Embattled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has now acknowledged in a press conference and in a nationally television interview—with Fox News host Greta Van Susteren—that he engaged in discussions with political allies about hiring “troublemakers” to disrupt peaceful demonstrations against his budget repair bill.
“You said you thought about it?” asked Van Susteren.
“We did,” replied Walker. “We had people contacting [us]. I even had lawmakers and others suggesting riling things up.”
Lester Pines, one of the most prominent lawyers in Madison, the Wisconsin capital city where the largest demonstrations have taken place, referred to that comment as “a scandal.”
“If , in fact, they took any steps toward implementing that [plan to disrupt rallies], that’s a crime,” explained Pines. “If they took steps to implement that, they engaged in a conspiracy to deny people their civil rights.”
After learning of the governor’s comments in the Thursday interview, Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, a twenty-seven-year veteran lawman, said: ” I spent a good deal of time overnight thinking about Governor Walker’s response, during his news conference yesterday, to the suggestion that his administration ‘thought about’ planting troublemakers among those who are peacefully protesting his bill. I would like to hear more of an explanation from Governor Walker as to what exactly was being considered, and to what degree it was discussed by his cabinet members.
“I find it very unsettling and troubling that anyone would consider creating safety risks for our citizens and law enforcement officers. Our department works hard dialoging with those who are exercising their First Amendment right, those from both sides of the issue, to make sure we are doing everything we can to ensure they can demonstrate safely. I am concerned that anyone would try to undermine these relationships. I have a responsibility to the community, and to the men and women of this department—who are working long hours protecting and serving this community—to find out more about what was being considered by state leaders.”
On Friday, Madison Mayor David Cieslewicz went further, releasing a letter to the governor, in which referenced the governor’s comment and then wrote, “I believe I join most Wisconsinites who find those comments deeply troubling. The protests in Madison have received national recognition for their civility. They have been loud and passionate, but also peaceful. Police and protesters have complimented one another on their behavior. The police have been patient and professional while the protesters have been orderly and respectful of their surroundings. For their governor to seriously entertain for even a moment the idea of disrupting the peaceful expression of civic engagement is a very serious concern.”