How is this email not a smoking gun?

I’ve been pretty quiet on “Walkergate,” in part because I haven’t always kept up with every twist and turn of the investigation, and in part because other people do the coverage so well.

But also in part because I am by nature a cautious blogger who likes to see all the pieces before making a conclusion.  All along in this mess, I have been thinking not that now-Governor (then-County Executive) Scott Walker was an evil conniving bastard, but rather that he made some pretty poor choices about whom he surrounded himself with–a bunch of people so utterly devoted to furthering Walker’s career that they would skirt or break the rules to help his cause.

In other words, the Walkergate scandal would end up being reflective of Walker’s bad judgment much more so than Walker’s culpability in any illegal activity.  And I’ve been fine with that; I’ve said all along that Scott Walker is not stupid, but arrogant, and every revelation but one so far fits that narrative.

Here’s the one:

The smoking gun?

This is from the Rindfleisch complaint (pdf).  It’s the email Scott Walker sent from his campaign email account (presumably from his campaign BlackBerry, rather than a county-funded phone) the morning after Darlene Wink resigned her county post when she was outed by Dan Bice for posting pro-Walker comments to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website during the work day.  “Her” is Wink.

That is not the disturbing part for me though.  Nor am I disturbed by the “we can’t get caught again” aspect of the email (as opposed to a more appropriate “no one can do this, it’s illegal” flavor).

Rather, it’s the combination of two things.  One, as Jud Lounsbury has pointed out, is that Walker sent this email to Tim Russell, who was at the time  Director of Housing for Milwaukee County.  Russell, who was being given a direct order here–“no laptops, no websites, no time away during the workday”–had zero supervisory authority over the county employees who are now in trouble for campaigning, Wink and Rindfleisch.  (Indeed, Rindfleisch seems to have been hired–by whom, we don’t know UPDATE: according to the complaint, by Russell himself–expressly to campaign, surprising her actual boss Tom Nardelli when she showed up for her first day of work and claiming later than half of her job was “policy for the campaign.”)

If Russell was not the boss of Wink and Rindfleisch, and instead worked in a completely different building in a completely different department, how did Scott Walker know that Russell was the one to quash the political activity at work?  There is no other plausible explanation other than that Walker was aware of Russell’s role in generating campaign product on work time, and that Walker knew Russell was still organizing that activity.

Bice’s story on Wink does say that Wink was using her own laptop, so there’s a possible out for Walker’s “no laptops” phrase in the email. But here’s the second thing that bugs me about the email:  “no websites.”  It’s been well-documented that “,” a pro-Walker site suspected of having been run by campaign insiders, shut down the same day Bice outed Wink and Scott Walker sent that email.

Walker tells Russell, “no websites,” and disappears?  Come on.

Walker hasn’t been charged with a single thing, and may never be. But even absent charges, how is this email not a smoking gun?  How is this email not damning and damaging?  Contained within it is everything that Walker and his supporters all along have been adamant was not there:  Walker had clear knowledge of campaign activity being done in county facilities on county time before Wink was caught, knew who was running it–Tim Russell–and knew just how far their work went, including the site.

I don’t want to be the one running around claiming conspiracy and cover-up and dancing like my hair’s on fire.  I’m not that guy, and I’ve never been that guy.  But until and unless someone can find a simpler, more Occam’s Razor-y explanation of that email that doesn’t leave Walker complicit in the illegal activities of the people working 25 feet away from him all day every day, exchanging emails during the workday with his top campaign staff, then I guess I am that guy.

This email should end Walker’s career.  Now.


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25 thoughts on “How is this email not a smoking gun?

    1. The difference between Walker and Nixon is that while he was a crook, Nixon was a pretty effective president. Walker on the other hand has been a pretty ineffective governor, and has only been successful at lining the pockets of his corporate masters… I miss Tricky Dick.

      1. Another difference is that while Nixon was a criminal, strictly speaking he was not a “crook.” He was after power; he wasn’t seeking to line his pockets as well.

        Walker, on the other hand, is a flat-out crook.

  1. Take a look at the prescient observations by commenter mollycat over at the Bice outing column:

    “The entire Walker staff is corrupt and using county time to run for Governor. He never has really managed and has always looked to either hold his job or run for the next job. Lack of college degree and no real life experience and this is what you get. There should be a full investigation of Walker and his staff as to what is done on county time. His upcoming motorcycle ride on the public’s dime is nothing but a campaign ride as it has been for years. Also look into his “Operation Freedom” event at the Zoo that is entirely funded by public money and costs the Zoo hundred’s of thousands of dollars.”

  2. The Walkerites will support him up until the day he’s caught in flagrante delicto (not to be confused with Dick Morris’ “lick toe”) with a live man or dead woman.

    1. I believe most of them will support him even after that. These people just close their eyes to everything.

  3. Bet you thought you’d never hear me say “In Walker’s defense,” but here goes.

    Until other evidence shows up, couldn’t Walker use the defense that he had no idea that Russell had helped Wink? He could’ve learned about it all after Bice’s story appeared and Wink quit. He could’ve sent the same sort of “no web sites, no laptops” to his staff, but it would not necessarily need to be part of any of the criminal complaints we’ve seen so far.

    For this to be plausible, we’d need to believe that Walker never caught wind of the way Wink and Rindfleisch were spending so much of their day on non-County tasks on non-County devices. Somehow so many people close to him were able to do GOP business without revealing their methods to him or his chief of staff. Somehow Dan Bice got wind of it before Scott Walker ever did. Who is ready to believe that?

