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The Top Five Things You Need to Know About Email Scandal Enveloping Gov. Scott Walker

What the newly released trove of documents reveal about the Wisconsin Governor and his inner circle.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons


I spent the day reading Kelly Rindfleisch’s emails. They were released as part of the final court proceedings regarding the first John Doe, the closed-door, criminal investigation of Scott Walker's staff during his time as Milwaukee County Executive and running for governor in 2010.

One of the first things I spotted left me scratching my head. “Fortunately Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has decided that government in secret is not in the interest of taxpayers.” This is from “gopfran” or Fran McLaughlin's email, Scott Walker's former Press Secretary. McLaughlin was given immunity for her testimony in the investigation, but clearly spent much of her time sending around campaign-related emails on the secret Wi-Fi system set up by Walker aides. (Transcript, pg. 53)

Thus began a sordid journey through some 30,000 pages of emails that helped convict six people, but left many wondering, why weren’t more people charged?

The top five things you need to know about the emails from the first John Doe:

  1. The Clear Policy: Walker has said repeatedly that while he was Milwaukee County Executive he had a clear policy against doing campaign work on the public dime, something that had repeatedly landed other state leaders in jail.

    "Throughout all my time as the Milwaukee County executive, I had an expressed and clear policy that county employees — in my office, in my Cabinet, elsewhere — were prohibited from using county resources or county time to be involved in political activities," Walker said in 2012

    Yet, the emails showed that in 2010 while Walker was running for governor, he corresponded consistently with key campaign and county staff from a private account in the middle of the work day and apparently on the secret Wi-Fi system set up by top aide Tim Russell. Some of these staff worked steps away from him on special campaign laptops, so the illegal activity could not be detected on the county computers. His chief of staff Keith Gilkes did the same, in one instance asking for donors lists from Rindfleisch in the middle of the day. ( 125727-8)

  2. The Inner Circle: Cindy Archer, the number three administrator in the county government whose computers were seized by the FBI in a dramatic raid recorded by neighbors, welcomed Kelly Rindfleisch to the “inner circle” of staff working directly with Walker on the secret Wi-Fi system during the work day. "Consider yourself now in the "inner circle". :) I use this private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW and Nardelli," Archer wrote. SKW refers to Scott Kevin Walker. "You should be sure you check it throughout the day." ( 144976) By doing county and camapign work on private emails and a secret Wi-Fi system, participants were also apparently attempting to avoid Wisconsin's strong open records law, which requires even private emails to be released when the public's business is being discussed.

    The “inner circle” appears to have consisted of: Scott Walker and campaign staff Jill Bader, Keith Gilkes, RJ Johnson, Stephan Thompson, along with county staff Tom Nardelli, Cindy Archer, Fran McLaughlin and Kelly Rindfleisch. Some of these people were included in 8 a.m. daily conference calls. And the emails show these staff working together to develop documents and respond to press, as well as instances of campaign staff asking county staff to do their work -- such as when Walker's campaign manager Gilkes asked Rindfleisch to collect up and sort prior speeches for him ( 124891).

  3. Illegal Fundraising for Governor and Lt. Governor candidates: Rindfleisch was charged with spending about half her time organizing fundraisers for Lt. Gov. candidate Brett Davis (who was never charged in the John Doe even though he corresponded with Kelly during work hours). But the emails make clear that Rindfleisch spent a boatload of time in direct communication with Walker campaign staff as well. According to prosecutors, Rindfleisch sent and received 3,486 emails from representatives of Friends of Scott Walker, the vast majority during regular work hours. Newly-revealed affidavits show that Rindfleisch was tailed by detectives for days and had computers, cell phones and more seized in the investigation ( Affidavit for Search Warrant). Rindfleisch, who pled guilty to official misconduct in 2012, was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation. The emails were released as part of her appeal.

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