Empower Wisconsin | June 12, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — If Team Evers’ excuses for making secret recordings of a meeting with Republican leadership sound familiar, it’s because they are.
In a bombshell revelation first reported Wednesday by Empower Wisconsin, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) learned that they had been secretly recorded during their May 14 meeting with Gov. Tony Evers and his staff. The meeting was about how the Republican-led Legislature and the Evers administration could work together to safely reopen Wisconsin the day after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the administration’s public health lockdown.
Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the governor was not aware of the recording. The meeting was also recorded to “make sure” Evers’ team “had an accurate account of what happened because Republicans and Democrats have publicly disagreed over how past meetings had gone,” the newspaper reported.
Fitzgerald called the clandestine recording “Nixonesque,” with good reason.
Students of history will recall that H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, Republican President Richard M. Nixon’s chief of staff, said the same thing in defending his former boss.
In a 1988 piece for Prologue magazine, Haldeman, who spent 18 months in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal, said Nixon simply wanted to make sure he had an accurate account of his activities.
“The problem was that people who met with the president did not always report accurately or completely what was said and decided privately,” wrote Nixon’s gatekeeper who once described himself as “the president’s son-of-a-bitch.”
“Sometimes the error was honest; Nixon often knew much more about a subject than the person he was meeting with, and misunderstanding sometimes resulted from this,” Haldeman continued. “More often, though, the inaccurate reports had more self-serving motives. Contact with the president presents many temptations to people and brings out many things in their personalities that might never have appeared had they not been flattered with Oval Office meetings.”
Nixon, of course, wasn’t the first president to record everything. His predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, did the same, insisting he owed it to historians to get a full and accurate accounting of his time in office.
“Sometimes the misreporting of fact had a bad intent, sometimes it represented a willful manufacture of false knowledge in order to gain some end,” wrote Haldeman, who died in 1993, 20 years after the peak of the Watergate investigations.
How many secret recordings did Team Evers make? That question remains unanswered.
Empower Wisconsin on Thursday in email asked Baldauff, Did the governor or his staff record any other conversations during meetings with Republican leadership or other Republicans —other than the May 14 recording? If so, when and why?
Per usual, the secretive administration did not respond to a pretty important question.