Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Gov. Walker Did Have Secret Email System

Report shows state business conducted through 300 personal emails, confirms Urban Milwaukee story.

By - Oct 19th, 2015 10:43 am
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Gov. Scott Walker. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Back in February 2014, I wrote a column suggesting Gov. Scott Walker may have had a secret email system.

I spoke to a well-placed source who was a close observer of the governor’s staff in the state Capitol and attended numerous meetings with staff. The source described a system that seemed designed, as Walker’s county executive’s office was, to enable staff to evade public records requests by using personal laptops and gmail accounts.

The source saw “probably half a dozen staff members” who had personal laptops at their desk, including Walker’s personal scheduler Dorothy Moore and his trusted lieutenant Keith Gilkes, both of whom had worked for him at the county. This included gubernatorial staff on the second floor of the East Wing and some in the so-called “Policy Pit” on the first floor below this, where policy analysts for the governor worked.

After my story ran, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Craig Gilbert asked Walker whether he had run a secret email system as governor and he denied it.  (Gilbert naturally didn’t mention where he got the idea that the governor had a private email system.)

But Madison TV station WKOW was leaked some of the private email addresses that Gilkes and other staff used and asked Walker last May 28 whether some of his staff used personal email for business. “I don’t know,” said the governor. “I mean, not that I’m aware of.” Just a few days before the station asked those questions, its reporters had requested all of the emails sent to or from the personal email addresses of Gilkes, former Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch and Walker’s second Chief of Staff Eric Schutt – that contained official state business communications.

“The Governor’s office ultimately sent 980 pages worth of the emails to 27 News on Monday, October 12, nearly fourth months after our initial request,” WKOW reported in its bombshell story. “In the first year of the Walker administration, state business was conducted through more than 300 personal emails.”

“Some of the emails were sent to or from Governor Walker’s own personal address,” the station noted, “but we aren’t sure how many due to the fact that both his personal and official email addresses are redacted in the records.”

To justify this omission, David Rabe, assistant legal counsel to Gov. Walker, wrote to WKOW explaining that “All identifiers of the non-public official direct email address of the Governor have been redacted pursuant to the balancing test. We have determined that the public interest in avoiding potential disruption of the Governor’s ability to carry out his responsibilities without unnecessary interruption if his direct email address became common knowledge outweighs any public interest in disclosure.”

This is reminiscent of Walker’s rejection of other public records requests, whereby his Department of Administration lawyer Gregory Murray explained that sharing emails which disclose the administration’s “internal discussions” would be disruptive and would inhibit the free exchange of ideas, opinions, proposals, and recommendations among those involved in deciding” various policies.

This approach to handling open records influenced legislators who attempted to pass a law restricting open records, which set off a firestorm of protests by the media, public interest groups and even key conservatives. Walker initially refused to discuss whether he had anything to do with the proposed law, but after Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters legislators worked with the governor on the law, Walker admitted this was true.

In an attempt to justify the private email system, Gov. Walker’s Press Secretary Laurel Patrick told WKOW that “Our office also routinely trains staff to forward any emails related to state business to their official accounts for the purpose of retention.”

But the station noted that “dozens of the emails 27 News received were never sent to an official state account until they were forwarded to the government email address of Gov. Walker’s Chief Legal Counsel Brian Hagedorn on July 31, 2015. That date comes four years after the emails were originally written and two months after our open records request. “

During his campaign for the presidency, Walker was one of the most outspoken critics of Democrat Hillary Clinton and her use of personal email to conduct government business while serving as U.S. Secretary of State. This triggered stories nationally by publications like suggesting Walker was in no position to criticize, given that he had a private email system handling government business while serving as Milwaukee County Executive.

Had the national press known that Walker also had a private system as governor, the reaction would have been merciless. By waiting four months to respond to WKOW’s open records request, until well after Walker had dropped out of the presidential race, his administration assured he was safe from such criticism and he continued to attack Clinton and her use of personal emails.

Walker refused an interview to WKOW to discuss his staff’s use of personal email.

Are his staff still using personal email? The source I quoted said that after the John Doe investigation began making requests of information from officials in Madison, there was a meeting where the governor’s staff were told to avoid using gmail for anything political and instead “pick up the phone and call” — and don’t leave any written record. Back in February 2014, when Walker told the Journal Sentinel his administration had no private email system, he apparently used the present tense. It’s not clear whether reporter Craig Gilbert asked whether the administration used to have a private email system.

Update, Monday, 10/19, 11:55 a.m.: I talked to Greg Newmann, capitol bureau chief for WKOW, who did the story for the station. He says he only requested emails for a few Walker staffers, but those revealed other staff replying with personal emails. He is not sure of the total number of staff using personal emails and may do a follow-up story, but it’s at least seven, he said. While he requested all emails over a more than four-year period, Newmann estimates that 80 to 90 percent of them were in the period January to September 2011. That was around the time the John Doe investigators seized the computer of Walker aide Cindy Archer and as my source with access to the Walker administration noted, Walker’s staff were then told to stop using personal email. Newmann, by the say, says Archer was copied on some of the emails he received from the Walker administration, meaning those emails could have been obtained by the Doe investigators.

