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“The Similarities Are Pretty Uncanny”: Was Walker’s Secret E-mail System Shadier Than Clinton’s?

Every national politician in the country is going to be peppered with questions about what they think of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail controversy. This morning is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s turn. Walker didn’t hold back–he told the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack:

“It’s a logical assumption that the secretary of state is talking about highly confidential classified information. How can she ensure that that information wasn’t compromised. I think that’s the bigger issue—is the audacity to think that someone would put their personal interest above classified, confidential, highly sensitive information that’s not only important to her but to the United States of America. I think is an outrage that Democrats as well as Republicans should be concerned about.”

As McCormack notes, Walker’s attack shows quite a bit of chutzpah, because he himself got caught running a secret e-mail network for his inner circle of advisers when he was Milwaukee County executive. In their illuminating book, More Than They Bargained For: Scott Walker, Unions, and the Fight for Wisconsin, Jason Stein and Patrick Marley, reporters for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, provide the details.

In May 2010, the Walker administration asked a constituent services coordinator named Darlene Wink to resign, after a Journal Sentinel columnist caught her posting online political comments supporting Walker while she was supposed to be working on the taxpayers’ dime. As Stein and Marley write,

When the Wink story broke, Walker’s deputy chief of staff, Kelly Rindfleisch, quickly dismantled a private Internet router set up in her office, which was twenty-five feet away from Walker’s. During her few months on the job, she had been using the secret router and a laptop—both separate from the regular county system—to trade electronic messages with Walker’s campaign staff and raise money for state Representative Brett Davis, a GOP candidate for lieutenant governor. With attention suddenly on Wink, who had also used the router, Rindfleisch stuffed the device into a credenza in her office. “I took the wireless down,” she wrote in an e-mail to Tim Russell, who had served as Walker’s deputy chief of staff before Rindfleisch. Russell, then working as Walker’s housing director, had initially set up the router for Wink and Rindfleisch to use, prosecutors alleged.

Walker e-mailed Russell that night, telling him he had talked to Wink and felt bad about what had happened. “We cannot afford another story like this one,” Walker wrote to Russell. “No one can give them any reason to do another story. That means no laptops, no websites, no time away during the work day, etc.”

As Walker emphasizes to McCormack, prosecutors never charged him with any wrongdoing, though two of his aides were convicted of doing political work while on the county payroll. And Walker obviously wasn’t privy to sensitive classified information, as Clinton was. Still, the similarities are pretty uncanny, and Walker’s willingness to attack Clinton anyway is a good illustration of his aggressive political style.

 

By: Joshua Green, Bloombery Politics, March 9, 2015

March 12, 2015 Posted by | E-Mail, Hillary Clinton, Scott Walker | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cheese Head Guv’s Sleazy Past”: Scott Walker, One Of The Most Divisive Governors In The Country

Tens of thousands of protesters make for much better television than court documents, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paying attention to Scott Walker’s scandal-plagued re-election bid this year—even if it is unaccompanied by the hoopla of his 2012 recall election. In that year, Walker was able to best a weak Democratic candidate in an election where some voters backed him because of concerns about whether a recall was appropriate, and not because they supported his union-busting legislation.

This year, the most recent poll has Walker trailing the Democratic nominee, Mary Burke, by two percentage points among likely voters, and the embattled GOP incumbent has faced new allegations that he illegally coordinated outside spending during his recall election with groups like the Wisconsin Club for Growth. But while the 2012 recall excited liberals across the country (it seemed at times during that election that MSNBC’s Ed Schultz had moved to the Badger State), this year liberals can barely muster a shrug.

Part of this ennui, as Noam Scheiber at The New Republic points out, is that it’s not in anyone’s interest to make a big deal about Walker, despite the fact that he might be running for president in a couple years. After losing to him in 2012, liberals have a kind of political PTSD when it comes to Wisconsin, and are afraid of raising the stakes in the campaign.

Plus, Burke is a relatively moderate former business executive, which makes her a good candidate for a general election, but not exactly the best one to excite the progressive base. And without shots of hordes of protesters like the kind that swarmed the state capital in Madison two years ago, the campaign becomes far less compelling for television, and is thus unlikely to receive much national coverage.

