Empower Wisconsin | July 1, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — With apologies to Harry Truman, the buck never stops with Gov. Tony Evers.
The governor’s office says there’s no written record of anyone authorizing the May 14 secret recording of a meeting with Republican leadership. The meeting occurred the day after the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling invalidating the Evers administration’s public health lockdown.
If the governor and his Nixonesque crew think Tapegate is going to quietly go away, they are rudely mistaken.
“The fact that no evidence of authorization to record the call exists just raises more questions,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said in a statement Tuesday.
“Is the governor’s office harboring someone who committed a felony? It’s clear that the governor thinks he can hide from this and that it will just go away — that’s totally unacceptable,” the senator added.
Someone recorded the meeting between Evers, two top administration officials and Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) and members of their staff. Team Evers just isn’t saying who.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Tuesday reported that the governor’s office released a brief letter in response to an open records request. In it Evers’ lawyers said there was no record of anyone authorizing the recording of the call.
In response to Empower Wisconsin’s open records request asking if the governor’s office had made more clandestine recordings of Republicans, Evers’ Office of Legal Counsel wrote that it had “no other responsive records.”
The way the administration has secretly operated, it cannot be assumed that there aren’t other secret recordings out there.
Evers’ attorneys also apologized for its delayed response.
“The attached letter was supposed to go out to you on June 19, 2020. On that date, we filled numerous public records requests regarding the May 14 call. Yours was supposed to be one of them. We apologize for the mistake,” Evers legal team wrote in an email.
Evers’ handlers have said the Democrat had no knowledge of the recording made without the Republican leaders’ knowledge. The recording was ultimately pushed out to mainstream media by someone inside the administration to try to embarrass Vos for comments he made during the meeting on immigrant populations and COVID-19 in his district. The plan backfired badly.
Under Wisconsin’s one-party consent law, any of the parties with knowledge of the call could have recorded it. The Republicans didn’t have to be told the conservation was recorded. That is, the secret recording was legal if Evers or his two top staff members knew about it. Sleazy, but legal.
A memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, however, notes that “if another person in the governor’s office recorded the telephone call without the prior consent or authorization of the governor, Chief of Staff Gau, or Chief Legal Counsel Nilsestuen, then the person may well have violated Wis. Stat. § 968.31 (1) since the person was not a party to the communication.”
That’s a felony.
The governor and his team continue to play games. Perhaps there is no record of anyone authorizing the recording, but someone clearly recorded the call. Evers doesn’t want to name names because either somebody in his administration did something very sneaky or committed a crime — or both. Either way, Evers loses.