Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Did Gov. Walker Have a Secret Email System?

A Walker administration insider says some staff used private emails and personal laptops in the office.

By - Feb 25th, 2014 11:41 am
Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker

In an interview Monday, Gov. Scott Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel there is no private email system in the governor’s office. That’s his take on how his office is run now, but it leaves open the question: did he have a secret email system in his early days as governor?

We now know his county executive office had staff members campaigning on government time and a private email system they used to keep these activities secret, protected from any public records requests. Walker has refused to say whether he knew of or personally used the secret email system, but in some of the emails he appears to be aware of it. So why would he and his staff have changed how they operated once he became governor?

I spoke to a source who was a close observer of the governor’s staff in the state Capitol and who attended numerous meetings with staff. The source describes a system that seemed designed, as the county executive’s office was, to enable staff to do work on government time and evade public records request of any such campaigning, 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.

“When you work for the state you get a state-issued desktop computer. Why would you be working on a laptop?”

The source also says a number of Walker’s staff had private email accounts — all using gmail addresses — by which they communicated with each other. The staff was told, the source says, to always use the gmail address of staff to discuss anything political.

That would be fine if the discussions were off the state clock, but on a weekly basis, the source says, the staff had campaign meetings — not just meetings about campaign scheduling, which would be legal, but about campaign strategy.

But in September 2011, FBI agents raided the home of Cindy Archer, who had been Walker’s deputy administration secretary and had also been a top aide to Walker when he was Milwaukee County executive. This signaled that the John Doe investigation was expanding and moving from Milwaukee to Madison.

Around that time, the source says, 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. But even after that time, the source says, the laptops and gmail accounts were still being used, though perhaps more selectively.

The source was certainly well-placed and attended a political meeting at the governor’s mansion attended by Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, and Congressmen F. James Sensenbrenner, Paul Ryan and Sean Duffy.

Ryan and Johnson were angry because they felt Act 10 was hurting all Republicans, the source says. “They were saying, “you need to tell us is there going to be any Republican campaign operation in Wisconsin other than for Gov. Walker?’”

They were concerned that Walker loyalists appointed to run the Republican Party of Wisconsin, including state chair Brad Courtney, weren’t up to the job.

“There was a lot of tension in the room. Ryan didn’t have a lot of respect for Walker, you could tell.” And Johnson told Walker he should drop his campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs, because it was impossible to achieve.

The source had access to the administration of Gov. Walker for more than a year. As for the allegations, while they paint a portrait that resembles what went on in the county executive’s office, it’s unclear exactly how much campaigning was being done on state time.

There is an inevitable overlap between politics and governing and it is impossible to completely separate them. And as a recent JS analysis notes, the issue of private emails has come up in the administration of President Barack Obama and for other politicians.

But Wisconsin has established a bright line regarding campaigning on public time, with harsh consequences for those who cross it. In 2002 prosecutors launched an investigation of ringleaders in the now-outlawed legislative caucus system, which resulted in convictions of five legislators and several staff members from both parties. The case of star Republican and former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who was essentially barred from public office as a result of the charges against him, stands as a frightening example to other politicians that they would be wise to avoid campaigning or overseeing such activities on government time.

Walker himself conceded that the John Doe investigation which brought convictions against several of his county executive staff resulted in “some charges, which in retrospect seem to be pretty legitimate,” as he put it in yesterday’s JS story.

As for the idea that every politician is campaigning on government time, Walker told the newspaper he doesn’t subscribe to the “everybody does it” defense when it comes to mixing campaign and government work, saying, “if that was the case I wouldn’t have a campaign staff… I mean, I have a pretty elaborate campaign staff.”

But Walker, after his 2010 election, brought much of that campaign staff into the governor’s office. That included Gilkes, Ashlee Moore, Michael Brickman, Joe Fadness, Jonathan Wetzel, Patrick Hogan and Stephan Thompson, all of whom got jobs in his office. (Moore, Fadness, Wetzel and Thompson have since moved on to other jobs).

Nonetheless, Walker insists he has actually been more diligent than past governors on separating politics and governing, to the point where he instructs cabinet secretaries to stay away from politics and leave that to the campaign staff.

Not every state has established such a bright line regarding campaigning on public time, or has as strong a tradition of open records as Wisconsin. That may help explain why the national press has been underwhelmed by the revelations in the 27,000 emails from a Walker staffer released last week. The New York Times, which has given extensive coverage of the problems of Gov. Chris Christie, gave the Walker controversy a short article with no prominence. Politico called the whole thing a “snoozer”  and Time Magazine suggested Walker’s travails, compared to those of Christie, amount to “little more than a week of bad press and isolated embarrassing stories about aides’ old emails.”