The outrage that Walker is provoking is of a less exciting variety this time around. In 2012, there were teachers and small-town government workers made furious by Walker’s efforts to quash collective bargaining rights for public employees. In 2014, however, there is far less uproar over Walker potentially violating campaign finance laws to encourage corporations to give unlimited donations to the Wisconsin Club for Growth—and only the Wisconsin Club for Growth. In an email to a consultant for that group who also served as an adviser to the governor in 2011, a Walker aide emphasized that the incumbent wanted “all the issue advocacy efforts run thru one group to ensure correct messaging.”

These efforts are further illustrated in an email that Kelly Rindfleisch, a former Walker aide, sent the governor before a fundraising trip in 2011, which told him to “stress that donations to [Wisconsin Club for Growth] are not disclosed and can accept corporate donations without limits.”

Rindfleisch, who has since been convicted of misconduct in office as a result of one of the many investigations surrounding Walker, added that the governor should stress to donors that he could accept corporate contributions that wouldn’t be reported.

A national Democratic consultant familiar with the race took pains to point out what a big prize Walker would be for the left. The Wisconsin governor “is very vulnerable, in a very dangerous spot for an incumbent and the fact that he hasn’t committed to serve out his next term means that what happens in Wisconsin is likely to have an effect on ’16.” But most importantly for Democrats, knocking off Walker would be a major consolation prize if they lose control of the Senate in 2014.

With prospects of holding on to a majority in the Senate uncertain, Walker offers Democrats an enviable scalp to wave in November. After all, he has been one of the most divisive governors in the country, and serves in a key swing state. Plus, Walker evokes so much anger among parts of the Democratic base that would lessen the bite of potential losses in national races.

Although some national progressive groups are starting to focus on the race—Democracy for America announced Thursday that it was backing Burke to “put a stop to the flow of extreme right-wing legislation that has been poisoning” Wisconsin under Walker—the attention is still far less than in 2012, when outside Democratic groups flooded the Badger State with money. The result is that Walker still has a significant fundraising advantage heading into final two months of campaigning.

The question, though, is whether the incumbent can hold on and win in the swing state. Because while Walker may savor the absence of protesters demonstrating against him, his poll numbers are still worse than they were in 2012.

 

By: Ben Jacobs, The Daily Beast, August 28, 2014

August 30, 2014 Posted by | Scott Walker, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scott Walker’s Little-Known Scandal”: When He Treated Welfare Recipients Like Dogs

Among the racist jokes and emails found in recently released documents connected to the criminal probe of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2010 campaign, one stood out: A “joke” about a woman trying to sign up her dogs for welfare, because “my Dogs are mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no frigging clue who their Daddys are. They expect me to feed them, provide them with housing and medical care, and feel guilty.” The punch line: “My Dogs get their first checks Friday.”

Walker’s deputy chief of staff Kelly Rindfleisch replied: “That is hilarious. And so true.”

The joke is bad enough on its own, but it’s also worth noting: Back when Walker was Milwaukee county executive, and Rindfleisch was a top aide, he managed the county’s welfare programs so abysmally that after lawsuits by local clients, the state was forced to take them over. “They didn’t just call people dogs, they treated them like dogs,” one Milwaukee elected official recalled angrily.

“Milwaukee County has demonstrated a sustained inability to successfully provide services to its (poor) customers,” state health services director Karen Timberlake wrote in a February 2009 letter to Walker announcing the state takeover. Milwaukee became only one of 72 Wisconsin counties to wind up with its programs for poor people under state control.

It’s a chapter in Walker’s career that shows why, to many in Milwaukee, his staff’s racist jokes aren’t funny.

At the height of the recession, in 2008 and 2009, requests for aid in Wisconsin, and throughout the country, soared. But in Milwaukee, where 41 percent of African-Americans live below the poverty line, people had trouble getting help. Roughly 95 percent of calls to the county’s client-intake call center went unanswered in 2008, a state probe later found.

The social services department budget funded 25 positions at the intake center, but a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter found only seven staffers working among empty cubicles when he visited. Advocates and the county workers’ union complained, but Walker stonewalled. Aided by the outcry, Walker began arguing for privatizing the social services intake unit. “He was managing it to fail,” charges AFSCME contract administrator Dave Eisner.

