Secret Email System Revealed in "John Doe" Probe of Walker Staff
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The morning after his "State of the State" address where Governor Scott Walker reassured Wisconsin "We are turning things around. We are heading in the right direction," the Milwaukee County District Attorney charged two more Walker staffers with multiple felony and misdemeanor counts of misconduct in public office.
Darlene Wink and Kelly Rindfleisch were charged with conducting partisan campaign work while on the public payroll. The alleged crimes took place while Walker was Milwaukee County Executive and running to be governor. These charges are no joke in the state of Wisconsin, where in 2005, two Senate Democrats and the Republican Assembly Speaker were sentenced to jail time for similar crimes in an episode dubbed "the Caucus Scandal."
This time, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm is in charge of a secret "John Doe" investigation where he can compel testimony under oath and every person involved is subject to a gag order. Chisholm has used this process in the past to jail Democrats for similar misconduct in office.
If you are keeping count, these are the second set of charges against Walker aides. Earlier this month, Walker’s former county Housing Director Tim Russell and his top county veteran official were both arrested and charged with embezzling more than $60,000 in charitable contributions intended for veterans. Phone records retrieved from the investigation also led to charges against Russell’s boyfriend for child enticement.
There is no end in sight for this multifaceted investigation.
Secret Communication System Set Up by Russell
The whole scandal broke into the open when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Darlene Wink, a low-level constituent services coordinator, was caught Facebooking nasty comments about Walker’s democratic campaign opponents while working at her county job. Reporter Dan Bice, who was tipped off about the on-line activity, interviewed Wink, but wasn't sure how big of a deal it was until he was called by the Walker team a few hours later and told she had resigned.
Now we know from the indictments that the activity went far beyond Facebook. Investigators found boxes for two wireless routers in an armoire in Walker’s County Executive office. Packaging labels found with the boxes bore the name "Timothy Russell."
The allegation is that Russell set up an unofficial networking system so that staffers could conduct campaign business on their personal laptops while their salaries were being paid by the taxpayers. The secret email system was available for use by certain staff for both official and unofficial business. Its existence was "never disclosed to county employees outside a closely held group within the Walker administration," says the indictments (available here). On county time, the staffers allegedly communicated extensively with Walker campaign staff, organized fundraisers, made invitations, exchanged fundraising lists and sent out campaign press releases.
Stunning Email Revelations
The indictments include dozens of telling emails and chat sessions with county and campaign staff about political activities. In a chat session with Russell, Wink explicitly inquired about how to delete and destroy documents. She asked Russell: "How do I get rid of the PDF from my IM?" "I don't want to go to jail for this, ha ha."
After the story about Wink’s activities was printed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the morning of May 14, 2010. Walker sent the email above to Russell at 8:46 a.m. telling him simply "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."
This week Walker said he had an explicit policy against county staff doing campaign work at the office and revealed for the first time that he had fired Wink. "Clearly if we had known anybody else had done that we would have applied the same standard," Walker told WISN Channel 12. But why the other staff, either supervising Wink or in improper communication with Wink, were not fired was not explained.