As for Wisconsin voters, I suspect most assume public officials do some campaigning on public time. Depending on how flagrant the examples are, the average voter may not care. So this may have little impact on Walker’s reelection effort. But it does present major issues — whether for Gov. Walker or President Obama — regarding the proper way for government officials and their staff members to conduct themselves.

Categories: Murphy's Law

33 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Did Gov. Walker Have a Secret Email System?”

  1. John Kaufman says:

    Thanks, Bruce.

    Perhaps Wisconsin’s “bright line” against this sort of thing is a remnant of the state’s Progressive reform tradition still working to protect the public.

  2. Art Hackett says:

    That’s why Walker says answering specific questions about specific emails is a “slippery slope.”
    So let’s speculate on why this source is talking to Bruce Murphy (other than the fact that Bruce is a swell guy.)
    1 Full disclosure is good public policy.
    2. He has a score to settle.
    3. He realizes the bomb is going to go off at some point and it would be good for the party if it happened before the filing deadline.

  3. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Dohnal’s Law: In the time I have left, I pay attention to the major problems of the day and look for solutions. An email system involving a campaign that contained nothing secret, libelous, but stupid things is not where I’m hunting.
    Milwaukee has major problems: A heroin epidemic, lousiest scjools in country, top ten most violent crime, top ten worst poverty, 57% youth unemployment, top ten worst managed, really stupid, Mil. Cty., governments, and tons of abandoned houses.
    Murphy’s solutions? Debate a three year old mini-scandal already vetted by the DA, Bobzo Barretts solution???? He has no answers to anything. Ald. Murphy, left wing nutjob; form a committee.
    The Conservatives have to spend all their time looking for solutions to real problems in city.

  4. STACY MOSS says:

    What a source you’ve got. Did you meet him or her in an underground parking structure?

    Still, I am confused.

    Was the gmail account secret or private?

    When you work for the government, are in your office, do you give up the right to have private digital communication?

    I know the key phrase is “government time”, but does that mean Walker has no flextime?

  5. Bruce Murphy says:

    Stacy, the gmail accounts were private. and no, you don’t give up your right to private digital communication, but if you are conducting government business at work on private accounts, that evades open records. Or if you’re campaigning on government time and using private email to hide this, that is illegal. Both things were being done in the county exec office and this source suggests it was also being done in the governor’s office.

  6. Peter Cannon says:

    Clearly the consequences to staff and public officials are not harsh enough, are not frightening enough because staff are still campaigning on public time. I think the problem is that too many staffers were given immunity and too many of them were somehow “taken care of” by their party after the caucus scandals. So they aren’t really scared of the consequences.

  7. cream city says:

    This is the question at the heart of John Doe II, is it not? That is, whether Walker’s pattern of unethical campaigning continued (from his college years into his county exec years) into his gubernatorial years — straight into the state Capitol?

    Can you answer, Bruce, whether your source has been deposed, testified, etc., in John Doe II? If not, this column ought to cause that to occur. This is a “smoking gun,” in the state Capitol, that even the national media might be able to understand.

    (But too many today still could not understand how to deconstruct Walker’s denial, his verb tense denoting that he is not breaking the law today. I thought that they learned, in the ’90s, to listen closely to what “is” is and would know to ask “but were your staffers using personal laptops and private email accounts in the governor’s office in past?”)

  8. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    You guys are a riot, do Scott a favor and talk about this for the next year. If there is anything that the pople of this state have already said that thye do not give a rat’s ass is this issue.
    Do you know that Scott dropped a dangling participle once and I heard that he belched in 3rd grade, scratched his butt and loudly blew his nose in 5th grade.
    Scott is an Eagle scout and deserves it in comparison to creeps that run the democrats in Wisconsin and the total incompetent boobs that run the White house, ran the state house and run the city of Milwaukee into the ground. Love ya all.

  9. Alex says:

    The Wisconsin Conservative Digest doth protest too much, methinks.

  10. David Ciepluch says:

    In many private companies, you have to sign a statement that you are trained and acknowledge that all electronic communication devices like phones, computers, internet services, are the property of the company and to be used for their use only. Penalties for abuse are removal of services and termination. A well run company has access to all these records and communications and can review them at any time and they do. They own them.

    Most IT staff within an organization have tools to inform them of what is going on and they could detect separate systems and dismantle them. In a government run system, civil service staff may be at risk if they turn in the elected official as a whistle blower.

