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Watch now: Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway will testify in Gableman probe; calls subpoenas 'unprecedentedly broad'
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2020 ELECTION | REPUBLICAN-LED INVESTIGATION

Watch now: Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway will testify in Gableman probe; calls subpoenas 'unprecedentedly broad'

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Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she would testify in a Republican-led investigation into the 2020 presidential election, but said she wants it held in public and compliance with the sweeping subpoenas sent to her and four other Wisconsin mayors by retired state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman would be nearly impossible.

The subpoena, delivered to Rhodes-Conway on Wednesday, demands she testify in the investigation on Oct. 22 at an office building in Brookfield. Investigators also want the mayor’s office to hand over “all documents” related to the election, including communication among her office, the city clerk, the four other Wisconsin cities and a slew of election groups.

“It’s not clear to me if it’s physically possible to comply with the deadlines they’re asking for,” Rhodes-Conway said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon outside the City-County Building.

“We’re talking about reams and reams of documents that are involved with running a regular election,” the mayor said. “This is an unprecedentedly broad request, and I really don’t know what they’re looking for here.”

While she said she’d “be happy” to discuss Madison’s handling of the election, Rhodes-Conway wants it to take place in public, preferably at the Capitol.

“This constant rehashing of the 2020 election is not only demoralizing for our clerks, it is corrosive to our democracy,” Rhodes-Conway said. “There is no wrongdoing to investigate which justifies subpoenas and interrogations.”

Gableman issued his first round of subpoenas last week to the Wisconsin Elections Commission and election officials in the cities of Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha. The subpoenas to the mayors of those cities followed on Wednesday.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, called the subpoena a “broadly worded request” that was under review by the city attorney’s office.

Mayors in Wisconsin don’t play any role in administering elections, so it’s unclear what Gableman is hoping to learn from the latest round of subpoenas. In an interview Tuesday with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gableman said, “Most people, myself included, do not have a comprehensive understanding, or even any understanding, of how elections work.”

Democrats have decried the Gableman investigation as a farce and an attempt to undermine public confidence in elections. A recount and court decisions have affirmed that President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in Wisconsin by almost 21,000 votes. Only four voters out of roughly 3 million who cast ballots have been charged with fraud.

Regardless, Trump still refuses to concede defeat and has pressured GOP legislators to investigate election fraud. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos hired Gableman in June at a cost of nearly $680,000 in taxpayer money for the one-party investigation.

In a video last month, Gableman said he’s not trying to overturn the election results, even though he told Trump supporters in November, without evidence, that he thought the election had been stolen.

The subpoenas last week to the cities’ clerks and the state Elections Commission call for them to turn over “all documents contained in your files and/or in your custody, possession, or control pertaining to the Election.”

That could comprise thousands of pages of records. Gableman told the Journal Sentinel if the officials want to narrow down his request, “I’m certainly open to doing what is efficient.”

What, precisely, Gableman is allowed to do is unclear because reviews like his are so rare in Wisconsin. The subpoenas he issued are the first to come from the Wisconsin Legislature in about 50 years.

Gableman has not disclosed who is working for him, and public records released so far have not shed light on the question. An email sent to clerks asking for records as part of Gableman’s investigation came from a Gmail account under the name “John Delta” and included a document created by a former Trump administration official.

Gableman said he planned to look into advice the bipartisan state Elections Commission gave to clerks and donations the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life — funded largely by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg — gave to Wisconsin communities to help run the 2020 election.

CTCL gave more than $10 million to more than 200 Wisconsin communities last year to help cover election costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the money went to the five cities that are the focus of Gableman’s investigation, drawing criticism from Republicans that the money was meant to boost turnout in Democratic areas.

The subpoena Rhodes-Conway received also asks for any records related to Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, a former Democratic operative, and the National Vote At Home Institute, a subcontractor with close ties to CTCL. The request is apparently in response to allegations by a conservative news outlet that the city of Green Bay appointed Spitzer-Rubenstein its “de facto city elections chief” in November.

Emails show Spitzer-Rubenstein asked if he could help correct missing information on ballot envelopes, and a hotel checklist said doors to the ballroom where absentee ballots were to be counted shouldn’t be unlocked until requested by Spitzer-Rubenstein.

But the city said employees of private election groups assisting with the election never had any decision-making power over the election or access to ballots.

By all indications, Gableman’s investigation is aimed at assessing the legality of the rules and advice clerks were operating under — not actual fraud, which recounts, audits and court challenges have failed to find to any appreciable degree. Some of the rules and advice were novel and related to the pandemic. Other guidance involved practices that had been in place for previous elections.

State and federal courts have already dismissed challenges based on the rules and advice not adhering to the letter of state law. Republicans also ordered the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau to review how the election was administered.

The probe has drawn bipartisan criticism, with Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, chair of the Senate Elections Committee, saying there’s no reason to spread misinformation about the election.

Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, chair of the Assembly Elections Committee, filed her own subpoenas seeking ballots, voting machines and other data from Milwaukee and Brown counties. But Vos declined to sign them, rendering them invalid.

Vos did sign Gableman’s subpoenas. He issued a statement saying Gableman is “dedicated to finding the truth.”

State Journal reporters Lucas Robinson and Mitchell Schmidt and Associated Press reporter Scott Bauer contributed to this report.


"This constant rehashing of the 2020 election is not only demoralizing for our clerks, it is corrosive to our democracy."

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway

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