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As latest contract winds down, Vos keeps Gableman election investigation going

Gableman's most recent contract is set to expire April 30

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is seen during a convening of the Assembly
Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is seen during a convening of the Assembly at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Jan. 25, 2020 in Madison, Wis. Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch

The office of special counsel created by Wisconsin Republicans to investigate the state’s 2020 election isn’t going away for the foreseeable future.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said Tuesday that the office run by former Supreme Court Michael Gableman would remain open even as Gableman’s amended contract is about to expire.

Gableman was originally hired under a contract that expired Oct. 31, 2021. Vos and Gableman recently extended the agreement to run through April 30.

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Gableman, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, had been openly lobbying for his office to remain open. Earlier this month, he was a guest on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast where he urged listeners to contact Vos to keep the office open. At the time, Gableman said Vos planned to pick up office equipment from Gableman’s Brookfield office by April 26.

On Monday, Trump himself came out with a statement supporting Gableman, and issuing a political threat to Republicans who don’t support him.

“Anyone calling themselves a Republican in Wisconsin should support the continued investigation in Wisconsin without interference,” read part of Trump’s written statement. “I understand some RINOs have primary challengers in Wisconsin. I’m sure their primary opponents would get a huge bump in the polls if these RINOs interfere.”

The acronym “RINO” refers to “Republicans In Name Only.”

Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, also issued a statement Monday calling on Vos to allow Gableman’s investigation to proceed, arguing that if he did not, he would be “legalizing” cheating.

On Tuesday, Vos disputed the idea that he was preparing to close Gableman’s office.

“Media reports and the statement put out by Representative Brandtjen were incorrect,” Vos said. “The Office of Special Counsel will remain open as we guarantee the legal power of our legislative subpoenas and get through the other lawsuits that have gridlocked this investigation.”

Vos also thanked Gableman for offering to reduce his salary.

“Our intention is to remain within the original budget allocated for the investigation,” Vos said.

Gableman’s original taxpayer-funded contract limited expenses to $676,000, but Vos did not put any limits on legal expenses in the court cases connected to the investigation. Gableman’s investigation has been the subject of several open records lawsuits, and Gableman himself has brought a lawsuit seeking to jail several election workers and mayors if they don’t comply with subpoenas to sit for private depositions.

Tuesday was not the first time Vos vowed to fight the lawsuits to their completion. Vos issued a similar statement in March before he renewed Gableman’s contract.

Democratic state Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said Vos had chosen to let extremists who are working to undermine democracy dictate how Wisconsin’s taxpayer money is spent.

“Under pressure from former President Trump and the far right, Speaker Vos has decided to continue to waste taxpayer money in order to placate conspiracy theorists,” Spreitzer said in a tweet.

That legal fight is all but certain to continue for at least a few months, if not longer.

On Tuesday afternoon, Dane County Judge Frank Remington held a hearing for one of the open records lawsuits against Gableman, setting deadlines for a new round of legal briefs and scheduling a hearing in the case for June 10. Remington recently issued an order banning Gableman from deleting documents responsive to an open records request from the liberal watchdog group American Oversight.

A hearing in Gableman’s subpoenas lawsuit is scheduled for July 11 before Waukesha County Judge Ralph Ramirez.

The final rulings in either case could potentially be appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.