    Apart from the big open-records request that Supervisor Weishan made to Walker’s office for all the browser records (after Wink quit), Weishan also once earlier requested the phone bills from Walker’s cell phone, to see how he might’ve been communicating with real estate developers on a deal. Walker refused to surrender his records, saying he paid for his cell phone on his own dime. This is an interesting way to avoid openness. Certainly he was sometimes conducting County business on his cell phone. If the cell phone was paid by the County, the records would be open. Why weren’t his records open if he was using the phone for County business?

    1. The trouble is that Russell was not mentioned in the original Bice story. For your theory to be plausible, Walker would have had to have learned from Wink–he talked to her the night before this email–or someone else in the campaign who would have had to lay out the whole sordid affair.

      At which point any rational manager’s response would have been wholesale firings.

      Remember, Russell was not on the campaign staff, but rather a county employee at this time.

  4. Looks Like Their are really only 2 Options for Walker’s Role in this Scandal

    A- Walker=Crook
    B-Walker= Really Stupid

    Will The Media find out which is the Case ?

  5. @John Foust
    Could he claim not knowing when he used the campaign server or whatever it was to tell Russell “no more laptops”? That would seem to indicate that he did know. Am I missing something?

  6. It would have been much smarter for Walker to call Russell and ask to speak to him privately rather than to put this message into an email. He just couldn’t conceive that someone might see his emails. He’s very poor at planning ahead, gaming out the potential for failure. Every action he’s taken has blown up in ways he wasn’t capable imagining. It’s one of the traits of a sociopath. They are impulsive and believe they are smarter than everyone else even when they aren’t.

    The Walker email collection may turn out to be a classic.

  7. Doesn’t this just show that Walker STOPPED that activity once he found out about it? What are we missing Mr. Folkblum?

    1. A, check the spelling on my nom de blog, fella.

      2, yes, Walker put the kibosh on the activity. But the email clearly suggests that he knew about it before Bice’s story, which is the reason why this email is such a big deal. He knew that Russell was the one to contact to shut all this down, and Russell was not in Bice’s story at all. He knew it was more than just Wink’s comments on jsonline but lots of emails and website maintenance.

      iii, “what did he know and when did he know it” is a pretty tepid cliche, but until there’s equally compelling evidence that this email is not actually damning, that’s the question. This email is just flat damning.

  8. PC…what you are missing is if Walker didn’t know about and only found out after Wink resigned don’t you think he would have fired the law breakers? Or discipline them in some way? His response was one I would expect from someone who wasn’t surprised by what Wink was doing.

  9. There seems to be a simple answer: The events in the May 14th article describe Ms. Wink’s resignation on May 13th: “Just hours after being interviewed by No Quarter on Thursday, Wink – vice chairwoman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party – abruptly resigned her job in Walker’s office.” In other words, there’s a news lag. Walker was close to the news happening in real time – he talked to Ms. Wink on the night of May 13th – the day before the article. Mystery solved!

    1. When Walker sent that email, yes, there was a lag.

      But if he had zero knowledge before Wink’s resignation, you’re saying that when he sent that email, he had learned in the lag (because this was not in Bice’s article) that 1) Russell was running this show; 2) the show involved more people than just Wink; 3) the show involved more than just comments on jsonline, including websites and campaign emails; and 4) that further revelations in the press would be devastating.

      Moreover, you’re saying that when Walker learned of this shadow campaign being run from his own office (Russell’s office, which became Rindfleisch’s office, was literally two doors down from Walker’s), he did NOTHING but send an email. Russell wasn’t fired. Rindfleisch wasn’t fired. There were no shakeups in his campaign or Davis’s.

      Your theory–that this email was Walker’s way of dealing with the problem–makes him look like a fool. At the very least, he’s incompetent and hid the problems in his office–literally in his office.

      1. Your inputing knowledge to Walker – knowledge of a shadow government – that hasn’t been alleged by the DA – which would’ve resulted in charges against Walker. It seems, at the moment at least, that the recall folks would like to connect the dots in ways which more resemble wishful thinking than something that would stand up in a court of law. This kind of conjecture will likely alienate independent voters.

        1. oopps, shadow campaign (not shadow govt) – my mistake. It just seems like any evidence of Walker culpability would have come out after those 20 months of investigation – which was longer than the Watergate Special prosecutor investigation which commenced in May 1973 and culminated Nixon’s resignation in Aug 1974.

        2. First, the investigation is ongoing, and second, mere knowledge of a shadow campaign is not necessarily a chargeable offense.

          It does say something about the way Walker ran both his office and his campaign, though.

          And, third, I’m not imputing knowledge. The evidence of that knowledge is right there in the email. If Walker didn’t know about the shadow campaign, then how did he know to email the person running it to tell him to shut that shadow campaign down?

      2. Yes, until other evidence surfaces, I think Walker could play dumb and claim he didn’t know about any of it until Wink resigned and spelled it out for him.

        At the post-Wink investigation progressed, were all Walker office computers seized and inspected?

  10. Pretty easy, actually… Walker talks to Wink, Wink tells Walker “It’s not fair I should take the heat for this, I’m not the only one doing it, there are a whole bunch of people …” and lays it out.

    Walker then decides (after much considering of the “ethics” of the matter”) that it’s potentially a political disaster if he doesn’t do something. Doesn’t really WANT to stop it, but needs political cover.

    So he does…. he sends an email… He’s now covered – they’re operating against orders.

    End of problem.

    1. Except, if he was just trying to cover his butt, he would (presumably) offer up something a little more convincing to potential investigators than “We can’t afford another story like this one!” That reeks of “Crap, we’ve been discovered, now cover up as best we can.” If he wanted to cover himself, he would issue more of a directive: “Absolutely no laptops or other issued devices to be used on county time…” He’s a lying bastard, period.

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