What follows is part six in an ongoing series of guest blogs by Graeme Zielinski, who is reporting on the latest developments in the Milwaukee County John Doe investigation of Scott Walker. In this report, Zielinski shares his 6 favorite emails from the collection of records released recently.
Two weeks ago and a day, some of the records sealed in the criminal corruption probe of Scott Walker were released. The vast many of them remain under a John Doe secrecy order. The pitiful few that were released involve Walker’s actions following the collapse of a Milwaukee County structure that killed a 15-year-old boy in the summer of 2010. Here’s my Top 5 emails of this batch.
1. The Coverup Begins
The sender: Keith Gilkes, Scott Walker’s campaign manager, who was his transition manager as governor.
The recipients: Tim Russell, longtime Walker political hatchet man given the sinecure of the Milwaukee County Housing department. Before his arrest, he expected a job, along with his boyfriend, in the Walker administration He’s now in prison for stealing from veterans in a scheme that benefited Walker politically; Kelly Riendfleisch, another longtime Republican operative given a policy job, but convicted of doing illegal political work; Cindy Archer, the head of the Department of Administrative Services under Scott Walker whose house was raided by the FBI in 2011 and who, apparently as payback for her non-cooperation with prosecutors, was recently given a $102K per-year-job in the state Public Defender’s office; Jill Bader, a Southerner who was Walker’s campaign flak; Jim Villa, a longtime Walker hack with no ties to Milwaukee County at the time; R.J Johnson, a top Republican campaign consultant with no official ties to Milwaukee County.
The backstory: June of 2010 is pivotal for the Scott Walker campaign. Oddball challenger Mark Neumann is rising in the polls for the Republican nomination for governor, and Walker is reeling in the midst of scandals in his Milwaukee County offices. In the early afternoon of June 24th, another disaster: the facade of the O’Donnell Park’s parking garage collapses and kills a 15-year-old boy. In short order, Walker illegally fuses his campaign team with county workers ostensibly in the service of taxpayers, but actually doing partisan work on the public dime. The subsequent John Doe investigation nets six convictions-and comes close to Walker himself. Meanwhile, just moments after the collapse, it is clear that Walker, working through his campaign manager, will be masterminding a political coverup to the tragedy, animated entirely by a desire to cover Walker’s ass. It’s also clear that Tea Party asshole Sheriff David Clarke, who took over the investigation from the Milwaukee Police Department, was going to be used as a political asset by the cabal. It is legally repugnant that Gilkes is commanding county staff.
The message: “Scott is down at the scene receiving briefing and should be attached at the hip with Sheriff Clarke.
“He needs to lead and be on top of the entire situation. ALL of us need to back him up and ensure he is on top of the entire situation – Scott needs to be front and center for the media.
“His response will be the focal point of (everything.”
2. Breakfast is On!
The sender: Gilkes
The recipients: Rindfleisch, Archer, Bader, Russell, Walker, Johnson. New to the party are John Hiller, Walker’s longtime campaign treasurer, and Tom Nardellie, Walker’s actual county chief of staff who is hilariously and tellingly omitted from many of the O’Donnell Park emails (and is the butt of many jokes, even as he advises ethical conduct and legal behavior in the face of the political machinations of hacks like Gilkes, Villa, Bader and others).
The time: Thursday, June 24, 7:47 p.m.
The backstory: To coordinate an illegal political response to the O’Donnell Park collapse, Walker engineers breakfast meetings (that later take place during office hours) including people who have no business in any legal or practical sense in dealing with what should be a technical and procedural response to a tragedy that killed a 15-year-old boy. For instance, why does John Hiller, Walker’s campaign treasurer dating back to the 1990s and his time in the Assembly, need to know about Open Records Requests filed by the local press? Why does the head of Walker’s housing department, longtime political hatchet man Tim Russell, now imprisoned, need to be involved in what plainly should be parks or maintenance business? Before setting up the meeting, Gilkes gives Reindfleisch, since convicted of illegal political work on Walker’s behalf, clear instructions to monitor and drive the coverup. The message isn’t that sexy (I find the subject line funnier), but again, the fact that Walker is working through his campaign to deal with an urgent matter of public safety is disgusting (and plainly illegal).
The subject line: “Breakfast is on Tomorrow AM!”
3. Cindy Archer Does the Dirty Work
The sender: Cindy Archer
The time: July 8, 8:56 a.m.
The recipients: Bader, Villa, Rindfleisch, Gilkes, Walker Johnson, Rusell, Nardelli.
