On Tuesday, March 20, 2012, former Deputy Chief of Staff in the office of then County Executive Scott Walker, Kelly Rindfleisch, pleaded not guilty to 4 counts of Misconduct in Public Office. All of the charges are Class I Felonies carrying fines up to $10,000 and 3.5 years in prison. Prosecutors allege that Rindfleisch was working for the campaign of Brett Davis, who was running for Lt. Governor, on a secret email network, while at work in the County Executives office. Investigators allege that Brett Davis, then a Wisconsin State Assemblyman, was the preferred candidate for Lt. Governor within the Friends of Scott Walker campaign. Several campaign staffers indicated this in testimony before the John Doe judge. According to the criminal complaint, the secret network was purchased, set-up, and paid for by long time Walker aide Timothy Russell. The complaint also states that it was Russell who hired Rindfleisch in July of 2010.
A recent report on the unfolding John Doe investigation in Milwaukee County on the Brad Blog, brought out an interesting fact first reported by Wisconsin Public Radio in February of this year. A fact that was lost on many observers of the investigation surrounding Scott Walker’s days as Milwaukee County Executive: Scott Walker was the only person to sign off on Kelly Rindfleisch’s initial hire and subsequent promotion.
On Jan. 29, 2012, Gov. Scott Walker was interviewed on “Upfront with Mike Gousha” on ABC affiliate WISN in Milwaukee. He was asked directly by host Mike Gousha about the RIndfleisch hiring:
Q: WHO HIRED HER (Kelly Rindfleisch)?
A: She was ultimately hired at at the county as a policy person and eventually became the Deputy chief of Staff, but again,
Q: BUT WHO WOULD MAKE THE HIRING BECAUSE THE THE CHIEF OF STAFF, TOM NARDELLI, DIDN’T KNOW SHE WAS EVEN GOING TO BE HIRED, DIDN’T KNOW HER ‘TIL SHE SHOWED UP FOR WORK.
A: Well i-i-in the original position, but again, it’s one of those where we have positions coming in, uh, for many, many years unrelated to politics or anything else like that and that plugged into a different position.
Kelly Rindfleisch was hired on January 13, 2010, as a Policy Advisor. She was promoted Deputy Chief of Staff in the Milwaukee County Executive’s Office on March 15, 2010. Shortly after Scott Walker was elected as Governor of the State of Wisconsin on November 2, 2010, Ms. Rindfleisch left her employment with Milwaukee County. According to this timeline, detailed in the criminal complaint, her employment lasted a total of 10 months.
Governor Walker was also asked about the on-going investigation.
Q: HAVE YOU TESTIFIED BEFORE THE JOHN DOE JUDGE?
A: Again in all these things I’ve had my campaign cooperate for more than a year, uh, and as you and other folks know in terms of the requirements for that, uh, they basically say there are things you can and can’t talk about if you’re going to continue to cooperate. We fully cooperated, we’ll continue to cooperate, and so in answers like, er, questions like that I really can’t because I’d be in violation of that.
According to WISN this may be the first record of Gov. Walker failing to deny that he has been questioned in the investigation. On Friday, March 9 2012, it was announced that Walker had set up a legal defense fund, something only allowed to him under the law if he is under investigation, indicted or convicted of election law violations. Kevin Kennedy, Director of the Government Accountability Board, has stated that the law prohibits him from commenting on his communications with the Walker Administration concerning the investigation, and that he has been advised by the Board’s attorneys to refrain from commenting on Gov. Walker’s ability to transfer campaign contributions to his legal defense fund.
More details of the secret John Doe investigation emerged after Rindfleisch’s court appearance in a filing by Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf. The relevant content of the document is meant by prosecutors to show that Rindfeisch had lived in Milwaukee County, as required by her employment, in an effort to counter her attorney’s request to have the trial moved to Columbia County. The filing includes whole pages of testimony and text chats separated by ellipses in chronology. Interestingly, prosecutors chose not to redact any of the non-relevant information contained on the pages, including their apparent hand written emphases. Whether or not the filing clearly establishes that Rindfleisch “lived” (as her landlord, long time Walker associate Jim Villa, characterizes her residency) or not will be ruled upon on March 30.
The extraneous content in the court filing, despite the ellipses, contain many insights into the breadth of the investigation and the personalities of some of Scott Walker’s inner circle. In testimony, Jim Villa is asked to refer to “exhibit 929 on page 963″, which contain facsimiles of some of his chats with Rindfleisch. It appears that prosecutors are working with a massive amount of subpenaed material. When asked about his knowledge of Cynthia Archer, prosecutors refer to “communications with individuals within Milwaukee County government” contained in “exhibits that constituted Exhibit 991″. Archer, a former top aide to Walker in the County Executive’s office, later holding a top position at the Department of Administration, had a search warrant served at her near east side Madison home on September 14, 2011. She has been widely credited as an author of Act 10.
