Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning
Wisconsin's embattled Governor Scott Walker (R) will almost certainly face a recall election soon, but he is not - repeat - not a target of an ongoing criminal investigation in Milwaukee County...even though last month he hired two criminal defense attorneys to represent him and, on Friday, he announced the creation of an official legal defense fund, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Daniel Bice.
The no-uncertain-terms denial about his status in the criminal probe comes from Walker spokeswoman Ciara Matthews who took pains to note on Friday, as the creation of his legal defense fund was announced: "We reiterate that Gov. Walker has been told that he is not a target of this investigation."
On the other hand, state law only allows for such funds to be created under certain circumstances. Bice notes that according to the state's Government Accountability Board [PDF], "Wisconsin Statutes permit a state government official who is being investigated for or charged with a violation of campaign finance laws or prohibited election practices to establish a 'legal defense fund' for expenditures supporting or defending the candidate while that person is being investigated for, or charged with, or convicted of a violation of those chapters."
So who is telling the truth? There's at least one person who may have an inside track to the Milwaukee prosecutors' long-time investigation, in which four top officials of Walker's have already been snagged, and that insider suggests Walker is likely in trouble...
Last month, after dissecting the allegations contained in a 51-page criminal complaint [PDF] filed in late January by Milwaukee County District Attorney John T. Chisholm against Kelly M. Rindfleisch, Walker's former Deputy Chief of Staff, we reported that prosecutors are likely to be closing in on Walker himself.
The legal documents reveal that prosecutors are painstakingly examining evidence that may well place the Governor at the center of a criminal conspiracy to illegally utilize employees within the Milwaukee County Executive Office, where he served before becoming Governor in 2010, in order to engage in fundraising and campaign activities on behalf of "Friends of Scott Walker" and others. The activities appear to have taken place during office hours and at the expense of Milwaukee taxpayers, a crime which the state of Wisconsin has a history of taking very seriously.
The county prosecutors' investigation is formally labeled the "John Doe" investigation, and has subsequently been dubbed "Walkergate" by the WI Democratic Party. So far, it has not only uncovered a secret, wireless email system routinely used by select insiders of Walker's Milwaukee County Executive administration --- by Rindfleisch from a desk within 25 feet of Walker's office --- but has also unearthed what many have dubbed a "smoking gun" email that could be key to implicating Walker himself.
As we detailed in our February report, the 5/14/10 missive from County Executive Walker to his former Deputy Chief of Staff Tim Russell, and another email sent by Rindfleisch to Russell just ten minutes later, suggest that the secret email system was shut down at Walker's direction following public disclosure that another Walker aide, Darlene Wink, had illegally engaged in political activities during office hours. Wink has since been charged and is said to be cooperating with prosecutors.
While there have been no new allegations in the case publicly disclosed by prosecutors since the Rindfleisch complaint was filed last month, Walker's creation of a legal defense fund may be a tacit admission that he is, indeed, now an official "target" of the John Doe investigation.
The Journal Sentinel cites state election attorneys who note that such funds may only be created by those being either investigated, charged or convicted. But a statement from one of those attorneys, in particular, may be even more telling.
According to Michael Maistelman, the WI election attorney representing Walker's former Deputy Chief of Staff Russell, "The only way you can set that up is if you are under investigation or being prosecuted."
"One can only draw the conclusion that either one of those two things is happening," he says.
Maistelman's insight here, as Russell's attorney, is key. His willingness to publicly conclude on record that Walker is likely a target of the investigation may suggest that Walker's former Deputy Chief of Staff is now maneuvering to cut a deal with prosecutors to reduce the very significant charges he now faces in exchange for information that could, potentially, deliver an air-tight case against Walker to the Milwaukee County prosecutors.
Nonetheless, on Friday, Walker described his creation of the legal defense fund this way: "For nearly two years, Milwaukee County officials have been examining issues related to former employees of the County. I have repeatedly pledged my cooperation with that inquiry. ... To fulfill my commitment, I have today formed a legal fund to pay for the expenses incurred in cooperating with the inquiry. The fund will operate in accordance with the Wisconsin law authorizing these accounts, which was passed almost thirty years ago."
This could get interesting. Stay tuned...
Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). Follow him on Twitter: @Cann4ing.