Fresh on the heels of the Chris Christie bridge scandal, another GOP governor and 2016 presidential hopeful is facing a political mess involving former aides and compromising emails.
On Thursday, a Wisconsin court released a massive number of emails—27,000 pages worth—from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s former aide Kelly Rindfleisch, who last year was convicted of using her government job to do illegal campaign work on behalf of the governor.
At the time of the Rindfleish’s impropriety, she was an assistant to then-Milwaukee County Executive Walker who was running for the state’s top political office. According to NPR, the emails “paint a picture of constant coordination between Walker’s county office and his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.”
Rindfleisch, who was sentenced to six months in prison and three years probation, is currently appealing her conviction. Six other aids and associates of Walker were also convicted during the course of the investigation.
Walker himself was never charged with a wrongdoing related to the 2010 campaign, but this email dump comes at a time when the governor—fiercely unpopular with Wisconsin Democrats—is attempting to win a second term as the state’s top executive. And political rivals are using the scandal to cast aspersions on Walker’s leadership and spoil his chances of a presidential run.
“As scandals continue to unfold in front of him, they beg more questions than I am sure Scott Walker would like to answer,” said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who happened to be in Wisconsin at the time of the emails’ release and spoke with reporters.
Though there are many emails to still sift through, many seem to confirm what the court already decided. In numerous emails, there is evidence that Rindfleisch was raising money for Walker’s preferred lieutenant governor Brett Davis. Rindfleisch would quickly oscillate during the day between working for the taxpayers of Milwaukee County and working for the Walker campaign. Wisconsin, like most states, has strict guidelines that prevent elected officials from using public resources for campaign purposes.
But the email dump has been a treasure trove of other embarrassing details not related to the campaign coordination scandal. The Daily Beast reports that one email contains a joke forwarded from Walker’s chief of staff that read, “I can handle being a black, disabled, one-armed, drug-addicted Jewish homosexual… but please, oh dear God, don’t make me a Democrat.” It’s also been revealed that Walker personally ordered the firing of a doctor at a county mental health facility because she had once worked as a thong model. And in one email, regarding when the Walker campaign was criticized for the death of a patient at a mental health facility, a top aide wrote that “nobody cares about crazy people.”
Upon hearing this news, Schultz wasn’t the only Democrat to draw comparisons between Walker and Christie. Like the embattled GOP governor of New Jersey, Walker a Republican governor with a strong national presence who is also facing criticism for his staff’s impropriety as documented through email. Christie is under fire after it was discovered that one of his aides collaborated with port authority officials to close lanes on a bridge leading into Fort Lee, N.J.—an act of political retribution against that city’s mayor.
“Much like Chris Christie, Scott Walker likes to stand in the middle of people committing criminal activity all around him and saying ‘I had no idea what was going on,” said Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.
But privately Wisconsin Democrats are doubtful these emails will derail the governor’s reelection campaign. Walker has led consistently in the polls and he’s already staved off a recall election prompted by his unpopular union-stripping legislation. The Rindfleish scandal was already public knowledge during the recall.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political science Professor Mordecai Lee told the Daily Beast that this scandal was more insider baseball.
“I am guessing this is going to be a hiccup in his career,” Lee said.
Even national political observers like Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia say the Christie–Walker scandal confabulation is a stretch.
“If you’re asking me, ‘will there be a lot more coverage of this?’ the answer is absolutely yes, particularly if Walker does run for president,” Sabato told NPR, adding, “This is no Bridgegate. It’s not even vaguely equivalent.”
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