Although Cynthia Archer had transitioned from her employment in the Milwaukee County Executive’s office to a high paying position within the administration of Governor Scott Walker, Kelly Rindfleisch and Jim Villa were not so fortunate. Despite their mutual expectations, documented in text messages, neither ended up working in the current administration. The warrant that seized Rindfleisch’s laptop computer was served upon the Office of the Milwaukee County Executive’s office on November 1, 2010, one day before the general election for Governor of Wisconsin. Long time Walker aide Tim Russell apparently shared similar expectations, going so far as to relocate to the Madison area after the election. He too failed to attain any position in the administration after the execution of a search warrant on his home and business in December of 2010.
Russell is featured prominently in the text exchanges. Rindfleisch informs Villa that his access to the County Executive’s Office had been revoked, presumably by Walker’s chief of staff, Tom Nardelli. She notes that the revocation occurs before Russell’s knowledge of it, In a previous series of exchanges, Villas notes Rindfleisch’s lack of historical experience and “gravitas” with the Milwaukee County Board, in her new position as Deputy Chief of Staff, a position previously held by Russell. She concurs, reassuring, “tim will still be very involved”. “THAT concerns me lol”, was Villas’ reply, In fact, Villas was well aware that Russell had failed to gain the Boards confidence in the past. In her criminal complaint, investigators note the extent to which Russell did stay involved. Exactly 10 minutes after receiving a text from Scott Walker instructing, “no laptops, no websites, no time away during the work day, etc.” the complaint notes:
The criminal complaint does not contain a facsimile of the chat session, so there is no indication of who initiated it, although the entire exchange appears to be in the possession of prosecutors. The Journal Sentinel article noted in the complaint exposed that Darlene Wink had been posting partisan statements in the comment section of their newspaper’s website during work hours under the pseudonym “rpmcvp”. At that time she was the R-epublican P-arty of M-ilwaukee C-ounty V-ice P-resident. Wink has since pleaded guilty to charges that she worked on Scott Walker’s Gubernatorial Campaign while working as the Constituents Services Coordinator in the County Executive’s Office. In exchange for no prison time she has agreed to cooperate with investigators. At her plea hearing prosecutors requested sentencing after a 3 month period in which they planned to continue questioning Wink. The court set the date for May 15, 2012, and is not bound by the terms of the plea arrangement
Perhaps the most unfortunate information released by prosecutors are the chats between Rindfleisch and her old friend and co-worker Andrea Boom, current Finance Director at Friends of Scott Walker. Both of their Linked In profiles indicate shared employment at the Wisconsin Association of Health Plans. Boom appears to have been employed there during the text exchanges contained in the complaint. Much of the content concerns contentions within Ms. Boom’s marriage, as well as between professional rivals. In two separate chats, RIndfleisch assures Boom that an acquaintance will be getting “fucked”, In the first she describes an exchange with Jim Villa:
After Boom returns from a vacation in Mexico, she and Rindfleisch continue their planned revenge:
To date, the identity of their target remains a mystery, although before the week was out blogger Chris Liebenthal had scooped the mainstream media not once but twice on his blog Cognitive Dissidence. As later reported by Milwaukee’s Fox News 6, RIndfeisch’s reference to a “Fran” she has correcting campaign press releases appears to be Walker’s communication director at the time, Fran McLaughlin. Another reference made to a female GOP Senator who had apparently offended Scott Walker by donating to the campaign of Democrat Tom Barrett was revealed to be former State Senator Peggy Rosenzweig (R-Wauwatosa).
By Monday March 26, almost a full week after Rindfleisch’s court appearance, additional details of the Prosecution’s court filing were breaking. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the personnel records of 7 former employees of Scott Walker’s County Executive’s office had been subpoenaed. Among those not currently under indictment are Walker’s former chief of staff Tom Nardelli, who Governor Scott Walker credits with initiating the John Doe investigation.
Except for Darlene Wink’s criminal activities, Scott Walker continues to deny any knowledge of wrongdoing by his staff while he was Milwaukee County Executive, stating, “We have an overall policy that people weren’t to use, uh, County resources, County time to be involved in political activities, and that’s one that I enforced when we were made aware of and obviously we enforced in other cases.”
Asked if he has met with the Milwaukee County District Attorney yet, Walker responded, “Again w-wa-once that’ll happen we’ll-w-we ultimately have told them that we would take their lead on what they’d like us to have us explain and the timing of that so as to not interfere with their other activities.” Questioned if he thought the John Doe investigation was politically motivated, he answered, “No I haven’t seen anything, any evidence of that, I mean, I think its people literally trying to get to the truth of the matter and that’s why I’ve been willing to cooperate throughout this process and will continue.”