The news today is from the courtroom, where the judge in the John Doe squeezed the information out of Tim Russell’s lawyer. I’m going to get in trouble for copying this, but I’ll do it almost in its entirety nonetheless. From Esquire:
Lon Robinson sat down at the defendant’s table in Room 634 of the stunningly un-air-conditioned Milwaukee County Courthouse with Waupun already in his eyes. He was a junkie who’d stolen an old lady’s checks from her mailbox, clumsily erased the payee’s name, and replaced it with his own. He got away with it once, for eight bucks. But then he’d gone back to the same bank, twice, for over a grand each time. He’d even helpfully supplied his fingerprints to the bank officer who, neither having been born a fool nor worked hard to become one in later life, called the cops. So Lon Robinson sat in Judge David Hansher’s courtroom and got himself sent away for two years for what Hansher kept calling, with admirable understatement, “a crime that was truly lacking in sophistication.”
(While reading Robinson the list of rights he would surrender with his guilty plea, Hansher explained that Robinson would lose the right “to vote in any election… or any recall election.” This got something of a laugh from the assembled suits. Robinson didn’t seem to get the joke.)
Then, the next defendant got up. The crimes with which is charged are a lot of things, including hilariously venal and awfully illustrative of the kind of governance of which Wisconsin has a chance to rid itself here on Tuesday. But unsophisticated, they are not. The reason you know they’re not is that Tim Russell, his lawyer, the prosecutors, and Judge Hansher immediately went into chambers to talk while, outside Room 634, on the benches in the hall, all the other defendants sweltered and waited their turn. While it may be true, as Lenny Bruce once said, that in the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls, but, even in the halls, there are two different justice systems. You and your drug case will have to wait an hour or so, because an important guy is inside giving up the governor. Maybe.
It is no exaggeration to say that, without Tim Russell, Scott Walker would just be another Marquette drop-out working nights in Wauwatosa. Russell was a strange mixture of Gordon Liddy and H.R. Haldeman to Walker’s Nixon. Russell used to brag to the state’s Democrats about stealing yard signs and knocking down banners. (Walker always has had a sweet tooth for this kind of thing; he got disciplined by the university for dirty tricks when he was running for student government at Marquette.) It was Russell who used to poke political opponents in the chest and yell at them, “Where will you be in two years?” That’s an interesting question right now for Tim Russell, because it is entirely possible that he’ll be sharing a cell block with Lon Robinson.
At the same time, Russell was a close political confidante as Walker rose to be Milwaukee county executive and then into the state capitol in Madison. Walker promoted Russell eight times during Walker’s time as county executive. He kept promoting him even though, in 1993, Russell got bounced from the state’s Housing And Economic Development Office for improperly billing the state for over $1100 in expenses, and for providing false information to investigators. They stayed close; at one point, Russell was the only person working for Walker’s website. When Walker was elected governor, he named Russell to be his deputy chief of staff. Then, last year, Walker mysteriously removed Operation Freedom — a fund set up to provide for the orphans of Wisconsinites killed in Afghanistan and Iraq — from the supervision of the American Legion, and handed it over to Tim Russell. This, the prosecutors said, was tantamount to letting Lon Robinson rummage through the state payroll department.
As a kind of adjunct element of the sprawling John Doe investigation into Walker’s behavior as county executive, an investigation that already has produced almost 20 indictments and three convictions, the state has charged Russell with embezzling over $20,000 from the Operation Freedom accounts. In essence, he took money that was meant to take the children of the war dead to the zoo and took himself to the Caribbean and to Hawaii. If convicted, Russell is looking at 10 years in prison and $50,000 worth of fines. Courthouse sources say that the prosecutors are using these charges — on which Russell appears to be in serious danger of being convicted — to leverage testimony from him about what he knows regarding Walker and the John Doe investigation, which concerns Walker’s alleged use of his job as county executive for campaign and other political purposes. What Russell knows is presumed to be considerable and more than a few people around the case believe that, if Russell should flip on his boss, that would pretty much be the ballgame. Walker would have to start drawing on the $100,000 he’s got in his criminal defense fund. There is nothing that Scott Walker has done that Tim Russell doesn’t know about.
(Russell’s attorney, former Republican assistant district attorney Dennis Krueger, has thus far fruitlessly argued that the the charges against his client be dismissed on the grounds that they go beyond the scope of the John Doe investigation.)
The John Doe investigation has been the elephant in the room of the recall election ever since it was launched. Democratic candidate Tom Barrett has been hammering at it over the past two weeks, and he appears to be getting some people to notice the possibility that Walker could win the recall and end up indicted anyway. The most significant turn of events came last week, on May 31, just as Walker and Barrett were preparing to debate that night, when Daniel Bice, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter who’s been an absolute bulldog on this investigation, published a damaging piece in which Bice said that, contrary to Walker’s repeated insistence that he had called for the John Doe investigation himself, the investigators on the case opened the investigation themselves after two years of stonewalling by Walker and his administration. Bice’s story was based on a document filed with the court in the Russell case.
The conference in chambers lasted a little more than an hour. Once court resumed, Judge Hansher ruled that the trial itself would not begin until September, which, he said, would give the publicity surrounding the recall election a chance to die down, and ensure that Russell got a fair and impartial jury. Then, Hansher began talking about the document that had somehow gotten into the hands of Daniel Bice. “In chambers,” the judge said, “Mr. Krueger admitted that he had given the material to Mr. Bice and that he had done so with his client’s consent. Is that true?”
“Yes,” said Dennis Krueger.
That got heads snapping to attention. Tim Russell’s lawyer — and, therefore, Tim Russell — had made public damaging information about Scott Walker and undermined the whole ethical basis of the governor’s response to charges that he had misused his public office for private gain. It is not unreasonable to assume that this either was a warning shot — take care of me or you’re going down, too — or evidence that Russell already has rolled. (Sources close to the case say that Russell already has given the prosecutors some information, but that it was more in the realm of confirmation of knowledge that the prosecutors already had obtained from other cooperating witnesses.) In either case, the John Doe investigation — and the attendant case of Tim Russell — has gone spiraling into hyperdrive. It may not materially affect the election either way, but, no matter what happens on Tuesday, Scott Walker is going to wake up Wednesday feeling just a little bit like Lon Robinson.
As he and Russell quick-stepped down the hall, one step ahead of the cameras, attorney Krueger kept saying, over and again, that “This was a public document. It was open to anyone who wanted to see it.” Which does not explain why Krueger found it necessary to slip it to the one reporter whose work has so bedeviled the Walker campaign, and on morning of a debate between the governor and his opponent. The hall fell silent again. Less sophisticated criminals sat, patiently waiting their turns.
No, it isn’t a Democrat who made up stuff about Scott Walker. It’s his trusted aide who testified, and will be testifying later. Yeah, it looks more and more like the indictment of Scott Walker is only a matter of time.