No surprise: Bice buries the lead, Walker follows the law

Part 137 of 137 in the series Wisconsin’s Secret War

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. – It was supposed to be a Democratic October Surprise.

But the grand revelation following a massive document dump Tuesday was unsurprising: Gov. Scott Walker followed the law.

“If (Darlene Wink) was posting comments from her office computer, she has to be suspended pending an official review,” Walker, who at the time was Milwaukee County executive, wrote to his staffers in May 2010 email, referring to his constituent services coordinator.

That nugget of information was buried at the bottom of a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel column in which the newspaper breathlessly claimed to have reviewed 16,000 emails dumped two weeks ahead of the dead-heat election showdown between Walker and his challenger, Democrat Mary Burke.

The emails were released by Milwaukee’s hyper-partisan County Executive Chris Abele. They provided no new insights and no proof of illegal activity – unless, of course, you consider the release evidence that Abele coordinated the release with Democratic activists in a timely attack on the governor.

THE REST OF THE STORY: Another John Doe document dump Tuesday dredged up more old news. But overlooked in the mainstream media’s smoking-gun coverage is Gov. Scott Walker’s direct response to news that his aide when Walker was Milwaukee County executive, had been accused of wrong-doing.

Had there been any evidence of wrongdoing in the documents, the people sending them would have been charged long ago by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. Like Abele and Burke, Chisholm is a Democrat; unlike them, he has the power to prosecute people. With his not-so-secret John Doe investigation into conservatives now in its fourth year, and with little to show for his work, it might be more aptly said that Chisholm is his county’s Top Persecutor.

None of this stopped the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and its investigative columnist Daniel Bice from publishing a smoking-gun headline for a column that one constitutional law expert called a “non-story.”

Bice’s piece doesn’t reveal a smoking gun. Just one of those comedic theater pistols that shoot out a tiny flag that says “bang.”

The piece – headlined “Scott Walker campaign staffer OK’d statement denying political activity by county staff” – picks at emails sent by staff of Walker when he was Milwaukee County executive.

Bice takes the opportunity to congratulate himself for breaking a May 2010 story about Darlene Wink, the Walker aide who was caught defending her boss in comments to online news stories – comments she wrote while working at her government job. Chisholm went after Wink as if she were a serial killer, ultimately charging her with two misdemeanor counts of campaigning on county time.

Bice tells us that the new emails reveal that, before responding to news accounts of Wink’s comments, Walker’s staff, turned to aides for Walker’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign for advice.

In a May 13, 2010, email to Walker and three Walker campaign aides, Fran McLaughlin, then Walker’s county spokeswoman, wrote, “Is this ok to send to Bice?”

Who cares, says constitutional law expert Rick Esenberg.

“That’s pretty weak tea,” he said of Bice’s mental gymnastics in making a story out of communications that occur every day in government offices across the nation – including the nation’s highest office.

“If anyone thinks the press statements that come out of White House press office or frankly the office of any elected official are not undertaken with potential political implications in mind – and for that reason not infrequently vetted from political advisers – that person doesn’t understand human nature,” said Esenberg, president and founder of the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

“There is nothing about it that is illegal or improper or morally objectionable. It’s a nonstory,” he said of Bice’s column.

But in campaign politics, it’s not the story but the narrative that counts. And the Burke campaign was fast to drive its all-in campaign message, truth be damned, painting the controversial Republican governor with a broad brush of corruption.

Two hours after the email dump, Burke’s campaign on Tuesday released an ad questioning Walker’s integrity and pointing to the Chisholm’s convictions. The ad doesn’t refer to the latest document dump, but the timing was highly criticized by the right.

“Four years of political fistfights, criminal convictions, and secret donations. We can’t afford four more years of Scott Walker and we don’t have to,” the ad states.

No matter that Chisholm’s exhaustive investigation into Walker’s former aides and associates was finally shut down in March 2013 after nearly three years, with no charges of wrongdoing lodged against the governor.

The probe did net six convictions, four of which had nothing to do with the original scope of the DA’s politically charged dragnet.

Walker and the GOP blamed Abele, his Democratic successor as county executive, for releasing the remainder of the long-closed investigation’s documents so close to next month’s general election.

“Clearly, the highly partisan Milwaukee County Executive, who has given $63,000 to my opponent released four-year-old emails two weeks before the election to distract voters from my opponent’s failed record,” Walker said in a statement.

MAKING HAY? Democrat Mary Burke’s campaign on Tuesday released a new ad all about the John Doe investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s former aides and associates. The ad aired two hours before her pal and big contributor, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, dumped thousands more John Doe documents for media consumption.

Even the Journal Sentinel was forced to bite down hard and acknowledge that, “Most of the emails released Tuesday appeared to run over familiar ground …”

And Bice seems to grudgingly acknowledge, toward the bottom of the piece, that “Walker is included in all of the emails on the Wink statement, but he gave no input” on it.

What Walker did say, according to the now-public emails, is this:

“If she (Wink) was posting comments from her office computer, she has to be suspended pending an official review.”

That statement would seem to suggest a public official who was doing his job, an official who had little tolerance for even the perception of wrongdoing in his office.

In this day and age of real corruption in public office, Walker’s response sounds like the real story here.

As Esenberg notes, in the shadow of this election, who cares what Walker’s staff wrote in emails to campaign advisers. Walker is the candidate for governor, not Fran McLaughlin.

“If McLaughlin wants to run this by the campaign, that’s not particularly surprising to me,” Esenberg said. “The notion that Walker made it quite clear (what he would not tolerate) is the more significant revelation, if it is a revelation.”