In June 2008, Legal Action of Wisconsin sued on behalf of thousands of needy people who couldn’t get benefits even though they qualified, because they couldn’t get their eligibility verified.

“Milwaukee County has reached a low point in its [welfare] delivery service,” Legal Action lawyer Pat DeLessio wrote in a letter to the County Board. “It is almost impossible to get through to anyone on the phone” to apply for or verify benefits.

But the problems weren’t just at the call center. In 2008, one out of five food stamp recipients dropped for ineligibility were in fact eligible, and wrongly cut from the program. In 2007, 60 percent of county decisions to cut food or other aid were overturned on appeal within two months. Roughly 30 percent of needy applicants were waiting more than two weeks for aid. Two-thirds of all complaints received by state welfare agencies involved Milwaukee County residents having problems obtaining Medicaid, food aid and child care services. And while the state paid a higher share of Milwaukee’s income-maintenance program costs than in other counties, Walker complained that state funding was inadequate.

With the call center problems and need rising, clients took to lining up at county offices for services before they even opened, DeLessio recalled, because by midday workers would declare the building was full, and turn away new applicants. In June 2008 at least 3,000 people showed up before dawn seeking food vouchers in what was later called a “food riot.”

“The food crisis in Milwaukee and throughout the United States is worse than many of us have realized,” said Milwaukee Common Council president Willie Hines. “We expect long lines for free food in third-world countries.”

Walker’s answer was to privatize the intake unit and other services. His proposed September 2008 budget featured his privatization proposals, but the county board blocked him. “It was clearly a game – he didn’t give a damn about poor people,” Eisner charges.

State officials repeatedly complained about the service inadequacies, and eventually threatened to take the programs away from the county. Politics clearly played a role in the conflict; in 2006 Walker had planned to run for governor against incumbent Democrat Jim Doyle, but soon dropped out of the Republican primary. “I believe that it was God’s will for me to run,” Walker said at the time. “After a great deal of prayer during the last week, it is clear that it is God’s will for me to step out of the race.” It was an open secret that Walker was planning another run for governor in 2010, and if his skirmishes with the Doyle administration hurt Milwaukee’s poor, they helped its county executive with the state’s conservative GOP primary voters.

After a series of tense meetings between county and state administrators, when it was clear the state was going to take over the anti-poverty programs, Walker made a brazen move. He wrote to state social services director Karen Timberlake and invited the state to take over the county’s income maintenance program.

“This is a state mandate,” Walker wrote, in a letter he immediately released to the media. “It’s amazing state government has been such a lousy partner on this.”

County board chair Lee Holloway told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Walker invited the state in, over his and the board-majority’s objection, to preempt the state’s embarrassing announcement that it was taking over Milwaukee’s programs. “Holloway said he thought Walker’s letter was meant to upstage state officials ‘before they make a move on him,’” the paper reported.

“The county board didn’t want the takeover,” recalls Legal Action’s Pat DeLessio. “There’s a strong system of county control in Wisconsin. But Walker just gave up.”

No one was fooled by Walker’s letter. A day after he released it, the state announced its takeover. In her letter to Walker explaining the move, Timberlake wrote that Wisconsin state government “has in fact expended millions of additional dollars and thousands of hours of staff resources to assist your county over a period of years. Despite these efforts, Milwaukee County’s performance fails national and state standards and is failing the people of the county.” Yet two years after the state took over his social service programs, Walker took over the state as governor.

Kelly Rindfleisch, who found the joke about welfare-receiving dogs “hilarious” and “so true,” was Walker’s deputy chief of staff while he was mismanaging the county’s welfare programs. Her boss, chief of staff Tom Nardelli, himself circulated a racist joke about the “nightmare” of waking up black, gay, disabled and HIV-positive while working for Milwaukee County. Against the backdrop of the way Walker treated welfare recipients, their joking is even less funny.

