By Jessica VanEgeren | Capital Times
Days after Gov. Scott Walker delivered speeches at national Republican events unveiling more of the hard-line, conservative policies he has come to be known for, a Milwaukee County prosecutor for the first time publicly connected the dots between the illegal activities of Walker’s former aides and staffers and the governor himself.
Monday was the first time during the secret John Doe investigation that began in May 2010 that evidence was presented in court that showed Walker was not only privy too but involved in daily meetings that combined campaign efforts for his run for governor and county employees.
“There are a lot of questions Scott Walker, himself, should answer,” says Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman with the Wisconsin Democratic Party. “We now know that he was directly involved in a criminal culture. Some of these activities are no longer speculative. They are now on the record.”
The move to reveal information specific to the John Doe investigation that would lead to Walker’s name being presented in court began nearly a year ago and is being cited by one former prosecutor as a calculated move to, among other things, introduce additional information to the judge and the public.
Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf "made a choice to show the evidence,” says Tim Verhoff, a former Dane County prosecutor and now a Madison-based criminal defense attorney. “There are many reasons he could have chosen to do so, but my guess is he wanted to show the judge the extent of how often she (Kelly Rindfleisch) was campaigning on county time, or he might have wanted to show the public the overall extent of the activity.”
Rindfleisch served as Walker’s deputy chief of staff while he was Milwaukee County executive and later as a policy adviser. She earlier pleaded guilty to one charge of felony misconduct in office and on Monday was sentenced to six months in jail and three years' probation.
Before the prosecution could present any John Doe-related information, however, permission had to be obtained from the judge overseeing the secret investigation, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Neal Nettesheim.
Nettesheim granted Landgraf permission on Jan. 25 to use the documents, including those citing Walker’s involvement in what is now unfolding to have been an illegal political operation during his final year as Milwaukee County executive.
The next day, Rindflesich was charged with four counts of public misconduct in office.
Police had raided her home and office the day before Walker was elected governor in November 2010.
Walker was subpoenaed to testify in Rindfleisch’s defense Oct. 8, but two days later she accepted a plea deal, negating the need for a jury trial.
But Landgraf, armed with emails and documents that showed a team of county workers campaigning on taxpayer time, introduced the John Doe-related evidence through a 75-slide PowerPoint presentation at Rindfleisch’s sentencing hearing.
That’s when the governor’s connection to the so-called “campaign group” came to light.
According to the prosecution, the campaign group included Walker; Keith Gilkes, Walker’s then-campaign chief of staff; campaign spokeswoman Jill Bader; and campaign adviser R.J. Johnson.
It also included top county aides to Walker, including Rindfleisch.
“I don’t know where this case is headed, but it’s not an uncommon tactic for the prosecution to go after low-level individuals and work their way up the ladder,” Verhoff says. “It is how prosecutors go after drug cases. They pinch the low-level dealers and get them to flip on the next person up the chain.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Landgraf would not comment on whether Walker was a target of the John Doe investigation.
Landgraf’s PowerPoint presentation prompted the state Democratic Party to call on Walker to answer 14 questions that attempt to dig even further into the governor's knowledge and participation into what now has been ruled illegal campaigning by staffers on taxpayers time.
“You can’t look at the Milwaukee County docket without seeing a case, sentencing hearing or trial tied to Scott Walker,” Zielinski says. “His fingerprints are all over everything. The extent to which they were running this (campaign operation) out of his county executive office is shocking.”
On Tuesday, Tom Evenson, a Walker campaign spokesman, repeated the same line he gave reporters Monday, saying the governor “continues to fully cooperate with authorities and is not a target of the investigation.”
“It is a common and routine procedure for campaign staff and an elected official's staff to discuss matters involving the elected official they mutually serve,” said Evenson in an emailed response. “These frivolous attacks have no factual basis.”
To date, Rindfleisch is the fourth person convicted as a result of the John Doe investigation.
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