I will start with a brief timeline leading up to this year, and then look at Walkergate by category of the crimes and misconducts and other aspects of the ongoing investigation.
As I wrote in "An Introduction To Walkergate," and later summarized for an article in the Shepherd Express, the first inklings of Walkergate bubbled to the surface of public consciousness when Walker's Director of Constituent Affairs, Darlene Wink, was caught leaving comments on JSOnline and other blogs, promoting the candidacy of Scott Walker and tearing down all potential opponents for either party. She resigned immediately, despite Walker's attempts to say he fired her. Later in the year, her home was searched and her computers were confiscated.
The week following the outing of Wink, Walker's long time friend, campaign worker and county staffer, Tim Russell, was filmed doing campaign work while on county time. In August 2010, sheriff deputies, acting on a warrant, searched Russell's county office, confiscating his computers, Blackberry phone and boxes of papers.
It was also about this time that the first arrest and conviction came about. Railroad mogul, William E. Gardner was turned in for making illegal donations to Walker's campaign. He entered a guilty plea and was convicted.
Although it was unknown at the time, on November 1, 2010, the day before the gubernatorial election, the DA's office confiscated the computers and files from the county executive's office. This information did not come out until over a year later. If it had come out that day, I think we wouldn't have had a need for a recall because Walker would never have been elected.
Things got quiet for almost a year, with only a little blurb popping up here and there regarding the scandal, such as people lawyering up.
Then in September 2011, things really started to bubble. It became public knowledge that Dane County sheriff's deputies and FBI agents raided the home of Cindy Archer, Walker's top aid in the county and a top advisor to him as governor.
Around this time, Tom Nardelli, who was Walker's Chief of Staff at the county and given a cushy state job, suddenly quit his job.
As interest in Walkergate grew, it was also discovered that John Hiller, Walker's campaign treasurer of almost two decades, had suddenly and quietly slunk off six month before. Walker offered the incredulous explanation that, after having Hiller be his treasurer for eighteen years, he didn't think Hiller could do the job.
Then on January 5, 2012, things exploded.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced the arrests and charging of three Walker associates- Kevin Kavanaugh, Brian Pierick and Tim Russell.
Three weeks later, Darlene Wink and Kelly Rindfleisch were also arrested and charged.
Kevin Kavaugh has been charged with stealing money from a veterans fund, named Operation Freedom. This money was meant for veterans and their families. He is currently facing five charges regarding this crime. Despite his self-reported misgivings, Walker appointed Kavanaugh to the Veterans Board.
Tim Russell, who has been Walker's close friend for at least two decades, served in various positions for Walker in Milwaukee County, including economic development, deputy chief of staff and director of housing.
Russell was also charged with stealing from the veterans fund. Walker originally had kept control of this fund directly from his county executive's office. After repeated warnings from the Ethics Board, Walker finally moved it out of his office, but then placed in under the control of a front group operated by Tim Russell, therefore never really giving up control of the money. This only confirmed that Operation Freedom was nothing more than a publicity stunt for Walker rather than a genuine effort to honor the veterans.
Besides stealing from the veterans fund, Russell is accused of stealing from the campaigns of two separate politicians.
|Tim Russell, Scott Walker, Brian Pierick|
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin State Journal
It should also be noted that Russell used some of the money he embezzled for Walker's campaign, including paying for Walker's campaign website.
Furthermore, stemming from these reports were hints of possible strong arming and pay for play tactics by Walker's team.
Brian Pierick was Russell's domestic and business partner. He also worked with Russell with Walker's campaign, including administrating Walker's website up to the day he was arrested.
While the DA's investigators were looking into Russell's crimes, they found evidence that Pierick was trying to entice a seventeen year old boy into showing his genitalia and trying to arrange a rendezvous for a sexual encounter.
It should be noted that the complaint points to Russell as a co-conspirator, but he has not been charged with this crime. Yet.
Another note is that Pierick was named in the complaint regarding Russell's embezzlement charges. Pierick was the actual treasurer for one of the politicians and gave Russell access to the money.
This is by far, so far, the meatiest part of Walkergate.
Darlene Wink, besides leaving comments on JSOnline and other blogs, was also found to be doing campaign work and fund raising for Walker. This is not surprising given that besides Walker's constituent liaison, Wink was also a co-vice-chair for the Republican Party of Milwaukee County.
Wink has struck a plea bargain with the DA and has agreed to cooperate with the investigation in return for a reduced sentence. Part of the cooperation includes providing information on the destruction of digital evidence. She was to be sentenced on May 15, but the sentencing has been delayed to July. The reason is that while she has been cooperative, there is much more her to help the investigation with.
Tim Russell was cited in the complaint against Wink, apparently directing her on what to do and assuring her she wouldn't get in trouble or going to jail. However, he has not been charged with illegal campaigning. Yet.
Kelly Rindfleisch was personally hired and promoted by Walker to fill the Deputy Chief of Staff position that Russell vacated when he moved to the Division of Housing. At least that was her official position.