16 thoughts on “Back in the News: Gov. Walker Did Have Secret Email System”

  1. Kris Vande Hoven says:

    Hold on. You’re not suggesting our Governor is being less than truthful, are you? LOL.

  2. AG says:

    The system set up when he was with the county seemed explicitly set up to avoid using the official system. This one, looks like people occassionally used their personal emails to email things that should have been on the public system, and were indeed forwarded.

    I’m not surprised the whopping number of “several dozen” emails weren’t forwarded… that seems like a small number. Without seeing the emails to see if it’s something they’d want to keep secret, I’d bet human error was invovled (maybe thats why they should be harder about only using public system).

    300 emails seems a far cry from what we saw in the county. Are we making a story out of nothing here? I’m open to being convinced we’re not, but right now that’s how it looks.

  3. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    When GOPs try to claim Democrats are corrupt or cheating, it is almost always projection. This is a classic example of the way those scumbags.

    WISGOP truly believes that they have no accountability to the public. Look at how they’re trying to legalize and conceal the laundering of campaign donations this week. I just don’t get why so many Wisconsinites are willing to let this crooked behavior go on

  4. Bruce Murphy says:

    AG, good questions, I did an update to address what we know at this point as to how far the system extended.

  5. Vincent Hanna says:

    So it’s not a big deal because there weren’t thousands of emails involved? Is that like saying petty theft is no big deal because hey at least you didn’t steal an armored car full of cash? As with everything else involving Walker or politics in this state, the response will be completely partisan. If you like Walker, this is no big deal and just the liberal media trying to take him down. If you dislike Walker, this is proof that he should be in prison.

  6. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    He is liar, he was member of the buck Jones secret society, had a ring and everything. spied on buck Rogers

  7. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    I really feel sorry for the haters in life, it just takes too much energy to hate all the time. Have never hated a democrat.
    I really appreciate guys like Bruce who dwell on things long gone. He provides laughs. As far as I know Scott did not have any top secrets to keep from Illinois. He just told them outright to quit spending.

  8. Vincent Hanna says:

    The man who comes here on a daily basis to call all liberals racists doesn’t hate.

  9. John says:

    All the while happily cashing his social security check every week. He’s a simpleton.

  10. Steve says:

    You did mean 10/19 instead of 11/19, right? Thanx for the article with more evidence walker is a criminal … except to the majority of folks here in Wisconsin. Makes me sad to live here

  11. Bob Thompson says:

    With the release of these emails five years later, how many times did the Walker administration not turn these over to comply with open records requests? Many of these emails are in regards to Act 10, which has been the subject of any number of open records requests from the media and opponents. It’s clear that they withheld public records for five years, two gubernatorial elections and a short lived presidential run. Will there be an investigation? Will “public records champion” AG Shimel get involved? Or will it be business as usual with Walker running rough shod over the law and nothing happens?

  12. Allison says:

    At this point, what difference does it make?

  13. John Foust says:

    Read MacIver v. Erpenbach from April 2014 and tell me why Walker would be justified in redacting any email addresses at all.

    If we don’t know Walker’s secret email address, wouldn’t that bind the hands of any future email requests that might try to determine who was using that back door? What’s the worst that could happen? Walker’s present secret email would be flooded by complaints from unhappy citizens, so he’d need to close that account and ask for a new one – and that’s enough reason not to disclose it?

    With the way that Outlook email messages are printed to PDF, then redacted by hand with a marker or with PDF editing software, I think there is great potential for abuse and obfuscation. The explanation would get very technical and obscure very quickly, but in short, sometimes it’s the sender’s version of a human-friendly name that shows up in a “From:” field, and sometimes it’s what’s defined in your Contacts, and sometimes it might be a different representation. Forwarded emails confuse matters even more. Depending on how email addresses are redacted, you may not be able to distinguish between these cases.

    Neumann’s discovery also shows an example of an excessively redacted address known only as “Jimmy” with the ear of the Governor during Act 10.

  14. AnnPC says:

    I went into my Gmail account, selected an email someone had sent me, clicked on Forward, was able to edit the original email thus changing the original meaning and intent, and Sent the altered email to another of my email accounts.

    It arrived at the other email account as a Forwarded message but it wasn’t identical to the original email because I had been able to edit it.

    I would not trust any email forwarded from a Gmail account to a government account as being true to the original.

  15. Mink says:

    This guy Skippy (Scott Walker) has been a crook since Marquette. And we are going to get two more years of his crap, Yeesh!!!

  16. John Casper says:

    Allison, ask Gov. Walker. It mattered to him.

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