Unsealed email ties Scott Walker to secret email system
Madison — Included in more than 27,000 emails unsealed Wednesday is one that for the first time directly ties Gov. Scott Walker to a secret email system used in his office when he was Milwaukee County executive.
“Consider youself now in the ‘inner circle,’” Walker’s administration director, Cynthia Archer, wrote to Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch just after the two exchanged a test message.
“I use this private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW and Nardelli. You should be sure you check it throughout the day,” she wrote, referring to Walker by his initials and to Walker’s chief of staff, Tom Nardelli.
Court documents have previously showed Walker’s aides set up a secret wireless router in the county executive’s office and traded emails that mixed county and campaign business on Gmail and Yahoo accounts. The email from Archer made public Wednesday is the closet link yet between that system and Walker.
The exchange was included the raft of documents unsealed Wednesday as part of Rindfleisch’s appeal of her 2012 conviction of misconduct in office for doing campaign work on county time.
Speaking to reporters in Madison Wednesday morning before the release of the emails, Walker said he was confident that there wouldn’t be anything damaging in them beyond what had already led to criminal charges.
He downplayed his relationship with his former deputy chief of staff and said he would stay focused on cutting taxes and creating jobs.
“This is going to be communications from a county employee from several years ago that went through a legal process that concluded early last year. I’m confident that through that process they were able to review each of those communications — the authorities were — and they concluded that process last March,” Walker said.
The governor said he hadn’t seen the files being released and hadn’t looked at any of the emails contained in them “for years.”
The records also reveal a frenzy of activity by prosecutors and investigators on Nov. 1, 2010, the day before Walker was elected governor. They conducted raids at Walker’s county office, his campaign office and the homes of several of his aides, including Rindfleisch.
Just before those raids were conducted that day, John Doe Judge Neal Nettesheim agreed to prosecutors’ request to enlarge the probe to include Rindfleisch, his deputy chief of staff, and three other top aides in the Milwaukee County executive’s office — Nardelli; Fran McLaughlin, his spokeswoman; and Dorothy Moore, his scheduler.
Of that group, only Rindfleisch was charged. Moore now serves as Walker’s scheduler in the governor’s office.
To get the search warrants, prosecutors presented the judge with dozens of emails involving Walker’s campaign and county staff. The prosecutor’s tagged those emails and other supporting documents, SW1 through SW71.
The records show that in August 2010, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm used an investigation into Walker aide Darlene Wink — who had acknowledged posting political comments online while on the county dime — to seek the personal email records for four other Walker employees and allies.
Among those records were the emails of Timothy D. Russell, a longtime Walker campaign and county aide. Russell was later convicted of stealing more than $21,000 from a veterans group that Walker named him to head. Russell was sentenced to two years in prison.
The records make clear that Walker’s campaign staff and county team were in constant communication in the months leading up to the 2010 primary and general election.
In April 2010, Nardelli and Walker’s campaign manager, Keith Gilkes, arranged for daily 8 a.m. conference calls between the campaign and key county staff.
“These will not be long duration calls as we have much work on our plates, but good coordination will help (us) resolve issues before they blow out of proportion,” Nardelli wrote.
Weeks earlier, campaign spokeswoman Jill Bader asked Rindfleisch and others with the county to provide a “backgrounder” on issues that could come up at an event featuring Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat who was running for governor.
On May 18, 2010, Walker’s administration director, Cynthia Archer, wrote to campaign and county staff she would no longer be checking her private email account and told people to contact her on her cellphone for urgent matters.
“The significance of this email is that it shows that the people addressed on this email are acting in concert with the county executive staff to find alternative ways to communicate using private email during the workday,” David Budde, an investigator for the district attorney, testified in the Nov. 1, 2010, secret hearing. “This also is a direct admission that Archer was using private email during the workday.”
Archer used her private email to discuss official county matters with Walker through his campaign account, and with campaign advisors including R. J. Johnson. One such exchange involved a story about Walker’s potential county pension.
According to prosecutors, Rindfleisch had nearly 5,700 email exchanges withthe campaign staff of Walker and Brett Davis, who was running for lieutenant governor. Davis lost the primary in September 2010, but went on to serve in Walker’s administration as Medicaid director.
The Rindfleisch emails are replete with examples of her communicating with campaign staff during what would have been her daytime work hours at the courthouse.
On Feb. 25, 2010, she shared tips with then Walker campaign aide Stephan Thompson on economic development issues and cutting the size of the County Board — highlighting accomplishments during Walker’s tenure as county executive.
Rindfleisch is responding to directives from Thompson, who tells her to compile several lists. When she mentions a major General Electric expansion, Thompson was enthusiastic.
