Newly released documents show the court involved in an ongoing John Doe probe into Gov. Scott Walker’s tenure as Milwaukee County executive subpoenaed the public files of multiple employees and also contain online chat transcripts where employees discussed future career aspirations in Walker’s administration.
According to the court documents, on Aug. 15, 2011, the court involved with the John Doe proceedings issued subpoenas for the personnel files of seven employees, including Walker’s former spokesperson, Fran McLaughlin.
The seven subpoenas were also for three former employees who face criminal charges, including Kelly Rindfleisch, who served as Walker’s deputy chief of staff in Milwaukee County.
The recently released documents also include a series of transcripts of online chats between chief of staff Jim Villa and Rindfleisch soon after she became deputy chief of staff. In a March 30, 2010 online chat, Rindfleish said “fran” was reviewing campaign press releases.
“And then I got fran highlighting all the mistakes in the press releases that the campaign does,” Rindflesich said in the transcript.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said that this would be illegal if done on county time and that it would be “stealing” from the taxpayers to do campaign work in a government office.
In the transcripts, Rindflesich and Villa also pictured the kinds of jobs they would get once Walker became governor. Rindfleisch told Villa she decided he “needed to be Secretary of Commerce.”
“You can do that for 3 years and then transition into the private sector with a very lucrative job,” she said in one chat message. In subsequent messages she added, “and I can be your [executive assistant], you can pay me well. I’ll stay through a transition and then go to the private sector.”
In a transcript for a March 28, 2010 set of online messages, Villa said he thought Walker was thinking of him as an executive assistant for the Department of Administration or the governor’s office, depending on if Walker won the governor’s race.
Heck said the subpoenas show several higher staff members who could face charges, such as McLaughlin, who now works as a spokesperson for the Milwaukee Police Department.
“It’s an interesting road map of where the investigation could be headed,” Heck said.
However, the political implications of the investigation and whether it would have an effect on a potential recall election Walker faces remains in question. University of Wisconsin life sciences communication professor and expert in public opinion Dietram Scheufele said it would depend on whether or not Democrats focused on the John Doe probe as one of two or three main issue in their campaigns.
He said Democratic gubernatorial candidates are eventually going to have to decide on two to three key issues. He called this process priming, where a candidate selects and runs on key issues to get the voters to think about in the voting booth.
While he said this could be one of the issues Democrats focus on, the Democratic Party is still struggling to choose the issues they will focus on in the campaign, partially because they have not decided on a candidate.