The release of more than 27,000 pages of emails turned state politics on its on ear last week, as individuals on both sides of the aisle, and journalists near and far pored over the documents for insight into the criminal corruption probe otherwise known as the 2010 John Doe investigation. Governor Scott Walker’s administrations, campaigns, and allies have been the target of not one, but two, criminal investigations since 2010 (one is ongoing).
Walker’s campaign and government offices, as well as the homes of several top Walker aides, were raided by government officials the day before the gubernatorial election in 2010. To date, the investigation has resulted in six of Walker’s associates being jailed -- four of whom have been sentenced to prison for crimes ranging from felony theft from charities intended to benefit wounded veterans and the families of fallen soldiers, to misconduct in public office, to doing official campaign work on county time. Adding to what we already know, the emails provide new insight to the investigation. From the documents, we learned that Scott Walker himself sent and received emails on a secret email network set up in his county office just feet away from his desk.
Walker also requested his campaign and official staff coordinate by starting each day with a conference call, in violation of Wisconsin laws that specifically state that public employees may not conduct campaign activity on public time. If there was no wrongdoing at all on Scott Walker’s part, 27,000 pages of documents would surely put to rest any doubts about Walker’s involvement in the secret campaign operation going on right under his nose. Instead, the documents link him to the secret email network and raise more questions than answers about what Walker knew and when he knew it.
Wisconsin deserves answers from Scott Walker. Emails confirm that he participated in a secret email network. Cindy Archer, a top aide to then County Executive Walker, emailed Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch welcoming her into the “inner circle”, an email account she used to communicate with Walker and campaign staff often. It’s difficult to believe that he didn’t know that his most trusted and long-serving campaign staff were conducting illegal campaign behavior just feet from his office. Scott Walker still hasn’t answered the question of if and when he first instructed his taxpayer-funded staff to coordinate illegally with his campaign staff.
Not only do the emails confirm that Scott Walker knew of and participated in a secret email network to facilitate illegal campaign coordination, they show that once it became known to Walker that a staffer was involved in illegal campaign work on county taxpayer-funded time, he didn’t instruct his staff to end all illegal coordination. Facts suggest that campaign and county staff attempted to find an “alternative”, but were unsuccessful.
One would think that Scott Walker would make it clear to his staff on both sides that the only alternative would be to shut down all illegal coordination. It’s what any reasonable, law-abiding person would expect. Even as all signs point to Scott Walker being not only knowledgeable of the secret email network, but the ringleader of the entire operation, Walker maintains a position that he did not know illegal activity was going on. However, much like the entire state and the nation, Scott Walker knows about the activity now.
Not only does Walker know about the illegal coordination, he knows about the despicable emails and jokes traded via email amongst his staff. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-semitic, and other disturbing emails were unearthed that put the character of Scott Walker and his staff into question. Including Walker’s then chief of staff Tom Nardelli describing a “nightmare” where he turns into a black, Jewish, disabled gay man who is unemployed. And the demeaning comments from Walker’s deputy chief of staff Kelly Rindfleisch that “no one cares about crazy people” in response to a 33-year old woman dying of complications related to starvation while under the County’s care at the County Mental Health Facility.
While not sent by Walker himself, these kinds of messages shed light on the company Walker keeps and a working environment where his close aides and associates felt comfortable, and even encouraged, to share offensive remarks. Scott Walker is clearly trying to distance himself from these messages, and the scandal as a whole, but several key players that used the secret email network and made awful comments still work for Walker or somewhere in the infrastructure of Wisconsin’s Republican Party. Years after the first John Doe began, Scott Walker still hasn’t cleaned house or encouraged those implicated to turn over their emails. So what reassurance do Wisconsin voters have that history won’t repeat itself? It’s concerning to Wisconsinites who now have reason to think the governor may not be as truthful as he lets on. Scott Walker can’t hide behind his moral Eagle Scout persona and refuse to address the facts. This time the questions are too important to ignore.
Just because Scott Walker wasn’t found guilty of crimes in a court of law doesn’t mean that he is not guilty of unethical actions and violating the public trust. The governor can and should be held to a higher standard. We expect him to be honest, straightforward, and truthful. A trust has been broken between the public and Scott Walker and it cannot be repaired until the governor answers the tough questions.