Based on the complaint and subsequent transcripts, Rindfleisch sent thousands of campaign-related emails out during the short time she worked for the county. She not only worked for Walker's campaign, but was the fund raiser for Brett Davis, whom Walker wanted to be his Lt. Governor.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing revealed with the Rindfleisch charges is the fact that the complaint discusses a secret router email system used to bypass any open records requests, which in itself is illegal. Russell is the person who set up this system, but has not been charged with this. Yet.
Another thing to note is that the Rindlfeisch complaint is a who's who of people that were involved with her campaign work. They include: Jim Villa, former Walker Chief of Staff and campaign advisor, who did some fund raising and campaign worker on Rindfleisch's request; Fran McLaughlin, Walker's county spokeswoman, who did the proofreading and editing on campaign literature and emails; Andrea Bloom, a friend of Rindfliesch who eventually became Walker's campaign finance director (Rindlfeisch was boasting on her false claims of living in Milwaukee, and Bloom testified against her); Jill Bader, Walker's campaign spokeswoman; Keith Gilkes, Walker's campaign manager; Michael Grebe, Walker's campaign chair; and Cullen Werwie, Brett Davis' campaign chair and Walker's current gubernatorial spokesman.
Fun Fact: Both Rindfleisch and Villa should have known better. Rindfleisch had been given immunity in the original caucus scandal investigation, per the criminal complaint. Villa, likewise, got himself in hot water when he was caught using county email for political campaigning. In fact, Walker should've known better since he had to provide cover for Villa.
One name I omitted from this list is Judith "Judi" Rhodes Engels. Engels partook of the infamous Harley ride in which Russell was caught campaigning. More significantly, she is the chief fund raiser for Senator Scott Fitzgerald. Apparently with Fitzgerald's approval, since donors are sacred cows to any politician, Rhodes Engels shared Fitzgerald's donor list with Rindfleisch to grow their own lists.
All of this points to an operation much akin to the caucus scandals from a decade ago. Indeed, many names from the caucus scandal are appearing in the Walkergate scandal, including Rindfleisch and Brian Fraley, then head of the Republican Senate Caucus and currently top propagandist for the Bradley Foundation/Koch Brother funded MacIver Institute.
Though she has not been charged with anything yet, there is evidence that Cindy Archer, Walker's top advisor throughout, had also been working with Walker's campaign through emails.
Pay For Play
The least covered aspect of Walkergate, thus far, is the pay for play that Walker and his staff routinely practiced. There are some commonly known examples which are apparently legal, if seemingly unethical, as the way Walker and the road builders were schmoozing each other.
But at least one incident of pay for play is reportedly under investigation, regarding the housing of Milwaukee County's Department of Aging.
Until the end of 2010, the Department of Aging was housed in the Reuss Federal Building, with their lease ending that year. This led to some insider trading, listing a number of players, most of whom I have already discussed, including Jim Villa, John Hiller, and Tim Russell. Not coincidentally, the realtors involved in the process had all given Walker donations just about the time the contract talks started.
It should be noted that many of the names involved in Walker's campaign, and Walkergate, are realtors, including: Tim Russell; Jim Villa; John Hiller; Andrew Jensen, who was briefly detained for not cooperating with the investigation; and David Boerke, who was representing the Reuss Building owners.
The gentle reader might wish to keep a look out for further developments in the near future regarding this aspect of the Walkergate investigation.
It needs to be pointed out that about a score of people have been already granted immunity in this investigation. The most notable of these names is Cullen Werwie, who was first Brett Davis' campaign chair and is now currently Walker's gubernatorial spokesman. The district attorney would never have given such a high ranking individual immunity unless he was looking at a bigger target, and that would be Walker.
Walker's Three Smoking Guns
Obviously, the common theme to all of the above is Scott Walker. Walker apologists will often say that Walker has nothing to do with the scandal, since he's not been charged with anything.
The key word that they are missing is "yet."
There are three key things that they don't want to discuss.
One is the fact that there is proof that Walker not only knew exactly what was going on, but at least condoned it, if not directed it. That proof comes from an email cited in the Rindfleisch complaint:
That email was sent from Walker's campaign email address to Tim Russell's county address, three months after Russell left the county executive's office. Walker also specifies exactly what kind of activities were happening in his own office, showing that he was aware of them and giving directions regarding them.
It should also be noted that, contrary to Walker's claims, he did not order them to stop it because it was illegal, but because it harmed his campaign.
The second smoking gun is Walker's legal
And I have strong reason to suspect more is on its way that will not make Walker very happy or look very good.
In summary, it's technically true that Walker hasn't been charged with any crimes related to Walkergate...yet.
And even if he's charged tomorrow, there will be no resolution to those charges until well after the recall election in two weeks.
The voters who are considering voting for Walker in the recall, whether because they believe his tall tales of "It's working" (although he never says for whom it's working) or just because they don't believe in recalls, will have to take all of this into consideration.
Are they willing to throw their vote away on a person who probably won't make it one full term, even if he were to win the election? Are they going to be willing to still proudly say, "I stand with Scott Walker, convicted felon?" after they vote for him?
It all boils down to whether they will be guided by Walker's millions of defense money or by their own morals. I say let your morals be your guide.