“Awesome! All we need is a few examples,” he wrote to Rindfleisch.
One June 2010 email shows Walker on his campaign email account encouraging radio talk show host Charlie Sykes to request copies from the county executive’s office of open records requests made by Democratic groups. Walker said the volume of requests from the left and from “the other GOP candidate” in the governor’s race were voluminous and in some cases nearly identical.
“Ask (my official office) and we would be happy to send over the info,” Walker wrote to Sykes.
In emails, Walker’s operatives made it clear they favored Davis over Rebecca Kleefisch — the ultimate winner — in the race of lieutenant governor.
On March 2, 2010, Rindfleisch — who was working for Davis part time — wrote Gilkes asking whether Kleefisch would be allowed to use material for advertising from a campaign event Walker and Kleefisch attended.
“I know she’s the bane of your existence. But I have a question. Will Kleefisch be allowed to use anything for the event for advertising? Like post it on facebook, tv commercial, etc,” Rindfleisch wrote to Gilkes.
“I’m REALLY beginning to dislike her,” Rindfleisch wrote to Gilkes.
The next day, Gilkes wrote back, “No — that will be made abundantly clear to her.”
In his comments to reporters, Walker made a distinction between a taxpayer-funded public employee doing work on a campaign and another public employee getting emails from a campaign.
“Unlike the caucus issue where the problem was official staff being directed to (do) campaign activity…There’s nothing wrong with the other way around, as long as you’re not using taxpayer resources to do campaign-related activity. Outside of this example, we talk to people all the time, stakeholders from around the state,” Walker said, referring to the caucus scandal that rocked the Capitol a decade ago.
Walker blasted Democrats for hyping the release of the emails and for holding a conference call on them with Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
“It shows the cynicism we see in politics today,” Walker said. “These are people who are naysayers who want something bad to happen in Wisconsin.”
Court of Appeals Judge Patricia Curley ruled last week the records should be publicly available in Rindfleisch’s case file, saying they would become unsealed on Wednesday. Her order delayed the unsealing for a week and a half so the court clerk could make them available in an orderly fashion to the large number of media outlets and others seeking them.
Rindfleisch was charged as part of a wide-ranging John Doe investigation led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. John Doe proceedings are often conducted in secret and give prosecutors the power to compel people to produce documents and testify.
Chisholm closed that probe in March 2013. But seven months earlier, he opened a second John Doe investigation, looking into campaign spending and fundraising in recall elections. That second investigation is ongoing, and Rindfleisch is also caught up in that one. It is not known why she is a subject of that probe.
(The latest investigation has been targeted in a spate of legal challenges, with three lawsuits filed in as many months in attempts to halt it.)
Rindfleisch was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation after she pleaded guilty in 2012 to one felony count of misconduct in office for doing campaign work at her government job.
Despite her guilty plea, Rindfleisch under state law is allowed to appeal her conviction based on the scope of the search warrants used against her.
She argues her conviction should be thrown out because the search warrants were so broad as to be unconstitutional. Her appeal is before the Milwaukee-based District 1 Court of Appeals, which includes Curley.
A wealth of sealed documents from the investigation was added to the case file last year at the request of the state Department of Justice so it could more effectively argue the scope of the search warrants was appropriate.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin State Journal, Associated Press and other media groups intervened in the case in an effort to make the records public.
The records have previously been unavailable because of a secrecy order issued by John Doe investigation Judge Neal Nettesheim. Rindfleisch argued the secrecy order remained in place, while the media groups contended the records should be public now that they were part of a normal appeal.
Curley sided with the media outlets in ruling an array of records collected as part of a criminal investigation are routinely included in court files and must be available to the public except in unusual circumstances.
The records in question include emails from Rindfleisch’s personal computer and private email account; affidavits supporting John Doe search warrants; and a transcript of a secret hearing on search warrants issued the day before Walker was elected governor in 2010.
Likely included in the emails are messages exchanged with Walker or his top political aides as he ran his 2010 campaign for governor.
Separately, the Journal Sentinel is seeking to have county documents and emails seized in the first John Doe investigation returned to the county and made accessible to the public. The newspaper filed a motion last month to do that with Nettesheim, the judge who oversaw the first John Doe investigation.
Journal Sentinel reporters Kevin Crowe and Jason Stein in Madison and Steve Schultze and Dave Umhoefer in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
Read more from Journal Sentinel: http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/court-set-to-release-emails-documents-tied-to-ex-aide-to-scott-walker-b99208267z1-246128301.html#ixzz2tneHcPbg
Follow us: @JournalSentinel on Twitter