The two-year-old corruption investigation into Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker reached a major inflection point just days before his recall election next week when it came out that Walker had transferred $100,000 of campaign money to his legal defense fund and seemed to acknowledge that he is the center of the probe.
In the final debate last night, challenger Tom Barrett repeatedly slammed Walker for his legal woes and for stonewalling the public. “I have a police department that arrests felons,” the Democratic Milwaukee mayor said, “he has a practice of hiring them.” He added, “I’ve been in public life for 28 years. No one on my staff has been charged with a felony, and I’ve never had a criminal defense fund.”
Documents made public last night show prosecutors requested the secret investigation after they found Walker’s office “unable or unwilling” to provide information. “It may be the county executive’s office is reluctant to provide information to investigators due to a fear of political embarrassment,” an assistant DA wrote to a judge in May 2010. Walker has maintained that he has cooperated with prosecutors all along, so the document casts doubt on his story of the proceedings. Asked about the stonewalling last night, he essentially called the report untrue.
Already, three aides who have worked for Walker have been charged, as have two of his appointees and a major donor. One aide pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts relating to work she did for Walker’s gubernatorial campaign on county taxpayers’ dime.
Two appointees were arrested for allegedly embezzling $60,000 from a fund that was intended to be used for veterans. They used the money instead for Caribbean cruises, wedding expenses, Walker campaign barbeques and other Walker campaign activities, prosecutors claim. They are awaiting trial.
Get this: In addition to Walker’s stonewalling, part of the difficulty the Feds have been having with the Walker probe is that Walker apparently set up a secret, private office email system to circumvent open-records law.
Walker’s trying to justify the stonewalling by saying that the prosecutors didn’t want him to speak publicly about the case. Former Wisconsin State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, via the Madison Isthmus, begs to differ:
Lautenschlager agreed that “Walker should have produced evidence to clear himself” if he was not a target of investigation, and that it would be “malpractice” for his attorneys not to seek a letter from prosecutors clearing him.
She also disputed Walker’s contention that he could not speak publicly about the investigation because prosecutors did not want him to.
“There is no happier person than a prosecutor when a target starts speaking publicly,” she said.
As state attorney general, Lautenschlager said that she worked by a “rule of thumb” when investigating wrongdoing by politicians “not to say anything within two months of an election,” unless prosecutors could clear the politician in question, to avoid the appearance of a politically motivated prosecution.
While that rules out an indictment before the election on Tuesday, she said, Walker appears to be “on that pathway toward indictment.”
So while the Republicans prepare to proclaim what they think will be a Walker win on Tuesday as a bellwether for November, what they won’t be talking about, win or lose, is that Walker may well be “on that pathway toward indictment”.