Gov. Walker Did Have Secret Email System
Report shows state business conducted through 300 personal emails, confirms Urban Milwaukee story.
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.
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 Bloomberg.com 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.