Wisconsin’s GOP-ordered election investigation will continue

Apr 26, 2022, 8:05 AM | Updated: 3:03 pm
FILE - Wisconsin Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos speaks to reporters March 16, 2022, in Madis...

FILE - Wisconsin Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos speaks to reporters March 16, 2022, in Madison, Wis. A special investigator's taxpayer-funded contract to look into President Joe Biden's win in the battleground state is set to expire on Saturday, April 30, 2022,. But Donald Trump, the former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice hired to lead the investigation and the chair of the state Assembly committee on elections all want it to continue and are putting pressure on the state's top Republican to extend the much-criticized probe. (AP Photo Scott Bauer File)

(AP Photo Scott Bauer File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican-ordered investigation into the 2020 election in Wisconsin that was supposed to wrap up this week will continue just as Donald Trump urged, but with no more taxpayer money to pay for it, the state’s top Republican said Tuesday.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ announcement that the probe into President Joe Biden’s win in the battleground state will go on beyond Saturday, when the contract with the investigator was scheduled to end, came a day after Trump issued a not-so thinly veiled threat to Vos if he shut it down.

Vos referenced several ongoing lawsuits related to the investigation, but not Trump, in explaining the extension.

“The Office of Special Counsel will remain open as we guarantee the legal power of our legislative subpoenas and get through the other lawsuits that have gridlocked this investigation,” Vos said.

Wisconsin’s review is one of only a handful of GOP efforts to look back at the 2020 election that remain alive.

A much-ridiculed investigation wrapped up in September in Arizona without offering proof to support Trump’s claims of a stolen election. Similar efforts are being pursued by Republicans in the presidential battleground states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, also won by Biden. And in Utah, a panel of majority-GOP lawmakers in December approved an audit of the state’s election system. Unlike Arizona, the Utah effort will be conducted by nonpartisan legislative auditors and is not focused solely on 2020.

Vos hired former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman at $11,000 a month and launched the probe after Trump and others put pressure on him to investigate the 2020 election in Wisconsin. Biden carried Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes, an outcome that has survived recounts, partisan and nonpartisan reviews and numerous lawsuits.

Vos said the investigation would continue under its original $676,000 budget with Gableman agreeing to a pay cut. He didn’t say how much of a cut and his spokeswoman, Angela Joyce, said details were still being finalized. She said Gableman had asked to purchase the state office equipment he had been using, and Vos agreed. She had no further details.

Vos, the longest-serving Assembly speaker in state history, has tried to appease the wing of his party that supports Trump and questions the outcome of the election, while also pushing back against those who want to decertify Biden’s win.

Trump on Monday called for the investigation to go forward.

“Anyone calling themselves a Republican in Wisconsin should support the continued investigation in Wisconsin without interference,” Trump said in a statement.

“I understand some RINOs have primary challengers in Wisconsin,” Trump said without naming Vos or his primary challenger, Adam Steen. “I’m sure their primary opponents would get a huge bump in the polls if these RINOs interfere.”

The acronym RINO refers to “Republican In Name Only.”

Gableman, in a series of recent appearances on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcasts, has urged Vos to allow the work to continue. Gableman asked listeners to call and email Vos to tell him not to have movers remove state furniture from his office on Tuesday.

Gableman did not return a message Tuesday.

Gableman’s inquiry has drawn bipartisan criticism from the start. A conservative, he worked briefly in the Trump administration and said right after the election that he believed it had been stolen from Trump.

Once the investigation began, Gableman was criticized for surrounding himself with Trump loyalists, sending confusing emails, making basic errors in his filings and for meeting with conspiracy theorists. He was sued over his response to open records requests and for subpoenas of mayors and other local elections officials who said they were willing to testify publicly, but not behind closed doors. A hearing on Gableman’s case seeking to jail the mayors for noncompliance is scheduled for July.

A judge last week ordered Gableman to stop deleting emails and other records. On Tuesday, the judge set a June 10 hearing to determine whether Gableman should be found in contempt. Vos has already been found to be in contempt for failing to produce records in another case.

Gableman has delivered two interim reports, most recently in March, but he has failed to meet numerous deadlines. None of his findings provided substantiated evidence that Trump actually won Wisconsin.

Gableman’s recommendation that the Republican-controlled Legislature take a look at decertifying Biden’s win was met with bipartisan scorn.

In recent weeks, Gableman drew new criticism for disparaging how Wisconsin’s top elections administrator, Meagan Wolfe, dressed.

Investigative documents posted publicly in late April showed the probe had expanded to look at the political leanings of public workers involved in elections. One unsigned memo drew criticism; it described a Milwaukee city employee as “probably” a Democrat because she “has a weird nose ring,” colors her hair and lives with her boyfriend.

“There’s something wrong with him,” Republican state Sen. Kathy Bernier, chairwoman of the Senate elections committee, said of Gableman in response to that memo.

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Wisconsin’s GOP-ordered election investigation will continue