Newly released emails and records from a former deputy Chief of Staff to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) suggest that the governor may have been involved in — or at least aware of — illegal coordination between his 2010 gubernatorial campaign and his Milwaukee County Executive office. The release comes as a second probe continues, examining Wisconsin’s 2012 recall elections.
A now-closed probe by Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm (D) resulted in a 2012 felony conviction of Kelly Rindfleisch, who served as deputy chief of staff to then-County Executive Walker, as well as convictions against several other former Walker staffers. Rindfleisch pled guilty to a charge of misconduct for doing campaign work for a lieutenant governor candidate while at her government job, but is now appealing the conviction on the grounds that thousands of pages of emails from her computer should not have been admitted as evidence in her prosecution. As part of her appeal, a judge released thousands of pages of evidence Wednesday, including those emails.
Investigators in the probe found that Thomas Nardelli, Walker’s chief of staff in the County Executive Office and later his administrator of Wisconsin’s Division of Environmental and Regulatory Services, emailed Rindfleisch and other Walker county and campaign staffers in 2010 from his private Yahoo address. The email said that Walker asked that they conduct a daily 8:00 AM conference call to coordinate efforts and and responses to “events of the day,” as good coordination would help resolve issues before they blew out of proportion. Walker’s 2010 campaign manager, Keith Gilkes, wrote back with a call-in number for the daily call. Wisconsin law prohibits public employees from political activity while on the job.
Rindfleisch and other top aides to the governor also allegedly brought personal laptops, not connected to the county computer network, into the Walker’s county executive’s office and used a secret wireless router for campaign communications. Darlene Wink, Walker’s constituent services director, resigned in May 2010 when she was caught anonymously posting political comments online while on the clock for Milwaukee County — and she later pled guilty two misdemeanor charges for that misconduct.
When the story broke, Walker himself emailed Tim Russell, another former deputy chief of staff who had become city housing director, noting that Wink felt terrible and instructing him, “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.”
Soon after, the campaign router was removed from the office. An instant message conversation between Russell and Rindfleisch noted that “Dorothy,” apparently Walker’s executive assistant Dorothy Moore, had moved back to the regular wireless network.
If, as the chief investigator believed, Walker knew about the secret wireless network, it could mean trouble for Walker, who has previously denied any knowledge of his aides’ wrongdoing. Walker will face Wisconsin voters again this November, as he seeks a second term as governor, and has been held up as a possible 2016 presidential candidate.
A special prosecutor was appointed last year in a second investigation, probing into possible illegal activity in the 2012 Wisconsin recall campaigns. Rindfleisch is reportedly also a subject in that still-secret investigation.
This all comes at a rough time for prominent Republican governors who were once considered rising stars and possible White House contenders. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration is currently under investigation for the Bridgegate scandal and former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife were indicted on 14 felony counts last month relating to their gifts scandal.