It is not a good day for Republican Governors and potential 2016 GOP Presidential nominees Chris Christie and Scott Walker. Both men are making news today, and not in a good way.
Wisconsin's Walker is at the center of what state prosecutors described as an extensive "criminal scheme" to illegally coordinate his 2012 recall campaign effort with about a dozen "conservative" political action committees, according to documents unsealed today in the Badger State.
And New Jersey's Christie is, according to another report today, said to be the ultimate target of federal prosecutors in a sprawling conspiracy case that appears to include all manner of improprieties --- not only limited to the infamous George Washington Bridge closure, but branching out from it to a number of his top political appointees and cronies who are reportedly said to face "near-certain indictment"...
The WI Walker Conspiracy
In the unsealed Walker documents, "prosecutors lay out what they call an extensive 'criminal scheme' to bypass state election laws by Walker, his campaign and two top Republican political operatives --- R.J. Johnson and Deborah Jordahl," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports today.
"The governor and his close confidants helped raise money and control spending through 12 conservative groups during the recall elections, according to the prosecutors' filings," the paper explains. "The documents include an excerpt from an email in which Walker tells Karl Rove, former top adviser to President George W. Bush, that Johnson would lead the coordination campaign."
The defense by the 12 so-called "conservative groups", makes what once might have been regarded as a mockery of campaign laws, by suggesting that their coordination with the Walker campaign was perfectly legal because the work they claim to have done was not "express advocacy" for or against Walker.
"The Wisconsin Club for Growth maintains that prohibition [against coordination] does not apply to them and other conservative groups because they did not run ads explicitly telling people how to vote. Their efforts praised Walker and criticized his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, but escaped regulation because they did not use the phrases 'vote for' and 'vote against,' they argue," according to the Journal Sentinel.
While the idea seems absurd on its face, that is what much of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent rulings undercutting campaign finance law are built upon. Saying "vote for candidate X!," meets the bar for certain regulations, while spending millions of dollars on TV and radio ads and other such efforts that say "Candidate X is simply awesome and Candidate Y totally sucks!," is just "free speech" that can't be subject to any regulatory laws, they argue.
"I am persuaded the statutes only prohibit coordination by candidates and independent organizations for a political purpose, and political purpose, with one minor exception not relevant here...requires express advocacy," state Reserve Judge Gregory Peterson said in an order that was part of today's unsealed documents. "There is no evidence of express advocacy."
State prosecutors are challenging the court's ruling in that ongoing case.
UPDATE 6/25/2014: On this week's BradCast, we discussed how the Scott Walker case described above could have a much bigger effect on the entire country than it seems, much bugger than Scott Walker himself, depending on the way it all goes. Listen to my interview with Brendan Fischer, generous counsel at the Center for Media and Democracy, on that matter right here...
The NJ Christie Conspiracy
Meanwhile, things look even worse for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is now reported to be the hard target of federal prosecutors, according to "Two sources with intimate knowledge" of U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman's case in the sprawling George Washington Bridge closure investigation.
According to Esquire's exclusive today, top Christie cronies, including former NY/NJ Port Authority Board of Commissioners Chair and former NJ state Attorney General David Sampson, former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni and Port Authority political appointee David Wildstein "all face near-certain indictment and are being pressed to hand up Christie, as is the governor's former chief counsel, Charlie McKenna."
The magazine reports that federal charges in the bridge closure case could include "both intentional interference in interstate commerce and --- in the cover-up that ensued --- obstruction of justice." But that appears to be just the tip of the Jersey iceberg from which the federal prosecution is now able to choose.
"Don't underestimate what Wildstein has on Christie," once source tells Esquire. "And Wildstein and Baroni have both turned on Samson. If Samson doesn't give Fishman Christie, Samson is toast."
As to Samson, who is alleged to have directed millions of dollars of state contracts to his former law firm, one of the magazine's sources says, "They've got him cold...He got sloppy, arrogant, and greedy. Samson will want a deal. This way, he'd get one or two years. He'd have a future on the other side. He won't want to die in jail."
"But Fishman is really focused on Christie," says one source. "Ultimately, he believes he'll get to the governor."
Both Walker and Christie, particularly the latter, were once believed to be viable candidates for the 2016 Republican nomination for President. Each of them, apparently, still thinks they are.
Given the reported circumstances of the cases against each of them, however, that seems unlikely, even without federal or state charges, given that questions about the conspiracies they are both alleged to have been a part of would almost certainly dog them on the campaign trail --- if not in the GOP primary, then certainly as their party's nominee, where the last thing Republicans need to be doing is playing defense against broad, criminal conspiracies, and all the heavy baggage that come with them.
In Christie's case, Esquire asserts, "The safest bet that is obvious: there's no future for Chris Christie in the White House. The Big House is a safer bet, by far."