Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 7:31 pm

Will the presidency stand in Scott Walker’s posterity? Uh, quite possibly not.

Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all,
As the weird women promised, and I fear
Thou played’st most foully for ’t.
Banquo, “Macbeth,” Act III, Scene 1
Scott Walker won the governorship of Wisconsin, turned on some of the very working people who helped get him elected, and then, when they turned on him in kind, fended them off in a recall election whose outcome was narrow but clear.
Now Scott Walker is being talked about among the GOP White House contenders for 2016. And why not? He won an election and a recall, he’s enough of a hippie-puncher to satisfy all but the most rabid of the right-wing nutjobs, and unlike, say, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, if you Google him, you might immediately find offensive things, depending on your political persuasion, but not outright ridiculous things.
But just as Macbeth reached the throne of Scotland by climbing over the corpses he’d killed, Walker — who, even if nothing else goes wrong, still would face a tough fight for the GOP nomination with the White House open — may yet be shown to have played almost as foully, by 21st-century standards, as Macbeth did a millennium ago in Shakespeare’s play.

Gov. Scott Walker and his top campaign and Milwaukee County aides were named Monday as part of a team that routinely commingled political and official county business.

The disclosures came during the sentencing of a former aide to Walker during his last year as Milwaukee County executive. Kelly M. Rindfleisch, 44, was sentenced by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher to six months in jail and three years of probation on a single felony count of misconduct in office. The judge stayed the sentence pending Rindfleisch’s appeal to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals or the state Supreme Court.

In a lengthy presentation during Rindfleisch’s sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf displayed numerous emails between Rindfleisch and key members of Walker’s campaign staff in which they discussed how to manage county government in 2010, while Walker was a candidate for governor.

Repeatedly, Landgraf argued that Rindfleisch knowingly broke the law by doing campaign work at the courthouse. In a new development, the prosecutor made clear – without saying it was illegal – that top Walker campaign officials influenced, even directed, county strategy.

“You guys are in the driver’s seat,” Rindfleisch wrote in one message to Keith Gilkes, Walker’s then-campaign chief of staff.

At another point, Rindfleisch said in an email regarding an effort by the campaign to plant stories about problems at the state Mendota Mental Health Institute: “This needs to be done covertly so it’s not tied to Scott or the campaign in any way.”

Landgraf said “The Campaign Group” included Walker, Gilkes, campaign spokeswoman Jill Bader and campaign adviser R.J. Johnson. It also included several top county aides to Walker: Cindy Archer, who was county administration director; county chief of staff Tom Nardelli; spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin; housing director Timothy Russell; and Rindfleisch.

Rindfleisch served as Walker’s policy adviser and later his deputy chief of staff at the county.

Five members of the group spoke by phone daily at 8 a.m. to make sure the county executive’s office was “in sync” with the “image” the campaign was advancing of Walker in his Republican race for governor against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, according to an email Landgraf presented in court …

A bit of background for you non-cheeseheads: Wisconsin has a long history of what political wonks call “good government,” a term of art and culture dating to the early 20th-century Progressive movement  that means not just that the roads get paved but also that conflicts of interest and corruption are just not done. By any party. And part and parcel of that culture is that governing — paving the roads, running the firehouses, building the schools — and campaigning are kept separate, not only by custom but also by criminal law.

Before being elected governor, Walker was the Milwaukee County executive and Kelly Reindfleisch was an aide to him in that job. Officially she worked for the taxpayers of Milwaukee County alone. In real life, she was coordinating between Milwaukee County government staff and Walker’s gubernatorial campaign staff, and barring a win on appeal, she’s going to prison for six months for it. Not only that, members of Walker’s campaign team, Reindfleisch’s prosecutor said in court, were dictating county government policy, apparently in an effort to benefit Walker’s campaign.

Reindflesch isn’t the first former Walker aide to be headed to the hoosegow. One former aide, Kevin Kavanaugh, is headed to prison for stealing $51,000 from a veterans’ service organization, for crying out loud. Although Walker himself was not implicated in that case (at least so far as I can tell), the so-called John Doe (whistleblower) grand jury investigation that grew from it has expanded into issues, including Reindflesch’s role, that do threaten Walker.

And it ain’t over, Esquire’s Charlie Pierce notes:

It is that most dangerous of all grand-jury investigations — patient, thorough, and damned near leakproof. (I was in Milwaukee last week and, while there was some chatter downtown about something big breaking in the case, nobody really knew what it was.) This case has been built slowly and methodically, and it is beginning to produce results in the way the most dangerous grand juries do – a little at a time, in a fashion whereby people higher up the food chain first become collateral damage in other cases, and then wind up in hip-deep in the fudge themselves.

Rindfleisch was the first real domino to drop. She widely was believed to be the liaison between Walker’s campaign staff and the members of his campaign team, who were not supposed to be in contact at all. (This kind of thing may seem penny-ante to people in Louisiana …  but Wisconsin takes good-government principles very seriously, having invented most of them. The penalties for breaking those statutes are relatively draconian.) The e-mails presented by the prosecutors at her sentencing make her function pretty clear. …

This is not going to come to a quick and easy end. Rindfleisch is the fourth person to be convicted in connection with Walker’s days as Milwaukee county commissioner. … It’s plain at this point that the office was a snake pit of quasi-legal chicanery, and fully illegal machinations. The investigation continues, still thorough, still patient, still silent. Some day in the future, Scott Walker is going to wake up and wish very much that he were back in New Hampshire, listening to the cheers of strangers.

Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” villainous as he was, was fictional. But Walker is a real-life character, and in real life it’s beginning to look as though he may never make that trip to New Hampshire to hear the cheers of strangers, let alone climb Dunsinane Hill to the White House. Instead, Birnam Wood may be trudging, slowly and methodically, patient and silent, toward Madison, the camouflaging branches of a secret grand jury investigation concealing certain doom.

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