According to Rindfleisch and Villa, Russell did something to get in Walker's bad graces. That would explain why he was banished from the courthouse and put in the Housing Division in a different building altogether. It would also explain why in the spring, while Russell was travelling and illegally campaigning with Walker on his Harley Davidson tour of the state, he was acting like a good sycophant, almost to the point of debasing himself, as depicted in the different videos taken during that trip.
And given that the actual transcripts, courtesy of JSOnline and reporter Dan Bice, are now available, it does seem like this might be a logical conclusion to make. After all, Russell was moved out of the courthouse and had his privileges to the county executive's suite revoked. Those could easily be interpreted as a sign of a fall from grace.
But as I thought about it, I started to wonder if that was the right explanation for the course of events.
Some things weren't just adding up. If Russell was out of Walker's good graces, why would Walker take him on that Harley tour of the state just a couple of months later? And why would he allow Russell to remain as administrator for his campaign website, right up until the day he was arrested and charged?
This nagged at me until I thought of one of the myriad details that is part of the Russell Tangent to Walkergate - Operation Freedom.
Operation Freedom was the thinly-veiled annual campaign stunt by Walker in which he would purportedly honor veterans by giving them a free day at the zoo.
If the reader will recall, Russell had bought the domain for the Historical Guard Preservation Society and turned that into a front group for him to manage the funds meant for Operation Freedom. Russell did this in the summer of 2009 and in October of that year, Walker personally signed over the funds for Operation Freedom to Russell's pseudo-society:
If you read the complaint against Russell, you'll notice that most of the thefts were taken from the Heritage Guard Preservation Society. What's that? Well, it helped handle a Milwaukee County veterans' event at the Milwaukee County Zoo called "Operation Freedom," and how Tim Russell landed a gig handling its finances goes straight to Walker.
Due to alleged financial mismanagement, in about 2009, Operation Freedom donations were entrusted to the Alonzo Cudworth American Legion Post. While by all reports the Cudworth Post discharged their financial duties in exemplary fashion, in October 2009, then County Executive Scott Walker transferred the Operation Freedom funds - some $19,000 - to HGPS, the corporation controlled by [Walker's then- Deputy Chief of Staff] Tim Russell.
And interestingly, Russell had set up bank account in HGPS' name 2 months before Walker's proclamation, and named two Milwaukee County Walker employees as 2nd and 3rd in command- Darlene Wink and James Tetjen (hilariously, both of them say they have no idea what this organization was and never attended any of its meetings). Amazing this new "community" organization was being run by a bunch of Walker lackeys, huh?
But during all this time, the Ethics Board was on Walker's back to have that funding out of the county executive's office, meaning that it should be handled by a private agency. Walker apparently chose to take them more literally and had Russell leave his office a few months after taking over the fund.
Instead of a demotion and sign of mistrust, Russell leaving the county executive office might have been more a sign of trust in which he let his faithful friend and ally take this away from Walker's micromanagement.
One also needs to keep in mind that just two months after Russell left the county executive's office, another one of Walker's aides, Darlene Wink, got busted leaving comments on JSOnline and on political blogs. When the news broke, Walker went straight to Russell, telling him to make sure that nothing like that happened again, not because it was illegal, but because he was worried about the impact to his campaign.
The simple fact that Walker went straight to Russell shows that Russell was very much still an integral part of Walker's campaign. Not exactly the sign of someone that is on the outs with Walker, is it?
It could very well be that Russell wasn't kicked out of Walker's executive's office but was rather sent on a mission to help protect Walker's image by handling the funds away from the executive's office and taking away the heat that Walker was getting from the Ethics Board.
That scenario would fit in better with what we already know about the deep level of involvement Russell had in Walker's campaign, such as having oversight of Wink's campaign and fundraising activities. This would make Rindfleisch's hiring and subsequent promotion appear even more politically motivated, since she admits that she did not have the experience to fit her official duties, but was more than an able campaign operative.
And as already mentioned, it was Walker that was personally responsible for not only the transfer of the veterans fund to Russell's front group. but for the hiring and promotion of Rindfleisch.
If one or the other or both Rindfleisch and Russell decide that their own fates and freedom are worth more to them than Walker's political career, Walker would be in for a world of hurt, both politically and legally.