The backstory: Walker is terrified of the narrative that his poor administration of Milwaukee County, specifically the hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance to county buildings, and cuts in inspections and engineering services, contributed to the collapse. His political team begins to spew fog and actively obstruct the efforts of journalists to get to the heart of the matter. Instead of saying, “Let the investigation go where it goes,” the Walker political cabal is intent on covering up for their boss. In this email, Archer remarkably suggests delaying Open Records requests subject to the law. In another email thread, Nardelli actually calls out the political response, but to no avail.
The message: “As you know we are getting numerous open records requests from (the Democratic Party of Wisconsin) and (the Mark Neumann) campaign….As noted below we were just notified that the DPW wants to pay to get the information they are after so we will begin pulling it together. Since this is from DPW, I thought you should be aware of it…”
“Our process is that we set up a group to review all of the request(s) related to sensitive topics…The group consists of (County Executive’s Office, Corp(oration) Counsel and myself…”
4. Tom Nardelli Calls Bullshit on Walker, Archer et al
The sender: Tom Nardelli
The time: July 8, 10:49 a.m.
The recipients: Rindfliesch, Walker and Archer; Walker flak Fran McLaughlin, who now works for David Clarke and who in the emails has a cute email handle-”GOPFran, Also included for one of the first times is Cheryl Berdan, a current Walker flunky out of Milwaukee who was actually employed by Milwaukee County at the time (unlike most of the other political hacks getting these emails).
The backstory: Nardelli is losing his flipping mind seeing Walker, Gilkes, Archer et al engaging in illegal and plainly political responses to Open Records requests in the wake of the O’Donnell Park tragedy. He’s clearly marginalized and may even be covering his ass for future prosecutions. He is no dummy and, oddly, comes off as the least snake-like in this den of snakes. In the chain started by Archer above, Nardelli has removed all but actual county staff after political hacks said that they could get away with foot-dragging on requests because Gilkes heard that Walker’s potential gubernatorial rival Tom Barrett had taken long on some of his Open Records requests Nardelli calls bullshit. Hey, he tried.
“Just in case anyone cares what I think as (chief of staff), let me assure you that all Open Records Requests will be handled as they have always be handled. Timely, Courteously, and with the detail Corporation Counsel requires both upon receipt and upon release.
“This should not and will not be about how anyone else handles their requests. This should never have been raised s having anything to do with outside influences. We don’t mind sharing information about the receipt of a request or our response, but that is all.
“Any questions? Direct them to me in this office only!
“Chief of Staff (remember?)”
5. Scott Walker as Junior Copy Editor
The sender: Scott K. Walker
The recipients: Nardelli, Rindfleisch and GopFran.
The time: July 8, 6:42 p.m.
The backstory: In an email chain begun by his loyal flak Fran, Walker is seen adroitly spinning his story by personally editing the headline of a press release outlining cosmetic steps taken by his administration after the O’Donnell Park collapse. A raft of news stories have detailed how Walker’s demolition of Milwaukee County government may have contributed to the park collapse. Mark Neumann, who will literally do almost anything to get elected, had begun using the death of a 15-year-old boy to political ends. In the original version of the press release, Fran fawningly writes, “WALKER TAKES PRECAUTIONS ON O’DONNELL PARKING STRUCTURE.” Pretty good, but not quite right. Don’t want to point to the crass politics behind the release. Walker, at 6:18 p.m. writes fran that, “Headline should be County and not Walker.” Then, a few minutes later, in full Machiavelli mode….
The message: “Actually, headline should be:
“COUNTY REMOVES CONCRETE PANEL FROM PARKING STRUCTURE AT O’DONNELL PARK.”
6. Disgusting, Indeed
The sender: “Scott Walker.”
The recipients: GopFran, Nardelli, Rindfleisch, Gilkes, Bader, R.J. Johnson
The time: July 20, 4:37 p.m.
The backstory: Walker is scrambling to respond to a reporter from a trade publication in St. Paul, Minn (an important swing market). In an earlier interview, he spun his massive disinvestment in the county to iterate the spending that DID happen (though at a much lower level), to counter the rising suspicion that his running Milwaukee into the ground was related to the O’Donnell collapse. The reporter followed up with Walker, who has spent the better part of a month in a dishonest political coverup, in which he fused his political operation with County resources, all for his own personal benefit. Some county supervisors were having a march to demand answers to questions on which Walker was stonewalling the public.
The message, so cynical i laugh every time I read it:
“It is disgusting that anyone would use a tragedy for political purposes….”