Scott Walker and his gubernatorial campaign directed Milwaukee County staffers to take official actions in 2010 to boost Walker’s candidacy, including how to respond to a fatal incident at a county parking garage and requiring that press releases from the county executive’s office be reviewed by the campaign, according to emails released Tuesday.
Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf presented evidence in court Monday that former Milwaukee County staffer Kelly Rindfleisch traded 3,486 emails with top Walker campaign staffers, including 2,216 during regular work hours between January and October 2010. At the time, Rindfleisch earned $59,560 a year from Milwaukee County as Walker's deputy chief of staff.
Rindfleisch, 44, was sentenced Monday to six months in jail for doing illegal campaign work out of Walker's Milwaukee County executive office on behalf of former state Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, when Davis ran for lieutenant governor in 2010. But Landgraf's PowerPoint presentation in court, which he provided to the media Tuesday, focused largely on the role Rindfleisch played in Walker's campaign.
The governor has not been charged and has insisted he is not a target of the John Doe investigation, which has ensnared four of his former county staffers and associates, including Rindfleisch. A message left with Walker's Milwaukee criminal defense attorney, Michael Steinle, was not returned Tuesday.
Walker's campaign spokesman, Tom Evenson, declined comment beyond a statement he issued Monday, which was that the emails referenced in court reflected routine coordination between Walker's county office and his campaign over scheduling and handling media inquiries directed at both offices.
Davis also has not been charged. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said Tuesday it will be up to him to decide whether charges would be filed against the former lawmaker, who now runs the state's Medicaid program for Walker. State law requires that officials charged with misconduct be tried in the county where they live.
Ozanne said he has not received a criminal referral from Landgraf, and he declined to discuss the secret ongoing probe in Milwaukee County. Email and phone messages left with Davis' office at the Department of Health Services were not returned Tuesday.
After Rindfleisch and another former aide were charged last January, Walker's campaign issued a statement saying it was the county executive's "expressed policy" 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."
But Democrats said Tuesday the correspondence released in the Rindfleisch case shows Walker was at the center of the illegal activity.
"Emails to and from Scott Walker himself, introduced into the court record, remove any doubt about whether he was involved in the commission of crimes as well as whether his Milwaukee County office was merely an illegal adjunct of his 2010 campaign for governor," said Melissa Baldauff, research director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, in a memo to reporters.
The emails show that Walker, Rindfleisch and other government staffers sought to boost Walker's gubernatorial campaign by:
- Quickly orchestrating a response to the tragedy on June 24, 2010, when a concrete slab fell from the entryway of a parking garage near Summerfest in Milwaukee, killing Jared Kellner, 15, and injuring two others. The night of the incident, Walker campaign manager Keith Gilkes told Rindfleisch to get to the office early and "keep on top" of county staffers to make sure "there is not a paper any where that details a problem at all."
- Discussing ways to "blow up" a negative story about Mendota Mental Health Institute, apparently to counter negative articles about mismanagement of the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex under Walker.
- Holding daily campaign briefings with at least three top county staffers: Rindfleisch, former chief of staff Tom Nardelli and former spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin. Nardelli and McLaughlin have testified in the probe.
- Setting up a "media group" that Landgraf said reviewed every communique published by the county executive's office. That group included Walker, Rindfleisch, McLaughlin and Nardelli and top campaign staffers Gilkes and spokeswoman Jill Bader.
- Having the county's corporation counsel "drag out" an open-records request from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
- Tasking Rindfleisch and other county staffers, including Tim Russell, with doing research for campaign literature and materials at the request of top campaign officials.
- Plotting ways to counter news that county staffer Darlene Wink resigned after posting political comments to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website.
'Out of steam?'
Rindfleisch's attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, said Tuesday he believes the John Doe investigation "ran out of steam a long time ago" and probably will not result in criminal charges against anyone else, including Walker, Davis or Walker campaign manager Keith Gilkes.
Gimbel said it's "hard to believe" that the elected officials, Walker and Davis, were unaware of the illegal campaign activity acknowledged by Rindfleisch, who was Davis' chief fundraiser.
"All I can tell you is he (Davis) was well aware of the fact that she (Rindfleisch) was in the county executive's office," Gimbel said.
Gimbel believes the same was true of Walker but that the governor may have insulated himself from liability.
"There was a moat that Walker created between his campaign operation and his county executive office," Gimbel said. "I think when the moat was crossed, it was by his campaign staff, not him."
In his sentencing memo, Landgraf said although Rindfleisch participated in "multiple debriefing sessions in an effort to mitigate or eliminate the charges against her ... (she) provided no information deemed useful by prosecutors."
Landgraf speculated that Rindfleisch remains loyal to Walker's campaign and the Republican Party, for whom she has worked since leaving county government.
"While that does not mean she was untruthful," Landgraf added, "it is my judgment that her loyalties rested, and continue to rest, with those who have supported her since November 1, 2010 ... the Republican Party of Wisconsin and the Friends of Scott Walker."
Landgraf wrote that Rindfleisch's allegiance to her party is so strong that "I have not approached her to provide testimony against Brett Davis — the person most conspicuous by virtue of the fact that he remains uncharged."