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Wisconsin GOP fires election investigator who pushed false fraud claims

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) dismissed attorney Michael Gableman a week after Gableman joined Donald Trump in endorsing the speaker’s primary opponent

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Michael Gableman leaves the stand after testifying on June 23, 2022, at the Dane County Courthouse in Madison, Wis. (Kayla Wolf/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)
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MADISON, Wis. — The Republican-led review of Wisconsin’s 2020 election abruptly ended Friday when the GOP Assembly speaker who launched the inquiry last summer fired the former state Supreme Court justice he had hired to lead it.

The firing came a week after Michael Gableman, who had led the investigation, joined former president Donald Trump in turning against Speaker Robin Vos amid the veteran Wisconsin politician’s effort to fend off a primary challenge from the right.

The haphazard, year-old inquiry was marked by meetings with conspiracy theorists, violations of the state’s public records laws and a call by Gableman to explore the legally impossible task of decertifying the election results. It did not uncover evidence of widespread fraud, though Trump and Gableman tried to suggest otherwise.

“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 written statement.

Vos has had a tenuous relationship with Trump, who supported the Wisconsin review but repeatedly pressed Vos to go further with it. Last week, Trump and Gableman endorsed the longtime speaker’s Republican primary opponent, with the former president holding a rally urging voters to throw out Vos.

Vos won Tuesday’s primary against Adam Steen, but just barely, claiming 51 percent of the vote. Steen had called for decertifying the election and labeled Vos, one of the most powerful Republicans in Wisconsin, a traitor.

The firing marked the end of a saga that began in June 2021 when Vos, acting under pressure from Trump, announced at the state Republican Party’s annual convention that he had hired Gableman. The retired judge had earlier claimed without evidence that the election had been stolen.

Gableman took months to set up his office and spent the early stage of his review performing online research from a public library in suburban Milwaukee. He toured the site of a frequently criticized GOP-led ballot review in Arizona and attended a seminar in South Dakota hosted by Mike Lindell, the MyPillow chief executive who has spouted false claims about the 2020 election.

As he pursued his review, Gableman claimed to be acting in a nonpartisan manner while attending Republican Party events and calling for the resignation of a Republican state senator who had lambasted his review as a charade. Gableman criticized the way the nonpartisan director of the state’s elections commission dresses and monitored the social media posts of others. He or one of his aides drafted a memo speculating that a city employee in Milwaukee was a Democrat because she had a nose ring, liked snakes and lived with her boyfriend.

Gableman in March issued a report calling on lawmakers to consider revoking the state’s 10 electoral votes for Joe Biden, who beat Trump in Wisconsin by about 21,000 votes. Vos had long opposed that idea because election experts — including Gableman’s own attorney, James Bopp Jr. — have found there is no way to legally perform that task.

Gableman acknowledged his suggestion was a “practical impossibility” two weeks later in a private memo to Vos that came to light this month.

Vos forced Gableman to reimburse taxpayers for the cost of his travel to a partisan event but publicly tolerated much of Gableman’s approach to the review. That changed after Gableman endorsed Steen and cut a robocall saying Vos “never wanted a real investigation.”

Gableman went further in a Monday appearance on former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon’s podcast, contending Vos had a role in stealing the 2020 election. (Recounts and court rulings in Wisconsin have confirmed Biden’s win and independent reviews have found no signs of significant voter fraud.)

“[Vos] oversaw the implementation of all the odious apparatus that the Wisconsin Elections Commission put to use to steal the election from — and I’m not even going to say from a particular candidate. I’m going to say they stole it from the voters and the good citizens of the state of Wisconsin,” Gableman said.

Gableman said Vos was afraid he would take public criticism if he challenged the state’s election system more vigorously and claimed Vos had told him he wanted to play down election issues.

“What he told me was that he didn’t think the election integrity issue was going to be a successful political platform for either he or other Republicans to run on and therefore he wanted to minimize all discussion and all conduct on it before the [2022] election,” Gableman said.

With his probe, Gableman turned up little information that was new. The reports he wrote mostly reiterated the findings of conservative groups that criticized how the election was run during the coronavirus pandemic.

Vos initially gave Gableman a taxpayer-funded budget of $676,000, but Vos and Gableman quickly blew past it as their legal bills mounted. The two lost a series of rulings and were found in contempt of court after the liberal watchdog group American Oversight sued them under the state’s open-records law.

Vos telegraphed Gableman’s firing after eking out his primary win, telling reporters on Tuesday night, “He’s an embarrassment to the state.”