Gov. Scott Walker said Monday that coordination between his gubernatorial campaign and his Milwaukee County executive's office in 2010 was fundamentally different than the caucus scandal that shook the state Capitol a decade ago.
And he said he remains "absolutely" confident that he is not the subject of a criminal investigation involving former aides in the Milwaukee office.
Walker was an Assembly representative from 1993 to 2002, the same year five top lawmakers from both parties were criminally charged with illegally running political campaigns out of their state offices where taxpayer-funded legislative staffers worked.
At a Capitol press conference Monday, Walker said that he wasn't involved in the caucus scandal and that it was "legally" different than the coordination between his campaign and county employees in 2010, which came to light last week during the sentencing hearing of a former Milwaukee County employee.
Walker didn't address the details of the coordination, but said there is nothing illegal about people outside government who "provide assistance" to taxpayer-funded staffers.
"That isn't anything that's in violation of any ethics or other legal concerns," Walker said.
Walker said that, for example, a daily conference call he organized with county and campaign aides was meant to facilitate communication about schedules and staffing and help address questions from the media.
Walker also talked about the probe that has shadowed him for more than two years during a wide-ranging interview Monday with The Associated Press at his Capitol office.
The investigation into Walker's former aides and associates began in May 2010, six months before he was elected governor. Six people have been charged with crimes including misconduct in office and theft, but Walker has not been charged or accused of any wrongdoing.
The governor, who hired high-profile criminal defense attorneys from Chicago and started a legal defense fund, met voluntarily with prosecutors in April. He has insisted he did nothing wrong and did not know that county workers were illegally campaigning while on the job.
Still, the investigation hounded Walker during his recall election, which he won handily in June. Then new questions about his involvement were raised last week at a sentencing hearing for Kelly Rindfleisch, his deputy chief of staff when he was Milwaukee County executive. She was sentenced to six months in jail after pleading guilty to felony misconduct in office for doing campaign work on county time.
Prosecutors revealed emails that showed regular contact between Walker's county executive and gubernatorial campaign staffs. The emails showed workers held daily telephone meetings, discussed how to handle politically sensitive topics and even suggested planting stories in the press to distract attention from problems at Milwaukee County's mental health hospital, where nine people have died since 2010.
Walker repeated Monday in the interview that he had no knowledge of anyone in his county office doing illegal campaign work, and if he had, he would have stopped it. He said nothing during Rindfleisch's sentencing made him think he was under investigation.
"Absolutely," Walker said when asked if he was confident he was not a target of the probe.
Democrats have said the emails show that Walker was involved in illegal campaigning.
"It defies reasonable belief that Scott Walker was completely ignorant of the fact that he was surrounded by people committing criminal acts in his office as county executive," Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said Monday. "It is not believable. If true, it raises serious questions about his management ability, including who he chooses to surround himself with."
The Republican governor insisted the contact between his county and campaign staffs was routine. The morning calls were used to coordinate staff and schedules and discuss how to handle questions from the media, he said.
"Often times, there's not a distinction between asking a political question in the official office and the campaign office," Walker said. "All those things are things that need to be coordinated. There's nothing wrong with that."
Walker said he had built a firewall to ensure county workers were not ordered to do campaign work while on county time. He said he didn't know Rindfleisch was doing anything illegal, including working on Republican Brett Davis' 2010 lieutenant governor campaign on county time using a secret email system.
"If I had known about that, we would have taken action," Walker said.
Walker also said he has no information that shows Davis was aware of Rindfleisch's actions.
Mary Spicuzza and Dee J. Hall of the Wisconsin State Journal and Scott Bauer of the Associated Press contributed to this report.