DIGGING DEEPER: The use and disclosure of personal email in the - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

DIGGING DEEPER: The use and disclosure of personal email in the Walker administration

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UPDATE (WKOW)-- Governor Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) has been extremely critical of Hillary Clinton's use of personal email while serving as U.S. Secretary of State, despite the fact that two former aides in his Milwaukee County Executive's office were convicted of crimes for using personal email to campaign on county time.

But since the Clinton email story broke in March, Walker has said repeatedly his staff in the governor's office has been instructed to use their official state email whenever possible.

"We have an established policy at the state where all of that information goes through the state server, so any of that is open through the state's open records rules," Gov. Walker told the Weekly Standard on March 9, 2015.

But a 27 News investigation into the use and disclosure of personal emails by the Governor's office is raising questions about just how those records are handled.

On May 28, 27 News asked Gov. Walker if he knew whether former Chief of Staff Keith Gilkes, former Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch or other members of his administration had used personal email for government business.

"I don't know," said Gov. Walker. "I mean, not that I'm aware of."

But we now know the Governor was aware of it at the time that exchange took place. 

Just a few days before we asked those questions, 27 News requested all of the emails sent to or from the personal email addresses of Gilkes, Huebsch, and Walker's second Chief of Staff Eric Schutt - that contained official state business communications.

Their personal email addresses were provided to 27 News by a tipster.

The Governor's office ultimately sent 980 pages worth of the emails to 27 News on Monday, October 12, nearly fourth months after our initial request.

"We have a strict policy in terms of our office or our administration that information regarding state business - conducted on state email - which would be our preference," said Gov. Walker.

But in the first year of the Walker administration, state business was conducted through more than 300 personal emails.

Much of it dealt with planning and strategy. A March 2011 email sent from from Gilkes to other senior staffers, included a memo detailing the self-prescribed weaknesses of the Walker administration's first 100 days in office - mentioning Gov. Walker's overexposure to the media and long winded speeches.

Personal email was used to discuss big policy moments as well. One thread showed a discussion among senior staffers on the day after the State Senate passed Act 10. It includes the statement Secretary Huebsch ultimately released to the media on it being published and becoming law.

Others dealt directly with the strategy surrounding Act 10 and the concern caused after Judge Mary Ann Sumi blocked the law.

Some of the emails were sent to or from Governor Walker's own personal address, but we aren't sure how many due to the fact that both his personal and official email addresses are redacted in the records.

"All identifiers of the non-public official direct email address of the Governor have been redacted pursuant to the balancing test," David Rabe, assistant legal counsel to Gov. Walker, wrote to 27 News in a letter accompanying the records. "We have determined that the public interest in avoiding potential disruption of the Governor's ability to carry out his responsibilities without unnecessary interruption if his direct email address became common knowledge outweighs any public interest in disclosure."

Bob Drechsel, director of the UW-Madison Center for Journalism Ethics, told 27 News the state's open records law doesn't directly address the use of personal email.

"I don't think there's anything that says you can't use it, but I think the law is written and interpreted in such a way that says if you do use it you still will be subject to an open records request," said Drechsel.

That's exactly what the Governor's office told 27 News when we reached out for comment.

"Our office also routinely trains staff to forward any emails related to state business to their official accounts for the purpose of retention," said Gov. Walker's Press Secretary Laurel Patrick.  

But dozens of the emails 27 News received were never sent to an official state account until they were forwarded to the government email address of Gov. Walker's Chief Legal Counsel Brian Hagedorn on July 31, 2015. That date comes four years after the emails were originally written and two months after our open records request.

"Yeah, I think it's an issue to be sure and apparently and potentially a serious one," said Drechsel, who believes that delay and lag time raises questions about whether 27 News even got all of the personal emails that ever existed, or if some were permanently deleted from personal accounts long ago.

"To me, the policy that you described of forwarding those emails so they get into the state system is a very good one. But again, it all falls apart if people don't - in good faith - comply with the policy," said Drechsel.

Drechsel, and one other public records expert who chose to remain anonymous, both said they believe state law should be updated to specifically address the use of personal email for government business.

Laurel Patrick maintains the Governor's office ultimately did comply fully with their own policy and open records law in this case.

Gov. Walker refused an interview for this story.

MADISON (WKOW) -- Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) has not shied away from criticizing Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email server during her time as U.S. Secretary of State, but some have called that stance hypocritical due to the criminal conviction of two Walker staffers who used personal email to conduct campaign business when they were being paid to do work for the Milwaukee County Executive's office.

Tonight on 27 News at 10, we are Digging Deeper into how prevalent the use of personal email has been among members of Gov. Scott Walker's current administration and whether they are properly handling those records for the purpose of open records disclosure.

Walker himself told 27 News in May that he had no knowledge of of private email use being widespread in his administration, but that any such use is open to public records law. We look at the veracity of that claim as well.

Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann will have more on this story coming up on 27 News at 10. 

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