Criminal probes threaten Scott Walker’s 2016 prospects

The State Column, Margaret Ledwith | February 23, 2014

Walker may have a problem in 2016.

Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker reportedly is considering running for president in the 2016 election, especially since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s image has been badly tarnished by recent scandal. But Walker faces some problems of his own.

Right now, Walker is in the middle of trying to handle fallout from two criminal investigations in his home state that could put a wrench in his aspirations to take up residence in the White House. And to make matters worse, 25,000 pages of emails from an ex-staffer were released Wednesday, emails that Democrats hope have the potential to embarrass the Wisconsin governor.

The emails just released were gathered during one of the criminal investigations, which is now concluded. The focus was on Walker’s tenure as Milwaukee County executive prior to his election as governor and resulted in the convictions of six former aides and allies involved for improperly co-mingling county business and political campaign activities, according to the Washington Post. What Walker knew about the practice and when he knew about it are long-standing questions.

The documents show that Walker personally told his county staff to hold a daily conference call with campaign aides to coordinate strategy. They also show Walker routinely used a campaign email account to email county staffers, a practice state prosecutors say was to protect political business from release to the public under Wisconsin’s open government statutes.

Another ongoing investigation into Walker’s activities–a probe shrouded in secrecy under Wisconsin’s strict privacy laws–also could be damaging. Some believe prosecutors are looking into whether there was improper coordination between his successful 2012 recall campaign and independent conservative groups.

In any event, the negative fallout from this new investigation coupled with the potentially embarrassing emails could not only cripple Walker in his November gubernatorial reelection campaign, but make it hard for him to gain traction in a bid for the nation’s top job in 2016.

Walker supporters have dismissed the criminal investigations as politically biased. Last week, the conservative group Wisconsin Club for Growth filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the new probe of illegal coordination as a violation of free speech rights.

But Democrats had no complaints about the state probes.

“Will there be indication that Scott Walker knew about the illegal behavior that took place? I don’t know,” said Mike Tate, chairman of the state Democratic Party, adding, however, “all we need is something bad to be these 27,000 emails, and all attention will turn to Wisconsin.”


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