one e-mail that “half” of her taxpayer-funded work was “for the campaign.”
Another individual who appears to have been in e-mail contact with Rindfleisch was Reince Priebus, then the chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, now the chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Additional e-mails went to the campaign of Brett Davis, a Walker ally who was running for lieutenant governor in a 2010 Republican primary. Davis lost that race, but now works in the Walker administration as a top appointee of the governor. The manager of the Davis campaign for lieutenant governor was Cullen Werwie, who exchanged emails with Rindfleisch.
Werwie, who now serves as Governor Walker’s spokesman, has been granted immunity in the John Doe investigation.
For Rindfleisch, Walker’s former deputy chief of staff, the charges are very serious—major felonies that carry with them the prospect of multiple years in jail. The fifty-seven-page complaint against her, and against a lower level political operative named Darlene Wink, provides a rough outline for what political observers in Wisconsin have begun to refer to as a classic “Pay-to-Play” political operation, where key government aides are involved in both policymaking and campaign fundraising from parties that are interested in those policies.
The added twist is that rarely if ever has an investigation into this sort of activity revealed that discussions about money and policy were mixed on a “secret email system.”
The investigation is ongoing. It continues to expand at an exponential rate, touching more and more of Walker’s inner circle, including aides in the county executive’s office, 2010 campaign aides and donors, and aides in the governor’s office and Walker’s current campaign. Notably, Rindfleisch, who was paid by Milwaukee County taxpayers during the 2010 Walker campaign, left county employment after Walker’s election to help organize the new governor’s inauguration. Rindfieisch then went to work as a top fundraising aide with the governor’s political operation, Friends of Scott Walker, with which she was employed until January, 2012.
Sources close to the inquiry say that the “John Doe” investigation is still in the early stages of sorting through mountains of information obtained in FBI raids and related investigations of Walker aides and donors. That means that the steady flow of charges and complaints could extend their the recall campaign that Walker is all but certain to face, after one million Wisconsinites petitioned for his ouster.
The full impact of the investigation on the recall campaign will only be revealed over the period of the next several months.
The potential that the “John Doe” inquiry will be a major political problem for Walker now seems a good deal greater than it did just days ago.
The latest complaint ties wrongdoing to Walker’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
This new complaint makes the connection to Walker’s current spokesman Cullen Werwie, who has requested immunity in the John Doe probe. The private e-mail network in the county executive’s office was aiding both Walker’s campaign and the campaign of a Walker ally, Brett Davis, who was running for lieutenant governor. Werwie was Davis’s campaign spokesman. (In addition to Werwie, Davis is now a top Walker appointee.)
The complaint features reference to an e-mail from Walker showing at least some knowledge of problems with politicking in the office. He is primarily concerned that there are no media stories about political operations being run out of the county executive’s office—following the revelation in 2010 that one of the aides charged Thursday, Wink, was doing political work on county time. “We cannot afford another story like this one,” reads the e-mail, which was included in the complaint. “No one can give them any reason to do another story.” The governor even counsels the aide about the use of laptops and websites during the workday.
That e-mail is one Walker is going to be questioned about as he tours Wisconsin following his State of the State speech.
The complaint released Thursday is the most detailed and serious yet directed at the official and political activities on behalf of Walker.
And few will debate that these charges are the most serious to arise thus far from the John Doe probe. They bring the investigation dramatically closer to the governor.
This does not mean that the governor is going to be indicted, or that he is guilty of wrongdoing.
But it does raise the classic question from the Watergate era inquiries into the misdeeds of aides to then-President Richard Nixon.
Of Nixon it was asked: “What did he know and when did he know it?”
With the latest charges and the fresh complaint, it is now entirely reasonable to say with regard to Scott Walker: “What did he know and when did he know it?”
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