Here is another wrinkle in the charges filed Thursday in the investigation of former aides to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), from his time as Milwaukee County Executive: One of them has worked out a plea bargain, and will provide testimony against others in the investigation.
The charges were announced Thursday by District Attorney John Chisholm (D). Walker’s former deputy chief of staff Kelly Rindfleisch, and former constituent services coordinator Darlene Wink, are charged with illegally raising money while in a county building and using government equipment to do so. (Rindfleisch was allegedly raising money then state Rep. Brett Davis, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2010 Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor, while Wink was allegedly raising money for Walker.)
But interestingly, the charges against Rindfleisch are felonies, while those against Wink are just misdemeanors.
As WisPolitics reports, there does appear to be a plea bargain going on — that Wink will plead guilty to the misdemeanors, in exchange for her testimony against others in the case. Wink’s attorney confirmed to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she is cooperating with the investigation, and hopes to reach a plea bargain.
An official letter to Wink’s attorney from an Assistant District Attorney describes the office’s position: That in their view, her actions would support felony charges. However, “Ms. Wink has provided information concerning a related investigation involving the destruction of digital evidence,” and she is also “in possession of further information as it relates to possible future prosecution(s) and proceeding(s).”
As such, the D.A.’s office planned to charge her with misdemeanors, to which she will plead guilty. In exchange for her guilty plea and further testimony, they will not seek her imprisonment. She might, however, be required to reimburse the county for her pay from time she had spent on political activity.
The letter does not specify what exact instances of destruction of digital evidence are involved. It does name some other investigations in which she will be expected to testify, such as former Walker aide Tim Russell (see below) — but with the caveat that her cooperation would not be limited to those cases.
The “John Doe” investigation — a secret proceeding in which witnesses can be subpoenaed to testify under oath, but are forbidden from talking publicly about the case — is reported to have began in 2010, when Walker was a candidate for governor. Darlene Wink resigned after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that she had been using state time to post comments on the paper’s articles, promoting Walker and criticizing his opponents in the gubernatorial race.
For example, one comment criticized Walker’s opponent in the Republican primary, former Congressman Mark Neumann: “Conservatives need to listen to what Neumann is really saying - the true conservative in the race for Governor is Walker.” Wink posted her comments under the handle “RPMCVP” — a reference to her dual position as vice chairwoman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party.
These new charges, however, go to a higher level by crossing over into outright fundraising activity.
Three weeks ago, other former Walker aides were charged with allegedly defrauding a veteran’s charity. In addition, former Waker aide Tim Russell’s domestic partner Brian Pierick was charged with child enticement after evidence was found in the course of the veteran’s charity investigation against Russell.
Thursday afternoon, Walker campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews released this statement:
“The Milwaukee County Executive’s Office expressed policy was that county employees were not permitted to use county time or resources to conduct any political activity. Scott Walker expected everyone to follow the law and made that clear publicly and privately.”
Walker is facing a recall election later in the year, after Democrats turned in over a million signatures — nearly twice the 540,208, or 25 percent of the total votes in the previous election for governor, needed to trigger a new election. For now, however, a recent poll showed Walker leading each of his potential Democratic opponents.