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GABLEMAN INVESTIGATION

Speaker Robin Vos fires Michael Gableman, marking end to 2020 election review

From the 2022 year in review: tragedies, triumphs and new faces series
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Michael Gableman

Gableman

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Friday fired Michael Gableman, marking an end to the more than $1 million taxpayer-funded, GOP-ordered review that has failed to uncover any evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

A day after telling the Wisconsin State Journal he wanted the election review to reach its “natural conclusion,” Vos, who hired Gableman last summer to lead the probe, ended the state’s contract with Gableman and closed the Office of Special Counsel headed by the former state Supreme Court justice.

Gableman’s firing comes three days after Vos narrowly defeated his primary opponent Adam Steen, who was endorsed by both Gableman and former President Donald Trump.

Robin Vos

Vos

“After having many members of our caucus reach out to me over the past several days, it is beyond clear to me that we only have one choice in this matter, and that’s to close the Office of Special Counsel,” Vos said in a statement issued first to The Associated Press.

In an interview with WISN-12, Vos said he sent Gableman a letter on the matter, adding he hasn’t personally spoken with the former justice in weeks.

“I really don’t think there’s any need to have a discussion,” Vos said. “He did a good job last year, it kind of got off the rails this year and now we’re going to end the investigation.”

Vos said his goal now is to help Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels defeat Democratic Gov. Tony Evers this November and pass a slew of election bills Evers vetoed last legislative session.

Vos hired Gableman at a cost of $676,000, though legal fees and other court costs have pushed the price tag to more than $1.1 million — all of which will ultimately fall on taxpayers. Gableman was paid more than $100,000 to lead the review.

‘Farce’ from start

“The investigation was a farce from the beginning and did nothing but waste taxpayer dollars, demonize our local clerks and election officials, and further sow misinformation and doubt in our democratic systems,” Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, said in a statement. “I’m relieved the Office of the Special Counsel is closed, but this action from Speaker Vos today is far too little, far too late.”

Vos told the Wisconsin State Journal on Thursday several state Republicans wanted to see Gableman’s review come to “a natural conclusion,” but at the time still planned to caucus next Tuesday to decide the fate of the review.

“I would have fired his keister a long time ago,” said Sen. Kathleen Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, who chairs the Senate elections committee. Bernier, who is not seeking another term this year, has long criticized the election review.

As to why Gableman had remained under contract for so long, “Robin may not have fired him prior to the primary for political reasons and I don’t blame him,” Bernier said, clarifying that she was only speculating about Vos’ intentions.

Gableman did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Trump’s lie

Facing pressure from Trump, who continues to promote the lie of a stolen 2020 presidential election, Vos unveiled plans to embark on the election review at the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s annual convention in June 2021.

But while Vos launched the review at Trump’s behest, the former president’s opinion of Vos has soured in recent weeks due to the speaker’s refusal to entertain Trump’s calls to decertify the results of the 2020 presidential election — something that cannot happen under state law or the U.S. Constitution.

A recount, court decisions and multiple reviews have affirmed that President Joe Biden defeated Trump in Wisconsin by almost 21,000 votes. A report from the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau last year found no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election but made several recommendations for improvements.

A brief history

The review was initially intended to conclude by the end of last year, but Gableman himself admitted in June — while providing testimony in one of four public records lawsuits related to the probe — that he spent the first several months of his efforts getting up to speed on Wisconsin elections.

He also attended a South Dakota event hosted by MyPillow CEO and election denier Mike Lindell billed as presenting “irrefutable” proof that Chinese-backed hackers helped steal the 2020 election for Biden. Gableman later said he was “very disappointed with the lack of substance to back up those claims.” He also traveled to Arizona that month to observe the widely discredited election audit conducted by Cyber Ninjas.

“He couldn’t help himself and in the end he was going to rallies, he was attending political events which clearly looked like there was a partisan tinge to the investigation,” Vos said Thursday. “We stopped most of that, but then here we are where he does not just attend a political event but chooses to be involved in a very partisan way and then lie about it.”

In March, Gableman recommended the Legislature take the legally impossible step of decertifying the results. Two weeks later he described the proposal as a “practical impossibility” in a private memo to Vos.

Vos paused the probe two months later to allow time for pending lawsuits related to the review to play out in court and halved Gableman’s monthly salary to $5,500.

Gableman’s most recent misstep came days before Tuesday’s primary, when he recorded a robocall for Steen, an election denier who was seeking to oust Vos in the 63rd Assembly District, claiming that Vos “never wanted a real investigation.”

“I never said we weren’t serious about the investigation,” Vos said Thursday. “Frankly, if you ask any Democrat and most Republicans in the state, they think I was pretty serious in spending the money and time and resources that we did. So for him to lie about it, that’s kind of an unforgivable situation where you trust somebody because of their integrity and then at the end they lie.”

Vos ultimately won by about 260 votes, according to unofficial results.

Speaker’s timing

“It’s astonishing that in a matter of weeks, a campaign emerged that almost unseated the most powerful Republican in Wisconsin state government,” said UW-La Crosse political science professor Anthony Chergosky. “If Gableman wants to continue having influence, he’s certainly laid the groundwork for that because he has fans in the party and he has the backing of Donald Trump.”

Several state Democrats, including Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, applauded Gableman’s firing, but also pointed out the timing of Vos’ decision.

“There were zero consequences for Gableman’s buffoonery, mismanagement of state dollars, brazen violations of open records laws, temper tantrums, and constant lying — until he attacked Robin Vos politically,” Wikler said in a statement.

It’s unclear how the end of Gableman’s contract impacts the several ongoing lawsuits related to the probe. All told, four lawsuits have been filed against Gableman, Vos and the state Assembly over records requests related to the probe. Another pending lawsuit in Waukesha County relates to whether Gableman has the authority to demand that the mayors of the state’s five largest cities and other officials be jailed for not cooperating with his subpoenas.

Gableman issued subpoenas to local and state election officials, the mayors of the state’s five largest cities and two companies that make vote-counting systems, Election Systems & Software and Dominion Voting Systems. Many of the subpoenaed parties have rejected Gableman’s requests for in-person meetings or documents, while the former state Supreme Court justice has also withdrawn some requests, including one filed with immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera Action.

Vos’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the pending lawsuits.