Thousands of emails prosecutors collected during the first secret investigation into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s former aides and associates when he was a county executive were released on Oct. 21.
The public release of the documents prompted allegations from Walker and other Republicans that the timing two weeks before the election was politically motivated but freedom of information advocates and Democrats said the release of the documents was a long time coming.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s office made public the nearly 16,000 emails and attachments that prosecutors seized from county and personal computers during the investigation that ended in 2013. Walker was never charged but six of his aides and associates were convicted on charges ranging from theft to misconduct in office.
The documents’ release comes in the midst of Walker’s fierce re-election contest against Democrat Mary Burke. A Marquette University Law School poll released last week showed the race is tied.
Burke released a new campaign ad two hours before the emails were made public that mentions the convictions and says the state can’t afford four more years of Walker. Burke told reporters before she voted early in Madison on Oct. 21 that the timing of the ad wasn’t based on the emails’ release.
“The timing is about that people when they go to the polls need to consider his entire record over the last four years when looking at the next four years,” Burke said. “Part of that, not only a lagging economy and historic cuts to education, but certainly the scandal around his administration.”
Burke said she never discussed the release of the records with Abele. And Paul Bargren, the attorney for Milwaukee County who oversaw release of the records, said in an email that when to release the records was up to his office alone. Abele was not involved, Bargren said.
“As material was ready for release, I chose to make it available rather than hold on to it,” Bargren wrote.
Walker, in a prepared statement, noted that Abele, his wife and campaign committee had donated $63,000 to Burke. Walker said releasing the emails now so close to the election was designed to “distract voters from my opponent’s failed record.”
The emails released were collected during the first secret investigation, known as a John Doe, involving Walker. Included were more than 1,000 pages of emails sent and received by Walker from private and campaign accounts. The messages, many of which were sent during Walker’s 2010 run for governor, show county staff interacting with those on Walker’s gubernatorial campaign, discussing strategy and seeking advice on how to answer questions from reporters.
It had been previously revealed that Walker held daily calls with county workers and those on his campaign.
A judge in May turned over the 500 gigabytes of records to Abele’s office and ordered that they be released. Two previous batches of documents were released by Abele’s office in August and September and 27,000 pages of emails collected during the investigation were previously released as part of an appeal made by one of Walker’s aides convicted of misconduct in office.
A second John Doe investigation was launched in 2012 focusing on alleged illegal coordination between Walker’s recall campaign and more than two dozen conservative groups. That investigation is on hold after the judge overseeing it in January blocked subpoenas prosecutors requested.
That case is pending before the state Supreme Court.
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report in Madison.
Email editors about this story, or with a story idea.