Governor’s Inbox Puts Deputy Prosecutor Out (Updated)

Walker’s e-mails give Wisconsin watchdog a story

A young Indiana deputy prosecutor has resigned after an interesting journalistic project sprung from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s release of e-mails to a Wisconsin weekly and the AP.

You’ll remember Tuesday’s AP story in which the organization parsed more than 26,000 e-mails sent to the governor’s office in February. The AP created a database of the e-mails sent from the moment Walker announced his union-enraging plans (Feb 11) to the day the he first discussed the e-mails in public. That was at a press conference on February 17, with about 25,000 protesters amassed in and around the Capitol. “The more than 8,000 emails we got today, the majority are telling us to stay firm, to stay strong, to stand with the taxpayers,” Walker told reporters.

The AP and Madison weekly Isthmus wanted to put Walker’s statement to the test and requested e-mails from his office; when the governor’s office did not respond, the two outlets sued and got their hands on the trove (though the database the AP produced drew from Feb 11-17, e-mails were sent from Feb 11-25). AP reporters read each e-mail and categorized them by whether they supported or opposed Walker, or were ambiguous or unrelated. The verdict on Walker’s statement was mixed: the AP’s analysis found 55 percent of the e-mails were in support of the governor and 44 percent were against, but for most of the week, writers were against his actions. The tide only turned when Democratic legislators left the state to avoid voting on the proposed laws.

Now we’re seeing what little treasures can be found in such a trove. Kate Golden, a reporter with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, found her eye drawn to one e-mail in the AP’s horde. [UPDATE: Actually, Isthmas contacted the Center when it received the e-mails and asked the center to help analyze them. The Center’s Executive Director Andy Hall says that a team of nine pored over the e-mails over the weekend and produced this analysis, independent of the AP’s. It was while doing this that they noticed the e-mail on which Golden based her story.] Dated February 19, the e-mail from Carlos Lam, a deputy prosecutor from Johnson County, Ind., fits firmly in the pro-Walker pile. After some effusive praise for Walker’s strong stand, the letter writer then suggests a strategy the governor might employ to win the emerging PR battle.

“As an aside,” begins the second paragraph of the letter, “I’ve been involved in GOP politics here in Indiana for 18 years, and I think that the situation in WI presents a good opportunity for what’s called a ‘false flag’ operation. If you could employ an associate who pretends to be sympathetic to the unions’ cause to physically attack you (or even use a firearm against you), you could discredit the public unions. Currently, the media is painting the union protest as a democratic uprising and failing to mention the role of the DNC and umbrella union organizations in the protest. Employing a false flag operation would assist in undercutting any support that the media may be creating in favor of the unions.”

“Carlos F. Lam” then signs off, “God bless.”

When Golden contacted Lam for a story first published yesterday, she reported that the deputy prosecutor denied he had written the e-mail, and he was going to file a police report. The rather odd alibi: “He said he was minivan-shopping with his family when the email was sent.”

Lam, who asked that his name not be used, said he was particularly concerned since “the person who wrote this seems to know a lot about me” and his account “had been hacked in the past.” After being read the email, he said he took down his Facebook page, changed his cell phone number, email passwords, “library, medical, bank, student loan, and a whole host of records,” and was afraid for his and his family’s safety.

Madison Police Det. Cindy Murphy said that if Lam’s account was hacked and his identity was stolen, either Wisconsin or Indiana could have jurisdiction over that crime. If he filed a complaint, it would be straightforward to request information from Hotmail and Lam’s Internet service provider (ISP) about the location of the computer logged into his account when the email was sent, said Murphy, who specializes in computer forensics.

“If we run all this down and it does turn out that he was hacked into, then he is a victim, and he should be outraged—and somebody should be held responsible,” she said. “And no one can fake the data that’s held by the ISPs.”

It turns out that Lam was not out checking the roominess of potential family vehicles at the time the e-mail was sent, after all. In an update to her story, posted the same day as the original, Golden writes:

At 5 a.m. Thursday, expecting the story to come out that day, Lam called his boss, Johnson County, Ind., Prosecutor Brad Cooper, and told him he had been up all night thinking about it. “He wanted to come clean, I guess, and said he is the one who sent that email,” Cooper said.

He came into the office and gave his resignation verbally, Cooper told the Daily Journal in Franklin, Ind. The resignation was announced after the Center’s initial story was published.

Email headers with detailed IP addresses suggested that the message was sent from Indianapolis. Lam, an Indianapolis resident, at first told the Center he never wrote it.

It’s important to note that Walker’s people claim they never saw the e-mail, and obviously, no false flag strategy was put in place—unless someone pulled a gun on the governor and I didn’t hear about it. Still, it will be interesting to see if Golden—and enterprising journos like her—find more stories in the governor’s inbox.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , ,