Questions still surround secret phone call recording between governor, legislative leaders

NOW: Questions still surround secret phone call recording between governor, legislative leaders

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – A memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) released this week says the recording of a May 14 phone call between the governor and legislative leaders could be a felony depending on the circumstances, however details still remain unclear.

Governor Tony Evers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald were on the call but had no knowledge that it was being recorded.

“I did not know about it,” Evers told reporters during media briefing on June 11. “A staffer wanted help in taking notes that’s why the staffer did that.”

While other staff members from all three offices were listening to the call, only Evers Chief of Staff Maggie Gau and Chief Legal Counsel Ryan Nilsestuen were announced as actively participating on the call along with Evers, Vos and Fitzgerald. Since Wisconsin is a one-part consent state, only one person on the call had to consent to the recording and have knowledge of it.

According to comments from Evers’ Chief Legal Counsel Ryan Nilsestuen during the media briefing last week, “staff from both legislative offices and the governor’s office were on the call and staff consented to it being recorded.”

The LRB released the memo in response to an inquiry from Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R – Juneau). The memo outlined two possibilities of if the recording was legal or not.

- If any of these individuals recorded the telephone call, or authorized another person to record the call, the recording of the call would not violate Wis. Stat. § 968.31 (1). The recording would be lawful.

- 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.

Fitzgerald and other Republicans want answers about who was recording the call and who had knowledge of it. The issue sparked bipartisan calls for the staffer who did record the call to be fired.

“Frankly I don’t think the governor has gone far enough in addressing the whole situation,” Fitzgerald told CBS 58 in an interview.”

The senate majority leader sees disciplinary action from the governor as necessary for both sides to move forward.

“For me it’s about once again trying to repair, I think, the damage that’s been done,” Fitzgerald said. “The trust that has kind of fallen apart.”

CBS 58 reached out to Evers’ office for additional comment but did not immediately hear back. Evers told reporters in the media briefing last week that he would not discuss personnel actions publicly.

You can read the LRB memo in full, below:

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