Journalists and opponents of Wisconsin governor and possible Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker on Wednesday were poring over some 28,000 pages of newly released documents connected to a criminal investigation into a former Walker aide.
The documents involve Kelly Rindfleisch, deputy chief of staff to Walker while he was Milwaukee County executive, who is appealing her conviction for misconduct in public office. A state appellate judge ordered the documents unsealed at the request of news organizations.
The former aide's case was part of a wider probe into Walker's county office, which resulted in five other convictions. Rindfleisch has admitted to doing campaign work for Republicans while she was on the clock for Milwaukee County, where Walker served as county executive from 2002 until his election as governor in 2010.
Walker, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the investigation, is running for re-election as governor in 2014 against Democratic businesswoman Mary Burke, and is emerging as a possible candidate for president in 2016.
Democrats said the papers raised "serious questions" about the level of illegal coordination between Walker's office and his campaign.
"This wasn't the work of a few rogue staffers, this was a coordinated effort that goes right to the top," said Mike Czin, national press secretary for the Democratic National Committee.
Czin compared the Walker case with the controversy surrounding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, another potential Republican presidential candidate, whose aides are accused of tying up traffic to punish a political opponent.
Walker's campaign responded that the communications were part of a legal process completed early last year, and he is confident they were "thoroughly reviewed by the authorities."
"The focus of Governor Walker remains on moving Wisconsin forward by helping employers create more jobs, and reducing the tax burden on Wisconsin families," campaign spokesman Jonathan Wetzel said.
The document release will not likely hurt Walker's chances to be Republican presidential candidate, said Mordecai Lee, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"His ultimate defense is that they had all these documents and I wasn't indicted and I was never charged ...," Lee said. "The base views him as such a hero for taking on public labor unions, this is something they can shrug off."
Walker won national attention and conservative applause in 2011 for backing a bill that curtailed collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers.
Lee said the line of attack against Walker over the probe will likely be similar to the criticism of Christie, that even if he did nothing wrong it reflects poorly on his oversight of senior staff.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; editing by Gunna Dickson)