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Walker "Criminal Scheme" Comes Amidst Tied Race For Reelection

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Burke, Walker Deadlocked In Most Recent Marquette Law Poll

With the breaking news that prosecutors are alleging that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was at the center of a “criminal scheme” to illegally coordinate national conservative groups during the 2012 recall election, the real political context is not the 2016 presidential race, but the tie race for reelection that Walker finds himself in against Democrat Mary Burke. At the end of May, the highly-respected Marquette Law Poll found Walker and Burke tied at 46 percent of the vote.

While the seemingly incriminating email to Karl Rove should satisfy the Beltway-centric appetite, the real potential political fallout involves Walker’s already tenuous reelection prospects, not the 2016 race for the White House.

Here’s the latest on the breaking news that puts Walker at the center of the “criminal scheme,” complete with Karl Rove email:

Journal Sentinel Headline: “Prosecutors Allege Scott Walker At Center Of ‘Criminal Scheme’”.“Prosecutors allege that Gov. Scott Walker was at the center of an effort to illegally coordinate fundraising among conservative groups to help his campaign and those of Republican senators fend off recall elections during 2011 and ’12, according to documents unsealed Thursday. In the documents, prosecutors lay out what they call a ‘criminal scheme’ to bypass state election laws by Walker, his campaign and two top deputies — R.J. Johnson and Deborah Jordahl. The governor and his close confidants helped raise money and control spending through 12 conservative groups during the recall elections, according to the prosecutors’ filings.”[Journal Sentinel, 6/19/14]

Unsealed Documents Include Walker Email To Karl Rove Discussing Campaign Plans. “The documents include an email in which Walker tells Karl Rove, former top adviser to President George W. Bush, that Johnson would lead the coordination campaign. Johnson is also chief adviser to Wisconsin Club for Growth, a conservative group active in the recall elections. ‘Bottom-line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin. We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like 9 congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities),’ Walker wrote to Rove on May 4, 2011.” [Journal Sentinel, 6/19/14]

Here’s further background on the investigation, during which details have been sparse:

Washington Post: Walker “In The Midst Of Dealing With The Fallout Of Two Criminal Investigations” – One Closed, One Ongoing. “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has been eyeing a 2016 presidential run since his battles with labor unions made him a Republican star, is in the midst of dealing with the fallout of two criminal investigations at home that could complicate his move to the national stage. One is ongoing, and while the other is now closed with no allegations of wrongdoing by Walker, it has the lingering potential to embarrass him.” [Washington Post, 2/18/14]

Ongoing Investigation Likely Centers On Possibly Illegal Coordination Between Walker’s Campaign And Independent Conservative Groups. “Even if Walker escapes the e-mail release unscathed, he faces an additional inquiry from state prosecutors, who are believed to be looking into whether his successful 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with independent conservative groups… The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in October that the investigation is probing possible illegal political coordination during the 2012 recall elections and has spread to five Wisconsin counties, two of them with Republican district attorneys who have joined three Democratic prosecutors in turning the case over to a special prosecutor.” [Washington Post, 2/18/14]

Unsealed Records Indicate The Investigation Includes “Five Targets,” Has Progressed With Prosecutorial Assistance “From Both Political Parties.” “New details released Thursday show the investigation began in the fall of 2012; arose at least in part out of an earlier secret investigation in Milwaukee County; includes five targets; centers on campaign finance laws; and has proceeded with the help of prosecutors from both political parties. Those details were included in scores of pages the court unsealed Thursday at the request of prosecutors and the three unnamed parties who sued to block the probe. The documents showed for the first time that Van Hollen was asked to lead the investigation by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, in January 2013.” [Journal Sentinel, 1/30/13]

Investigation Has Included At Least Two Pre-Dawn “Raids,” Walker Consultant R.J. Johnson “Hinted Very Strongly” That He Was A Focus. ‘Petitioners have had their homes searched, possessions seized, their privileged documents demanded, and presently face a wide-ranging criminal investigation that is without a basis in law,’ [Madison attorney Dean] Strang wrote in one newly unsealed filing. Two of the raids occurred before dawn, the documents show. Republican political strategist R.J. Johnson has hinted very strongly that he is a focus of the investigation. Johnson is a consultant both for Walker’s campaign and Wisconsin Club for Growth, a strong supporter of the GOP governor.” [Journal Sentinel, 1/30/13]

Wisconsin Club for Growth Director Confirmed Receiving A Subpoena Relating To Investigation.According to a November 2013 Wall Street Journal editorial, “one target who did confirm receiving a subpoena is Eric O’Keefe, who realizes the personal risk but wants the public to know what is going on. Mr. O’Keefe is director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which advocates lower taxes, limited government and other conservative priorities… Mr. O’Keefe says he received his subpoena in early October. He adds that at least three of the targets had their homes raided at dawn, with law-enforcement officers turning over belongings to seize computers and files.” [Wall Street Journal Editorial, 11/18/13]

Journal Sentinel Editorial: Appeals Court “Made The Right Decision” In Allowing John Doe Investigation To Continue. “A secret investigation into the 2012 recall elections will continue, at least for now, after the state Court of Appeals blocked an attempt to stop it. We think the court made the right decision. The investigation should continue until it is clear whether there is enough evidence to warrant charges. Despite the fury from some on the political right, we see no evidence of prosecutorial bias. What we do see are prosecutors — Republican and Democrat alike — trying their best to navigate a politically charged case with a steady hand.” [Journal Sentinel Editorial, 2/2/14]