What We've Learned from the Walker Leaks

Thousands of pages of documents released by an appeals court in Madison, Wisconsin, today clearly show that Scott Walker was at the center of a campaign operation that led to 15 felony convictions and three misdemeanors for six of his closest staff and associates.

Walker has denied any knowledge of the secret email network on which his staff conducted illegal campaign work on county time when Walker was County Exec.

The documents released today show that his denial is not credible.

Walker was involved in the tiniest details of political responses in his office, from writing talking points for county staff to writing press releases to deliberately slowing down open records responses.

Like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Walker micromanaged every aspect of his campaigns.

And, like Christie and his staff, the emails released today show that Walker took an incredibly political and view of public policy. Over and over, Walker and his advisers discuss life-and-death matters for Milwaukee County residents through a strictly campaign lens.

The fact that Walker and his staff were doing campaign work on taxpayer time isn't just a legal issue. It's an issue of basic governance. Walker and his people hijacked government to serve his own political interests rather than the interests of the people.

Former Wisconsin attorney general Peg Lautenschlager summed up her first read of the Walker document leak like this: "It was standard practice for Walker's staff to use private emails to conduct business, and to avoid open records requests. That in itself is a violation of the law. It's scar. And it's way beyond Chris Christie."

Among the parallels between Walker and Christie, both governors were micromanagers of their campaigns, staff, and messaging. Both focused not on serving the interests of citizens but on their next political goal. And both had an "inner circle" and maintained private communications they thought would not be breached.

In Walker's case, being part of his "inner circle" meant using the secret email network set up in his office. That network offered a direct line to Walker, according to his own staffers.

So much for Walker's repeated assertions that he had no part in those communications.

How political was Walker? Consider this email exchange, in which Walker and staff discussed how to handle news about rape in a county facility that housed male and female acute psychiatric patients together. Rindfleisch proposed running the issue by a lawyer, Walker and campaign staffer Keith Gilkes refocused the conversation on the strictly political matter at hand:

Just do me a favor and tell him that we are getting the crap kicked out of us by the County
Board – at some point, I would like him to stop being a lawyer and think political for
change and let us fight back.

Keith Gilkes
Friends of Scott Walker

Then Walker, as he does repeatedly in these emails, sketches out talking points for his staff:

From: skw@scottwalker.org [mailto:skw@scottwalker.org]
Sent: Monday, May 10, 2010 2:22 PM
To: Fran McLaughlin
Cc: Tom Nardelli; Kelly Rindfleisch; Bob Nenno; Keith Gilkes; Jill Bader; RJ Johnson
Subject: Re: MEDIA - Schultze on BHD

Draft of a statement (fill in %):
"Any form of violence or abuse at the mental health complex is unacceptable to the me.

As for the policy, xx% of the mental health facilities in Wisconsin have men and woman together on their units because experts believe this is good for treatment as clients prepare to return to the community.

The Department of Health and Human Services will review the policy again to insure that it is best for the clients. They will also work with the Sheriff's Office and county auditors on any changes to the policy."

we will talk to the Sheriff about their review of the complex and then talk to the county auditor who is looking at the complex."

In another email, Walker tells his staff "we should not make it public" when he hears about a possible lawsuit by the family of a woman who died in a county facility from starvation. He and his campaign staff treat this as a purely political matter. His chief strategist, R.J. Johnson writes an email suggesting that the family's lawsuit is timed to hurt Walker's campaign.

In the affidavit released today the Milwaukee Co. DA concludes that Walker as County Executive must have known about the secret email network and laptops in his office. It's made plain as day in the transcript.

Even if there is ultimately no proof tying the governor directly to illegal acts, today's revelations show what a purely political animal he is. Like Christie, he saw his role in government solely as a means to advance his own career.

Photo: "Young woman looking at a file through a looking glass," via Shutterstock.