Governor Scott Walker has repeatedly denied knowing about the illegal campaign work going on while he was County Executive of Milwaukee. But the emails released on Wednesday by a court of appeals show that those denials don't hold up.
Again and again, Walker appears in the emails talking to his "inner circle," all of whom used a private email network set up in his office.
A map of that office, Exhibit A in the original criminal complaint against Kelly Rindfleisch, shows that Walker sat within 25 feet of Rindfleisch and the other "inner circle" staff who were tapping away on their secret laptops.
Walker sent an email after the first of his staffers was busted for doing campaign work on county time, writing: “We cannot afford another story like this one. No one can give them any reason to do another story. That means no laptops, no web sites, no time away during the workday, et cetera.”
That email went to Tim Russell -- Walker's former staffer and close aide who is now in prison for stealing $21,000 from the veterans organization Walker put him in charge of.
But Russell is not on the office map, because at the time he received the "no laptops" email, Russell was no longer working in the county executive's office. Walker had appointed him his administrator of housing.
Why did Walker tell Russell instead of his chief of staff or someone who had authority over work in the county office? It's because Russell was Walker's longtime political adviser and campaign aide, who set up a secret WiFi system in the office.
On September 16, 2011, Walker told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that "it's hard to tell" whether he should be concerned about a raid on the home of Cynthia Archer. "We don't know what exactly is involved," he said. "As far as what I know is what I've been reading in the press. I don't have any more information beyond that."
Cynthia Archer was Walker's secretary of the Department of Administration, where it was her job to run day-to-day business in Milwaukee County. Archer followed Walker to Madison when he became governor, where he installed her at the Department of Children and Families. She now works in administration at the state public defender's office.
Here is what Archer herself said in an email to deputy chief of staff Kelly Rindfleisch about joining the secret network she used to communicate with Walker and his chief of staff, Tom Nardelli.
“Consider yourself now in the ‘inner circle,’" she wrote, adding a smiley-face emote. "I use this private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW and Nardelli. You should be sure you check it throughout the day.”
On October 2, 2011, The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Walker said he had not been contacted personally by investigators and had no details about the probe, although his campaign had provided emails requested by investigators. "The bottom line is, I know how I have conducted myself in public service," he said. "It is the traditions I have from my parents; it's part of how I obtained the rank of Eagle Scout. We operate at high integrity."
Here is what chief investigator David Budde told assistant district attorneys Bruce Landgraf and Hanna Kolberg in a previous transcript of the John Doe proceedings:
Q: Based upon your search of the Rindfleisch emails is there any reason to believe that there may have been general use of laptops in the County Executive's Office?
A: Yes, there is.
Q: Did you find any e-mails written by the County Executive himself suggesting that there may have been use of County Laptops inteh --personal laptops in the County Executive's Office?
On February 22, 2012, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Governor Walker has said he was unaware of any campaign activity happening at his county executive office, except by Wink when that was reported.
The email chain on the "inner circle" emails discussing political responses to include Scott Walker, his campaign staffers Jill Bader, Keith Gilkes, RJ Johnson, and Stephan Thompson, as well as county staffers Tom Nardelli, Cindy Archer, Fran McLaughlin and Kelly Rindfleisch.
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 take taken action," Walker said.
After the news broke that Darlene Wink was doing campaign work on county time, Walker sent the email saying "no more laptops" to Tim Russell. Jim Villa forwarded that email. Rindfleisch replies to Villa: "Already broken down and put away. Laptop is packed. I already saw this e-mail."
“The significance of this e-mail is that it shows that the county executive would appear to be aware that laptops were used in the County Executive’s Office for accessing things on non County networks," investigators told the judge.
Editor's note: A story we published on Friday, Feb. 21, under the headline "Emails Suggest Walker Aides Ran Illegal Vote Purging Scheme" was inaccurate.
Upon further research, the emails referenced in that story appear to relate to the use of software called "Complete Campaigns," which is a "back office" program for processing campaign donations, and not an alleged voter "caging" scheme.
The Progressive regrets this error.