Documents detail investigation into Walker aides

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Associated Press
Wednesday, February 19, 2014

MADISON, Wis. — The investigation into illegal campaign activity by members of Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s staff when he was working as a county executive greatly expanded the day before Walker was elected governor in 2010, previously secret documents released Wednesday show. 

The transcript of a closed-door hearing before a judge overseeing the probe into Walker’s aides was among more than 27,000 pages of emails and other documents released by a state appeals court. 

The Associated Press and other media organizations pressed for them to be made public. 

The transcript of the hearing shows that the judge expanded the probe to four additional Walker aides on Nov. 1, 2010. The judge also approved the seizing of computers from Walker’s county executive office and raids at his campaign office and homes of his aides, including his deputy chief of staff, Kelly Rindfleisch. 

She was convicted in 2012 of misconduct in office, a felony, for doing campaign work for Republican lieutenant governor candidate Brett Davis on government time. Rindfleisch was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation. 

Walker, who is up for re-election this year and eyeing a possible run for president in 2016, was not charged with any wrongdoing. 

The governor said Wednesday morning, just minutes before the documents were released, that he had not seen them but was confident they would contain no surprises. 

“Most of those would be four or more years old and they’ve gone through a legal process ... a multi-year extensive legal process by which each and every one of those communications was reviewed by authorities,” Walker told reporters after giving a speech in Madison. “I’m confident that they reviewed them and they chose to act on the ones they’ve already made public.”

Rindfleisch is appealing her conviction, arguing that the scope of the search warrants used against her were so broad that her Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches was violated.

The transcript of the hearing the day before Walker’s election shows that the judge overseeing the probe allowed for the investigation to expand to include Rindfleisch, Walker’s chief of staff Tom Nardelli, county spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin, and Walker’s scheduler Dorothy Moore. 

Rindlfleisch was the only one of the four charged in the investigation. She was one of six people who were convicted following the probe that closed last year. A second secret ongoing investigation is reportedly looking into fundraising and other activities by Walker’s campaign and other conservative groups. 

The court transcript shows that investigators had evidence showing that Rindfleisch was far from the only employee in Walker’s county office who was communicating with his campaign staff during the 2010 governor’s race. 

It was very common for Nardelli, Walker’s chief of staff, to email with members of Walker’s campaign staff, chief investigator David Budde told the judge overseeing the probe.

Budde testified that Moore kept a separate email folder for messages related to the gubernatorial campaign.

McLaughlin, who was Walker’s spokeswoman, also regularly emailed people on the campaign, Budde testified. McLaughlin was granted immunity in the investigation. 

Walker’s Democratic opponents have long argued that Walker was the mastermind of illegal campaign activity being done on government time out of his county office. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida was scheduled to hold a news conference to react to the release on Wednesday afternoon. 

Walker said that was an example of cynicism in politics. 

“These people are naysayers who want things bad to happen in Wisconsin so they are going to be circling again today,” Walker said. “It’s exactly what’s wrong with the political process that they’re hoping for something bad to happen in Wisconsin. It’s not. They’re going to do what they’ve done in the past which is over-hype things. And politically they’re going to be disappointed.”

Many of the documents released Wednesday were added last year at the request of the Wisconsin Department of Justice so it could argue that the scope of the search warrants in the case was appropriate. 

The emails show Walker deeply involved in crafting his message as a candidate, including holding daily conference calls to discuss the day’s events and writing his own quotes for press releases. 

Emails sent in February 2010 between Rindfleisch and Stephan Thompson, Walker’s deputy campaign manager, show a desire to frame Walker as a job creator, even though, according to Rindfleisch, “The Economic development stuff is light because the county isn’t able to do tax incentives like the city or state. So, it’s limited what we can do.”

Many of the messages also show Rindfleisch’s role in setting up fundraisers to benefit Davis, the lieutenant governor candidate. 

Besides AP, other media groups that intervened in the case to get the records released were the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press and the American Society of Newspaper Editors. 

Associated Press writers M.L. Johnson, Taylor W. Anderson, Mike Cronin, Doug Glass and Dinesh Ramde contributed to this report. Johnson and Anderson reported from Madison, Cronin from St. Paul, Glass from Minneapolis and Ramde from Milwaukee.

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