    Government operations would normally have something very similar. A separate operating communication system like Walker was operating is time theft from the taxpayers, sidesteps open records and is a slippery slope for bid-rigging for your favorite private contractors and political benefactors. It can provide them with key confidential information without threat of disclosure on the governments’ system and with open records requests. It is pretty much why Romney’s staff removed all of their PC equipment and destroyed hard drives when they left office as the Governor in MA. They wanted to avoid open records disclosure and potential corruption charges.

    Attorneys have been warning staff in private business and government about electronic media communications for the last two decades. They have feared it since it can be used in discovery. So the sleazy corrupt people among us will do everything they can to avoid detection. That is the only reason to operate a separate system – time theft and corruption.

    If an administration is run with honesty, integrity and honor, it can remain transparent. A separated hidden system cannot and should not have the trust and the best interests of the people.

  11. cream city says:

    David Ciepluch, to be clear for others possibly reading this, too, regarding your clarification at the end: All that you state about business and emails (governmental accounts or private) and more long was (and is) so for public employees in Wisconsin, too — by law — including all public officials, even unpaid “volunteers” on school boards, municipal committees, and more. Others, if interested, can see the AG’s site, with very explicit interpretations (constantly updated by court cases) and instructions, as if the state statute (also online, with the year of the law) wasn’t clear enough.

    Walker and his cohort had no excuse. None. After all, the reason that they tried to evade the law clearly was because they understood it — as banning them doing so.

  12. Justin says:

    Excellent Investigative Story (as usual)!!!

    The BEST part of the response posts are the ones by Wisconsin Conservative Digest. Yes, NOW we are CERTAIN why the rich and powerful corrupt special interests that CONTROL Walker’s Wisconsin are SUING everyone in sight to shut down the John Doe II investigation.

    The 27,000 emails show what a corrupt lying sleazeball Governor Walker is. Apparently John Doe II will provide the evidence to convict some very powerful Republicans of some serious crimes. No wonder the rich and powerful want John Doe II shut down. Hopefully Federal Laws still apply to these folks, because for the past three years, these wealthy corrupt folks have operated with impunity because they are ABOVE the LAW in Walker’s Wisconsin.

    Thanks Bruce for your continued good work.

  13. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Thank you Bruce for your continued effort of you and your friends to amuse me. All they can do is bloviate, that is what is known as farting in the other direction.
    Tell the truth, they bloviate, ask for answers they bloviate, look for solutions they bloviate, try to fix things they call names and the bloviate anf fart.
    Have a good dat y’all.

  14. Andy says:

    Justin, what are you talking about? Other then the secret email system of the staffers in the county office, Walker and the top decision makers have shown when it comes to actual political and process questions they are always moral and above board. This is evidenced right here on urbanmilwaukee stories such as when a donor tried to work through the campaign office to buy O’donnell Park. Walker’s staff shut him down and said it has to go through regular channels. Further, in the story about how his staff discussed how to slow open records requests, Walker’s chief of staff said he won’t play the games Democrats play with that and he wanted to handle them in a professional manner.

    Government offices should not have a secret email system, and I’m glad it was discovered and shut down. But other then the crimes we already know about and overzealous staffers that needed reigning in, I’ve seen nothing compelling reported on yet from these 27,000 emails to show that Walker is a “corrupt lying sleazeball.” Anything I’ve seen reported about in these emails have been minor things at best… and a reach in order to try to make a story.

  15. David Ciepluch says:

    The very act of operation of another email system using County owned equipment is against the law. Campaigning on County time and at taxpayer expense is against the law. It is theft. In private business it leads to being fired and possible criminal prosecution. Since he used his County office for campaigning for Governor, he cheated and continues to lie to all of us.

    Walker is a sleaze since he knows enough to protect himself and allows his staff to take the criminal conviction for him. They sit in jail for him. That shows his true character.

    Supporters are obviously going to stand by him. Many of us have no trust in him for many reasons and Walker does not warrant the benefit of any doubt. When he took office in Milwaukee County, the bar was already low for him, and all it did was go down to zero from there for many citizens. We deserve so much better than his type of sleaziness and governance with corporate written ALEC laws.

  16. Andy says:

    David, I agree that the secret email system was wrong, and people using it should be held accountable. But you have to admit, there are much worse things done by our politicians… so while I think it gives him a black eye, I hardly consider him a “sleazeball” because his staff had this system. I think many of you dislike his policies, and thus build it up to be worse than it really is.

    Regarding the campaigning on public time, I find it fascinating that people both support Barrett (who’s wife was campaigning on public time when an MPS teacher and himself, as Bruce pointed out, campaigned for Gov. while in office on public time) and Burke (who’s aide was convicted for campaigning on public time in 2003) while vilifying Walker for having people who did the same thing. Mind you, Walker fired his people… and Burke still retains hers.