Rindfleisch was eventually convicted of illegal campaign activity on public time, a felony conviction that she is appealing. She and Nardelli paid no penalty for enjoying racist jokes on public time.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 3, 2014

March 4, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No One Cares About Crazy People”: Documents Reveal Scott Walker’s Racist, Offensive Staff

A day before Republican Scott Walker was elected governor of Wisconsin, law enforcement authorities served search warrants at his office in Milwaukee (where he served as county executive), his campaign office and the houses of his top aides.

After assuming office in 2011, Walker pushed through his conservative platform, which included limiting public sector unions and implementing broad tax cuts. As Walker’s policies gained him national attention from the Republican Party, questions about his campaign were pushed to the back burner.

Until now.

On Wednesday, the first documents giving context to the investigation into Governor Walker were made public. They haven’t explicitly linked Walker to illegal activities, but they have provided a behind-the-scenes look at the offensive conduct of the governor’s staff.

Perhaps most shockingly, the documents show that Walker staffers traded emails making fun of horrific conditions at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Facility. News reports at the time showed workers there filed false claims to hide mistakes, and let a patient with a history of violence and sexual assault move around the facility unsupervised. Staffers weren’t worried this would hurt Walker in the polls, however. “[N]o one cares about crazy people,” one staffer wrote to another.

The mentally ill weren’t the only minority group used as a punchline by Walker’s aides.

Kelly Rindfleisch, Walker’s former deputy chief of staff, received an email that compared welfare recipients to dogs. The paradoxically ungrammatical email explained that dogs should be allowed to receive welfare because they are “mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no frigging clue who the r [sic] Daddys [sic] are.” Rindfleisch responded: “That’s so hilarious and so true.”

Other top aides to Walker also shared their offensive sentiments.

Thomas Nardelli, Walker’s former chief of staff, forwarded a chain email that makes light of a “nightmare.” In the nightmare, someone wakes up to discover he is “black, Jewish, disabled, HIV positive, and gay.” The joke ends when the person in the nightmare realizes he is a Democrat — the worst affliction of those described in the email.

Ironically, Scott Walker was concerned about county employees with a “varied lifestyle.”  A doctor who was previously an underwear model received scrutiny from Walker’s administration, for example.

The doctor, who worked at the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division, had her past career as a thong model discovered after Nardelli “MySpaced” her. Nardelli wrote to Walker that it was recently discovered the doctor “has a checkered past and has done some modeling work.” Nardelli continued: “It isn’t pornographic, but it is quite suggestive (I’m told — I don’t know her name). He [sic] apparently models thongs and wasn’t forthright in sharing that with staff prior to her hire as an hourly paid MD.”

“Get rid of the MD asap,” Walker wrote back.

And finally, the emails suggest that Walker knew his staff was breaking the law during his gubernatorial campaign. An investigator for the Milwaukee County district attorney testified before a secret hearing that email evidence proves Walker knew staff members were using personal computers and a secret WiFi network, while being paid by the county.

They set up the secret network so they could work on their personal laptops to plan his campaign for governor — all while being paid by taxpayers as staffers to the county executive.

Cynthia Archer, Walker’s administration director, said in an email that she uses her “private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW [Scott Walker] and Nardelli.”

 

By: Ben Feuerherd, The National Memo, February 21, 2014

February 25, 2014 Posted by | Mental Health, Racism, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Not Ready For Prime Time”: E-mails, Charges, Probes! Chris Christie? No, Scott Walker

The political and pundit class loves to identify “outsider” candidates for the presidency, looking in particular to governors who have not been tarnished by the compromises and corruptions of Washington. But the trouble with being an “outsider” candidate is that, eventually, you face the same sort of scrutiny as the insiders.

Just as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie suffered a blow when the media started to examine the extent to which he mingled politics and governing, so Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is now taking a hit that will inspire serious doubts—even among his admirers—about whether he is ready for the political prime time.

The release of 27,000 pages of e-mails from the seized computers of a former Walker aide who has since been convicted of political wrongdoing, along with more than 400 documents from the first of two major probes into scandals associated with Walker’s service as Milwaukee County executive and his gubernatorial campaigns, is shining new light on the extent to which the controversial governor’s legal, ethical and political troubles will make his transition to the national stage difficult.

