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Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012

Former Walker Campaign Manager Denies John Doe Evidence

When confronted, Keith Gilkes spins the campaign’s role in Milwaukee County affairs

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When Scott Walker’s former deputy chief of staff at the county, Kelly Rindfleisch, was sentenced to six months in jail last month, Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf presented damning evidence of Walker’s gubernatorial campaign staff working with his county executive aides.

In a lengthy presentation, Landgraf told the court that Walker’s political campaign operatives and the taxpayer-funded county executive’s staff formed what prosecutors dubbed “The Campaign Group,” which held daily conference calls, conducted opposition research, collaborated on county press releases, and tried to plant a story in a Madison paper to minimize a growing scandal for Walker—serious safety issues at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex.

Essentially, Walker’s campaign and county staff were working hand in hand.

Landgraf released a handful of emails turned up in the John Doe investigation to back up his allegations, claiming in his presentation that “not a single communiqué from the Office of the County Executive was published without review by the media group,” made up of Walker, as well as his campaign aides and high-level county staffers like Rindfleisch.

That means Walker’s campaign aides and Milwaukee County employees seemingly illegally worked together on many issues.

For example, as the Shepherd can report exclusively, another email not made public by Landgraf, but released as part of an open records request, supports his allegation that Walker’s campaign and county staffers were in close collaboration. Walker’s campaign and county aides, for example, worked on his final county budget “listening session” presentation in April 2010, a politically charged appearance for a county executive who was running on his budget-cutting skills.

According to the email obtained by the Shepherd, then-county administration chief Cindy Archer sent a PowerPoint draft of Walker’s presentation “for review and comment” to a few county staffers, including Rindfleisch. But it may have crossed into illegal behavior when Archer sent that email to Walker’s campaign manger Keith Gilkes, campaign spokeswoman Jill Bader and GOP operative RJ Johnson.

Archer copied Scott Walker on that email as well, indicating that he was aware that his campaign and county staffers were collaborating on county affairs.

 

Gilkes Email to Rindfleisch: ‘Call Me With Questions’

But last week, speaking to reporters after a Marquette University forum on Wisconsin’s wild political year, Walker’s former campaign manager, Keith Gilkes, dismissed Landgraf’s sensational findings.

“It was simply a scheduling, a mechanical process,” Gilkes said of the daily conference calls. “Balancing the work of an elected official and a campaign at the same time.”

According to an email he wrote on April 25, 2010, which Landgraf released publicly, Gilkes himself set up the daily “campaign group” conference call phone number and access code. Copied on the email were county staffers Rindfleisch, Archer, Tom Nardelli, Fran McLaughlin, Jonathan Myhre and Tim Russell, plus campaign operatives Johnson and Bader.

That email was only one of 3,486 emails Landgraf claimed were exchanged between Rindfleisch and Walker campaign staffers Gilkes, Bader or Stephan Thompson, 64% of which were exchanged during regular business hours, when Rindfleisch was supposed to be working on official county matters at her taxpayer-funded job. During 2010, Rindfleisch was illegally splitting her time between the county and her work as a fundraiser for Brett Davis, Walker’s preferred candidate for lieutenant governor.

Landgraf’s emails also showed that Gilkes, working for the campaign, edited an op-ed column allegedly authored by Geri Lyday, who took over the county’s health and human services department after serious safety issues were found at the mental health complex in 2010.

“Call me with questions” about the edits, he emailed Rindfleisch on Aug. 26, 2010.

It appears that the Gilkes-vetted op-ed was published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Aug. 28, 2010.

Last week, however, when confronted by the Shepherd, Gilkes said, “We [the campaign] weren’t involved with any official county duties.”

The Shepherd then asked him about the emails released by Landgraf in court.

“You’ve seen pieces of elements of emails,” Gilkes said, then explained that he couldn’t discuss the contents because of the secret nature of the John Doe investigation.

Both Rindfleisch and Russell have pleaded guilty to felonies stemming from the investigation.

As part of their long-running John Doe investigation into Walker’s county executive office, prosecutors found that Walker’s close aide, Russell, had installed a private wireless router in his office, within Walker’s executive suite, so that staffers could exchange emails without being subject to open records requests or detection on the official county Internet server.

Gilkes, on Thursday, denied knowing anything about the private router, then lost his temper when the Shepherd asked if Walker’s gubernatorial staffers were using a private wireless network in the state Capitol.

“That's just absurd,” he said, then cut off the interview. “I’m done.”

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