  17. David Ciepluch says:

    It is not the same thing to send an email from a school computer and running an entire Governor campaign using the resources of the taxpayers. If someone spent the time they could probably calculate the actual time spent on just emails and campaign meeting and bill the Walker campaign for the damages. Yes, it was an error in judgement and wrong on Ms. Barrett’s part. There are many degrees of difference in these actions.

    The real damage is we are stuck with Walker as a Governor and he cheated his way.

    In regards to character and sleaze, Walker will let anyone take the blame in his place. He has never been accountable. As far as we know it started when he denied his child and college love, cheated on running for office college and was kicked out. Published emails show a contempt from Walker staff for his fellow human beings and more interested in protecting the image than speaking to harm. He brought Wisconsin corporate written ALEC laws that were not implemented for the benefit of the majority of Wisconsin citizens.

    In regards to Barrett’s character, he put his own life on the line at State Fair to help a woman and baby and endured surgeries and possible lifetime of hand use impairment and pain. In this one instance he shows the type of person he is and is many times an exception in our society. Many people would just walk away for fear of their own safety – a touch decision for most of us.

    From about half the people in Wisconsin, Walker has zero credibility or trust and has not earned any. I have lived here my entire life, and I can say all Republican and Democratic governors Wisconsin has had have been honorable and trustworthy people that had the best interest of Wisconsin and its people and environment. Walker sells us out for his own personal benefit.

  18. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    What on earth does State Fair have to do with governing?. He should have had enough sense to be carrying or at least taken the self defense course that people in harms way take. He could have gotten killed but handled himself very poorly that guy threatened his life. Hope he has taken some course since. There were much better ways to handle a situation like that. It has no effect on his lack of ability to govern.
    As far as I can see he has had one time crime problem, I have had over 30 in my pharmacies. Last spring almost came home and surprised a knife wielding kid breaking into my garage about 6:30. Police apprehended him 10 minutes before we came home. Not counting the armed robberies, 20 burglaries, knife attacks. I survived cause I have had enough sense to learn how to do that.
    Could not believe how Barrett handled that.
    Half of the people created the problems with the people that they elected in Milwuakee, US and Wisconsin. Obama is worst president for middle class and working poor in history but his rich buddies, like George Soros and others are doing jsut fine.

  19. cream city says:

    Andy, the problem is the pattern of Walker’s practices. Even ignoring the earlier instances, such as the unethical actions in his college years, thousands of emails (17,000 to 27,000 emails, depending on the source; I think it is 17,000 emails and 27,000 pages) and a secret router system is a pattern of unethical practice. Three emails on a school computer was wrong but hardly a massive pattern. Please, stop trying to make them equivalent, as it just makes you look either uninformed or silly.

  20. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Obama, Axelrod and Holder pull worse things every day and people die. More people have died under Obama than Bushes. Out side of the few people that read these silly site, all 50 of them and the true Walker haters, “Frankly my dear they do not give a damn.”

  21. Andy says:

    David, Cream… convenient you both ignored the question about Tanya Bjork. You know, the woman Burke hired who was convicted of not only campaign fundraising on public time but also purposely altering public records to cover her tracks? Hm, sound familiar.

    Difference being, Walker fired his staff who did this sort of thing… meanwhile, Burke is hiring them.

    Making up stories about Walkers college years won’t hide the fact you guys are really reaching at this point.

  22. Andy says:

    David, Cream… convenient you both ignored the question about Tanya Bjork. You know, the woman Burke hired who was convicted of not only campaign fundraising on public time but also purposely altering public records to cover her tracks? Hm, sounds familiar.

    Difference being, Walker fired his staff who did this sort of thing… meanwhile, Burke is hiring them.

    Making up stories about Walkers college years won’t hide the fact you guys are really reaching at this point.

  23. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Walker did nothing in college, some of his supporters ran arouind and grabbed a few newspapers not at his request. dumb?? Kids do dumb things in college, obama was pothead. I canaot even remember everything that I did.

  24. Mitch says:

    “Walker fired his staff who did this sort of thing…” Actually, Kelly Rindfleisch “did this sort of thing too” as an Assembly staffer (she wasn’t charged because she got immunity), and then Walker hired her as a Milwaukee County employee with the apparent understanding that she would spend a lot of tax-paid time on campaign work. He didn’t fire her until she got caught.

