Wisconsin has been riveted in recent days by reports that more of Governor Scott Walker's top aides may be implicated in a secret "John Doe" investigation into potentially illegal campaign practices during Walker's 2010 gubernatorial race. Although the investigation has been underway for at least a year, recent revelations that the governor's spokesperson has been granted immunity and that another top aide had her house raided by the FBI, has the state abuzz with speculation about the target and scope of the investigation.
Governor's Spokesperson Mum
Mum's the word for Walker Press Secretary Cullen Werwie. When the story broke Friday that he had been granted immunity in the ongoing investigation back in April, Werwie had no comment.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that former Appeals Court Judge Neal Nettesheim, who is overseeing the investigation, acknowledged that he had granted immunity to three people, Werwie, a railroad lobbyist and low-ranking Republican official. Werwie joined Walker's campaign after the September 2010 primary and stayed on when Walker was sworn in as governor. His involvement moves the investigation directly into the governor's office and into a more recent time frame than previous revelations.
"It is a big deal," Milwaukee criminal defense lawyer Stephen E. Kravit told the Journal Sentinel. "He recognizes he's got (criminal) exposure and he negotiated for a proffer to get immunity, and that's a big deal."
The latest news comes on top of the September 14 raid on the home of another top Walker aide, Cindy Archer. About a dozen FBI agents and other law enforcement officers descended and seized boxes of materials. Archer's neighbor said FBI agents also confiscated a hard drive he bought from her at a garage sale a few weeks ago.
Archer is at least the third Walker aide to have computers seized as part of the investigation led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, who has a track record of locking up politicians on similar charges. Chisholm has apparently been investigating whether county staffers in Walker's office did unlawful campaign-related work while at their county jobs. Before he was governor, Walker was the Milwaukee County Executive and Archer was a top aide running his county Department of Administration.
In multiple media interviews, Archer has denied any knowledge of the John Doe proceeding and has denied any wrongdoing. Similarly, Walker has also denied any knowledge of the investigation telling a local news channel, "We don't know what exactly is involved there until we know any more." But the governor's campaign has retained former U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic.
The investigation has resulted in at least one conviction. In April, Walker campaign contributor, William Gardner, president and chief executive officer of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, pled guilty to felony violations of Wisconsin campaign law. In January, Wisconsin & Southern Railroad's Ken Lucht was also granted immunity.
Until very recently, Archer was Deputy Secretary of Administration (DOA) under Secretary Mike Huebsch. In Wisconsin, Huebsch is the second most powerful man in state government after the governor. The DOA not only runs the state, it was the chief architect of Scott Walker's "budget repair bill," which was introduced February 11 and stripped public workers of their collective bargaining rights.
Emails obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy demonstrate that Archer played a key role with the DOA "Swat team" in preparing the policy and organizing the "contingency planning" for public reaction.
In one email from February 7, Archer instructs Walker Cabinet Secretaries on how to deal with possible protests: "We have talked about external building security for employees entering and exiting our buildings. If the situation warrants, you should be prepared to limit the number of entrances and exits you have open in your buildings. In the event you experience problems (unruly picket lines, harassment of incoming employees, blockage of your entrances,) you should call 911. We will rely on local law enforcement to assist us." The DOA's decision to lock down the capitol and limit access for months after the protests was the subject of litigation.
In her DOA job, Archer made about $124,000 a year, but in mid-August she mysteriously quit to become a lower level "legislative liaison" at the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. Now it is becoming clear that the new job was organized by the governor's office. She will be paid $99,449 a year -- $39,129 more than the $60,320 the last person to hold the job made -- a 65 percent increase. Nice work if you can get it.
Archer has not yet shown up for her new job and is apparently using some of her banked sick leave from a previous stint with state government to take some time off. But all is not well in the Walker inner-circle. This week, it was revealed that Walker administration lawyers petitioned the courts to withdraw an affidavit filed by Archer in a lawsuit brought by the unions against the collective bargaining bill. Apparently, Scott Walker no longer agrees with her sworn testimony or no longer has faith in one of his chief lieutenants.
Archer joins other top Walker aides that have quietly slipped off the radar including Tom Nardelli, Walker's Chief of Staff when he was County Executive who gave up his job in the state's Division of Environmental and Regulatory Services at the end of July. According to one criminal defense attorney, "everyone in the state is lawyering up."
The drip drip drip of daily revelations has the state abuzz. All will be watching to see if Werwie will be at work on Monday or if he too will find himself suddenly feeling unwell. Perhaps Walker's inner-circle will reconsider their homicidal opposition to good benefits for public workers.