By SCOTT BAUER – Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – One of some reviews of the 2020 elections pushed by Republicans may be coming to an end in Wisconsin — or not.
A special investigator The taxpayer-funded contract to review President Joe Biden’s victory in the battleground state is due to expire on Saturday. But Donald Trump as well as the former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice hired to lead the inquiry and the chairman of the state Assembly committee on elections all want it to go ahead and are pressuring the principal State Republican to extend the much-criticized investigation.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos hired Michael Gableman last summer under a $676,000 taxpayer-funded contract that paid Gableman $11,000 a month. Your twice extended the contractmost recently last month through Saturday.
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As the deadline approached, Trump issued a not-so-veiled threat Monday to Vos.
“Anyone who calls themselves a Republican in Wisconsin should support the Wisconsin investigation continuing without interference,” Trump said in a statement.
“I understand that some RINOs have primary challengers in Wisconsin,” Trump said without naming Vos or his primary challenger, Adam Steen. “I’m sure their main opponents would get a huge boost in the polls if these RINOs intervened.”
The acronym RINO stands for “Republican In Name Only”.
Vos hired Gableman and launched the investigation after Trump and others pressured him to investigate the 2020 election in Wisconsin. Biden won Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes, a result that survived recounts, partisan and nonpartisan criticism, and numerous lawsuits.
Vos, the longest-serving Speaker of the Assembly in state history, has tried to appease the wing of his party who support Trump and question the election result, while pushing back against those who want decertify Biden’s victory.
Wisconsin investigation dragged on, even after much-derided inquiry finished in september in Arizona without offering evidence 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 electoral system. Unlike Arizona, Utah’s effort will be led by nonpartisan legislative auditors and will not focus solely on 2020.
Wisconsin Assembly Elections Committee Chairwoman Rep. Janel Brandtjen, a Republican who has invited election conspiracy theorists to testify before her committee and backed calls to decertify Biden’s victory, calls for the investigation continues.
“If President Vos ends the Office of Special Counsel investigation now, he will not only condone cheating, he will legalize it,” Brandtjen said Monday.
Vos did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Tuesday.
Gableman, in a series of recent podcast appearances by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, urged Vos to allow the work to continue. Gableman asked listeners to call and email Vos to tell him not to ask the movers to remove the state furniture from his office on Tuesday.
Gableman did not return a message Tuesday.
Gableman’s investigation drew bipartisan criticism from the start. A conservative, he worked briefly in the Trump administration and said shortly after the election he believed he had been stolen from Trump.
Once the investigation began, Gableman was criticized for surrounding himself with Trump loyalists, sending confusing emails, making fundamental errors in his documents and meeting with conspiracy theorists. He was prosecuted for his response to requests for open records and for subpoenas from mayors and other local election officials who said they were willing to testify publicly, but not behind closed doors. A hearing on Gableman’s case aimed at jail the mayors for non-compliance is scheduled for July.
Last week, a judge ordered Gableman to stop deleting emails and other records. The judge in that case has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday.
Gableman delivered two interim reports, the most recent in March, but missed numerous deadlines. None of his finds provided substantiated evidence that Trump did indeed win Wisconsin.
Gableman’s recommendation that the Republican-controlled legislature consider decertifying Biden’s victory was heeded bipartisan contempt.
In recent weeks, Gableman attracted further criticism for decrying the way Wisconsin’s top election administrator, Meagan Wolfe, dresses.
Investigative documents released in late April showed the investigation had expanded to examine the political leanings of officials involved in the election. An unsigned memo describing a city of Milwaukee employee as “probably” a Democrat because she “has a weird nose ring”, colors her hair and lives with her boyfriend has again drawn criticism.
“There’s something wrong with him,” Republican Senator Kathy Bernier, chair of the Senate Elections Committee, said of Gableman in response to that memo.
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