As published on the New York Times.
Even as Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin looks ahead to 2016 and a possible presidential bid, his political past as Milwaukee County executive has come back to haunt him.
A release of 27,000 emails and hundreds of court documents on Wednesday portrays Mr. Walker, a Republican, as having presided over an office where aides used personal computers and email to conceal that they were mixing government and campaign business. The conduct of campaign work on government time led to the criminal convictions of two aides and several others. Mr. Walker, who has for years denied wrongdoing, was never charged.
The messages showed how actively Mr. Walker’s campaign coordinated with county workers in 2009 and 2010, when he was running for governor. They shared emails about the proper wording of campaign news releases. They exchanged emails on county time promoting a birthday fund-raising event for the campaign.
Some used private email accounts to communicate even, apparently, with Mr. Walker, according to an email from the county’s administrative director, who at one point advised a colleague to do the same, adding imprecisely, “Consider youself now in the ‘inner circle.’ ” And plans for a daily conference call, the newly released emails show, included members from both his campaign for governor and his county executive staff.
In one message to campaign staffers and county executive workers, Mr. Walker’s chief of staff at the time, Thomas Nardelli, wrote that Mr. Walker wished to hold the 8 a.m. calls
“to review events of the day or of a previous or future day, so we can better coordinate sound, timely responses, so we all know what the others are doing.”
As the messages were made public, national Democratic groups tried to draw comparisons to Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, another possible Republican presidential candidate, and the George Washington Bridge scandal. Republicans dismissed the matter as largely political gamesmanship, noting that prosecutors had chosen not to charge Mr. Walker with any crimes though they long had access to the documents.
A spokesman for Mr. Walker, who is seeking re-election to a second term as governor this fall, said Wednesday that the governor remained focused on creating jobs and lowering taxes for Wisconsin families, not on the newly public messages from an investigation that was, officials in Wisconsin say, completed last year.
“The recently released communications of a county staffer from several years ago are part of a legal process that was completed early last year,” said Jonathan Wetzel, the spokesman. “Governor Walker is confident that during that legal process, these communications were thoroughly reviewed by the authorities.”
Since at least 2011, residents had been aware of the investigation into claims of political work being done on county time in the executive’s office. Aside from convictions against six people, though, much has remained unknown, largely because of the nature of the criminal inquiry, in Wisconsin called a “John Doe investigation,” in which almost no one connected to the cases is legally permitted to speak of it.
The newly released emails as well as hundreds of previously sealed court documents were part of a case involving Kelly M. Rindfleisch, who was Mr. Walker’s deputy chief of staff in the county executive’s office and who pleaded guilty in 2012 to one count of felony misconduct in public office after being accused of performing political work for a lieutenant governor hopeful on county time.
Ms. Rindfleisch had sought to keep the documents sealed as she appealed her conviction, but after objections by various news organizations, including The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a judge ruled this month that full disclosure was appropriate now that the investigation had ended.