The e-mails offer a powerful sense of how Walker and his aides appeared to have blurred the lines between official duties and campaigning when he was seeking the governorship in 2010—taking actions that would eventually lead to the convictions of key aides. Walker, who has steered hundreds of thousands of dollars from his campaign account into a legal defense fund, has not been charged with wrongdoing himself. But the e-mails and legal documents paint a picture of an elected official who was so focused on political positioning that he felt it necessary to order daily conference calls to “better coordinate” between aides in his Milwaukee County Executive office and campaign staff.

Walker’s county aides used a secret e-mail routing system to coordinate campaign events and fundraising, and to trash the woman who would eventually serve as Walker’s lieutenant governor as “the bane of your existence.” They circulated crude, sometimes racist messages. And as news outlets sifted through the e-mails, they found one from a top Walker appointee, administration director Cynthia Archer, telling another aide who had accessed the secret network that she was now “in the inner circle.” “I use this private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW…” wrote Archer.

Scott Kevin Walker identified himself on e-mails as “SKW.” Indeed, among the thousands of e-mails released Wednesday was one from a top Walker aide—Tim Russell, who has since been convicted and hailed. In it, he forwards a link to video of Chris Christie yelling at a reporter with the line: “skw should talk like this.”

The largest paper in Wisconsin, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which endorsed the governor in the past, featured a banner headline on its Thursday edition that read: “Records Link Walker to Secret Email System.”

Walker—who the e-mails reveal thought “9 out of 10 requests [from reporters] are going to be traps” and ordered his county aides to generate “positive and bold stories”—was scrambling Wednesday to dismiss the download of e-mails and legal documents as “old news.” A particularly defensive governor griped about all the attention to the e-mails and documents, saying, “these people are naysayers who want things bad to happen in Wisconsin so they are going to be circling again today. It’s exactly what’s wrong with the political process that they’re hoping for something bad to happen in Wisconsin. It’s not.”

At the same time, the Republican Governors Association—which is chaired by Christie—made a six-figure television ad buy in Wisconsin to protect the governor’s position in a 2014 re-election race where polls show him leading but with support levels below 50 percent.

The e-mails and documents—which media outlets have sought for months—were released by a judge dealing with ongoing legal wrangling over the conviction of former Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch for misconduct in public office.

Rindfleisch did not just work for Walker before he was elected governor. She was also associated with him after he took his state post, as a key fund-raiser who traveled with the governor while he raised money nationally. And her name has been linked to a new John Doe probe that reportedly has focused on wrongdoing by individuals and groups that backed the governor’s 2012 campaign to beat a recall vote.

That’s not exactly “old news.” And it comes at a particularly unfortunate moment for Walker, who cannot have been happy with a Wednesday Washington Post headline that read: “Scott Walker, eyeing 2016, faces fallout from probes as ex-aide’s e-mails are released,” and “E-mails may spell trouble for Scott Walker.” Or a Thursday New York Times report that said the emails and documents portray Walker as “having presided over an office where aides used personal computers and email to conceal that they were mixing government and campaign business.”

There’s no question that Walker wants to be considered as a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Even as he seeks re-election this year, he has been busy touring a new book that conservative commentators say “reads like one gigantic presidential trial balloon,” making the rounds of the same talk shows once frequented by Christie, and maintaining a relentless schedule of national appearances to aid Republican candidates and raise money.

With one-time GOP front-runner Christie mired in scandal, pundits who don’t know much about Walker like to imagine that he might be the next “shiny penny” for Republicans seeking a candidate from outside Washington.

But Walker’s national prospects have never looked as good as his admirers imagine. Even after Christie’s downfall, the Wisconsinite was wrestling with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal for last place in most state and national polls of likely Republican caucus and primary voters.

Now, just as Christie faces fallout from an aide’s revealing e-mails, so Walker faces fallout from an aide’s revealing e-mails. The circumstances may be different, and Walker has certainly tried to present himself as a less politically contentious figure than the governor of New Jersey. But when the headlines in Washington are talking about a governor facing “fallout from probes,” and the governor in question is not Chris Christie, there’s a good chance that even the most ardent Republicans will start noticing the tarnish on their shiny penny.

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, February 19, 2014

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Scott Walker | , , , , | Leave a comment

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