MADISON, Wis. (AP) — One of a handful of 2020 election reviews pushed by Republicans could be nearing an end in Wisconsin — or not.
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. But Donald Trump as well as 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.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos hired Michael Gableman last summer under a $676,000 taxpayer-funded contract that paid Gableman $11,000 a month. Vos twice extended the contract, most recently last month through Saturday.
As the deadline loomed, Trump issued a not-so veiled threat Monday at Vos.
“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.”
Vos hired Gableman 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, the longest-serving Assembly speaker in state history, has tried to appease the wing of his party who support Trump and question the outcome of the election, while also pushing back against those who want to decertify Biden’s win.
Wisconsin’s investigation has dragged on, even after a much ridiculed one 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.
Wisconsin Assembly Elections Committee Chair Rep. Janel Brandtjen, a Republican who has invited election conspiracy theorists to testify before her committee and supported calls to decertify Biden’s win, is calling for the investigation to go on.
“If Speaker Vos shuts down the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation now, not only will he be condoning cheating, he’ll be legalizing it,” Brandtjen said Monday.
Vos did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
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. The judge in that case scheduled a Tuesday hearing.
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 that described a Milwaukee city employee as “probably” a Democrat because she “has a weird nose ring,” colors her hair and lives with her boyfriend again drew criticism.
“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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