With the election for the recall of Scott Walker, Becky Kleefisch and four Republican senators just a scant six weeks away, people are keeping a much closer eye on the ongoing investigations and trials stemming from Walkergate.
While it’s pretty safe to presume that more shoes will be dropping from the investigation, there’s no reliable way to forecast when and from where these shoes might drop. The scandal itself has so many branches – from pay to play to illegal campaigning to illegal campaign donations – and so many players, that only Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm knows. And despite the efforts of the right to besmirch him, the fact is Chisholm’s not talking.
That leaves us with the five ongoing Walkergate trials to see if something might come from them. And out of the five, two of them are only really worth a passing mention in regards to having any significant impact on the recall elections. Another case has great potential, but probably won’t impact the election. The last two are really worth watching.
One would think that Brian Pierick, who was charged with child enticement as a tangent to the Walkergate investigation, would make a delightful tool against Walker. But Pierick doesn’t really have a direct tie to Walker like the other defendants do. Furthermore, his next hearing isn’t until after the election, so his case won’t have any real impact.
The other case that will have minimal impact is that of Kevin Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh has been charged with embezzling from a fund meant for veterans and their families. However, outside of Walker’s questionable decision to appoint Kavanaugh to the veterans affairs board even though he had doubts about Kavanaugh, there isn’t a very strong link to Walker.
The charges against Kelly Rindfleisch hold great potential to harm Walker. She has been accused of working for the campaigns for Walker as well as the person he wanted to be his lieutenant governor, Brett Davis, while working for Walker when he was county executive for Milwaukee County. Judging by her own words, that amount of campaign work, which included fund raising, was quite excessive, adding up to thousands of hours. The damage to Walker will only be worsened by the fact that he is the sole person responsible for her hiring and her promotion to his inner office at the county executive’s suite.
However, despite the potential this case has, it is doubtful any of it will be seen before the elections. Rindfleisch’s attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, has been pushing for a change of venue, saying that the case should be heard in Columbia County*, which he claims is where she lives. (Keep in mind that she signed papers stating that she would be a Milwaukee resident and was staying at the home of another Walker crony, Jim Villa.) Gimbel’s motion had been denied and he has since filed an appeal.
Because of the appeal, as well as the fact that the regular court date isn’t until after the elections, it is doubtful that this case would have much impact. The only chance is if Gimbel files something unusual with his defense motions on May 18.
Tim Russell’s case also should prove to be very damaging to Walker. Russell was not only one of Walker’s top lieutenants, they’ve been very close friends for decades. While Russell has been charged with only embezzlement from the veteran’s fund, he is named in each of the other criminal petitions. Russell had his fingers in all of the operations of Walker’s caucus scandal-type of illegal campaigning, from overseeing the online campaigning and fund raising to helping campaign while Walker took his Harley ride all over the state.
A lot of people expressed concern when Russell’s newest attorney (his third in the past four months), filed motions to dismiss the charges. They questioned whether it was a stalling tactic. In response, I noted that defense motions were due on April 16, so these motions were basically in response to that deadline. I consulted with Tom Foley, one of the best legal analysts I know, and he confirmed that it was pretty much a standard motion, containing challenges to the sufficiency of the complaint and arguments over the definitions and whether Russell’s behaviors rise to the level of those definitions.
By happenstance, Russell’s final pretrial hearing is June 4, the day before the recall election. This could be significant since the DA’s office has been presumably putting pressure on Russell to enter some sort of plea bargain and turn witness against Walker and others that have been involved with the Walkergate scandal. This could lead to new charges being issued and new information being made available if he should decide to stand with Walker. And if he would turn state witness, he would be a treasure trove of information. But the timing would be key as to whether it would have any significant impact on the election.
Which leaves us with the case of Darlene Wink. She, like Rindfleisch, was charged with illegal campaigning. However, unlike the others so far, she has already pled guilty as part of a plea bargain. As part of the bargain, she agreed to be a witness against the other people and to aid in the investigation, including talking about the destruction of digital evidence. Shortly after this bargain was offered to her, the DA found a mystery dumpster full of papers, which very well might be files that went missing went Walker left Milwaukee County to become governor.
The sentencing hearing for Wink is scheduled for May 15. If she hasn’t been forthcoming enough with the investigators, the hearing could be delayed. Again, it might be interesting to see what comes of what she shared with the investigators and if the investigators make this information public in a timely fashion with regards to the elections.
So, will John Doe have a say in the upcoming recall election? It’s hard to say. It depends on the course of the Walkergate investigation and related trials. But if a shoe or several shoes do drop in the next six weeks, I have a feeling their going to be mighty big ones.
The one thing I can say with confidence is that Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm is not paying attention to the timing of the elections. He’ll bring matters forward when his case his strong enough for his satisfaction and not a minute sooner.
Unfortunately, the Walker’s malfeasance has given us enough reasons to recall him without needing his corruption on top of the heap.
*For those that are unaware, Wisconsin has a most peculiar law that allows public officials charged with misconduct in office or campaign violations to have their trials in their home counties as opposed to the county in which the alleged crimes occurred. They passed this to allow them to get a more friendly jury instead of one that would go strictly by the law.