    I’m not delighted by Burke’s hiring of Tanya Bjork, but she hasn’t been hired as a public employee, so, unlike Kelly Rindfleisch, she is not doing campaign work on tax-paid time. Would Burke do that if she could? I don’t think so — she strikes me as a complete straight-arrow — but if you want to prove me wrong, elect Mary Burke as Governor and we’ll see.

  25. mitch says:

    “Walker did nothing in college, some of his supporters ran around and grabbed a few newspapers not at his request. ”

    Funny how Walker is always surrounded by people who do illegal and ethical things, but Walker never knows anything about them — even when they happen 25 feet from his office. This has happened a few time, but we’ve been assured that this pattern is not a reflection on his character.

    It’s worth noting though, that the paper that was stolen contained an editorial retracting an endorsement of Walker and declaring that he was “unfit for office.” What was that about?

  26. David Ciepluch says:

    We are likely all drawn to different types of leaders and and may appreciate their various character traits. It takes a larger ego to run for higher office and you do need confidence in yourself and the abilities to lead.

    Walker has shown a pattern throughout his life of narcissism, deceit, evasiveness, a proven 77% habitual liar according to Politifact, and he will sacrifice his staff members to save his own image and position. He has a pattern of drawing in sleazy unethical type people into his circle of operation, or they are drawn to him. They have been caught in illegal operations and theft from the people. They rob from all of use – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. The revealed emails expose this team of sleaze that apparently holds utter contempt for our fellow humans that lack a real voice and political power in our society.

    True leaders stand up for everyone in society including citizens that lack a voice. Walker speaks for corporations and the power of wealth. His laws were written by corporations supplied by ALEC.

    In contrast I used the instance of Barrett coming to the rescue of fellow humans at State Fair as an example of his character. At that instant point in time, he stood up for others at risk to himself, and with nothing to really gain. That is the kind of character many of us would want to work with and count on. In comparison, we have not heard or read about secret email systems, office backstabbing, slamming citizens, etc. about the Mayor’s office.

    There are many citizens that find Walker and his former County and Governor administrations’ extremely repulsive and offensive.

  27. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Thankss Mitch. Does anyone care about this except a few zealots/ no. So please keep sucking on this teat cause the cow don’t have no milk in there, Buster.

  28. Ed says:

    Has WCD ever posted any comment here containing less than 5 misspellings?
    They distract me from the inaccuracies of fact.

  29. David Ciepluch says:

    A news report just came out that a Walker router and separate email system was installed in 2002, far earlier than most of us knew. Walker thanked the County HR staff person for the installation assistance. So Walker’s entire time as County Executive was engaged in defrauding the public.

    I have wondered why investigators never spoke to IT staff about this equipment and what they knew? I would like to see Walker and all his former staff billed for lost time and wages, and the use of County owned IT equipment and lines. Then Walker can get sized for his orange suit.

  30. Andy says:

    Come on… an HR person set up an router for the corrupt embezzeler (who Walker’s people turned in to authorities) and because Russel tried introducing him to Walker while the then county exec was on the phone and got a nod and a wave, that means Walker masterminded everything? Coming from a witness who never spoke to the DA about this during the investigation and just now comes forward, how long after the investigation was closed?

    Sounds like we really got Walker now!

  31. mitch says:

    It doesn’t show he “masterminded everything,” but it does undercut his claimed that he “knew nothing” because all this happened behind his back. If this really was unauthorized, they would have hustled him out of the office with strict instructions never to mention what he had done.

  32. cream city says:

    Andy, please stop flailing for anyone, anywhere to talk about instead of Walker. It’s embarrassing for you, as your flailing so far now as a staffer for Burke suggests that you really do not comprehend the core issue: That is campaigning for a public official on public, taxpayer-paid time. In sum, Earth to Andy: Burke is not a public official. Not yet.

  33. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Bruce, you are right I guess I am getting really old. I thought that people really wanted to solve problems like: 57% unemployment for our youth? Top ten worst managed city? Top ten most violent city?, Top ten worst poverty? Heroin epidemic, 199 overdose deaths last year in Wis.? Hundreds of abandoned houses? MPS worst schools in country? And more Milwaukee county run by thugs or liars, so bad that no one either GOP or Dems will ever vote for anything for Milwaukee or face defeat.
    How many people after 4 years have the least bit of interest in this silly email deal? How many kids without jobs having to live off the street care? The addicts dying in the streets? The victims of crime? Live Next to abandoned houses used by addicts and drunks?
    Give us all a break and just one of you dingbat lefties come up with some original ideas.
    Everyone knows that the only people actually interested in solving Milwaukee’s problems are Conserva
    Nameme one goo dideas to solve any of thes erpoblems byt th Lefts in the Legislature?

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