Officials: Testimony in Wisconsin GOP-backed election probe is postponed

Election and municipal officials across the state move forward with submitting documents to investigators

a blue sign says "VOTE" with an arrow
A sign points to a polling location Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in downtown Madison. Angela Major/WPR

Testimony and document demands to officials across the state from a GOP-backed investigation into Wisconsin’s 2020 election have been postponed and scaled back, according to those involved in the process. Late last week, the head of the investigation blasted media reports of scaled back requests.

Under subpoenas issued to state officials and local clerks two weeks ago and mayors of the state’s five largest cities last week, in-person testimony to investigators was supposed to take place in a Brookfield office building Friday, Oct. 15 and Friday, Oct. 22.

On Thursday, the head of the investigation, as well as officials across the state, confirmed interviews will not happen as requested in the subpoenas and document requests had been trimmed, following additional conversations between investigators and subpoenaed parties.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Instead, officials and mayors are providing investigators with documents previously released in public records requests and staying in contact about the prospect of future in-person interviews.

In a video released Thursday afternoon, investigation head Michael Gableman, a former conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, confirmed the change.

“We offered mayors and city clerks a reprieve on the timing of their interviews in order to give them more time to prepare,” Gableman said in the video. “We identified a more limited range of documents that we would accept as a starting point, with the understanding that additional information would be provided on a mutually agreeable timeline.”

Last week, Gableman told a conservative radio host the investigation would “demand full compliance with the subpoenas” and that officials were “going to show up now, all of them, unless we reach an agreement specifically otherwise.”

Representatives for subpoenaed election officials and mayors across Wisconsin also confirmed the changes on Thursday.

“Similar to the other cities, Green Bay’s city clerk is no longer being requested to testify on October 15. We have had conversations with the office of the special counsel, and we will be providing already publicly available election-related materials to them,” said Amaad Rivera-Wagner, chief of staff to Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich, via email. “The city will continue to discuss with the office of special counsel their requests for information as they evolve.”

John Morrissey, city administrator in Kenosha, said the Kenosha city clerk will also not be appearing for the interview Friday, Oct. 15 “after communications with our city attorneys office and the office of special counsel.”

“We will be supplying them information and working with them on what if anything else they are requesting after the review,” Morrissey said, also via email. “At this point in time we are not aware if the Mayor is still expected to appear as indicated on the subpoena, but we have not received written notice or been advised the subpoena has been cancelled.”

Jeff Fleming, chief of staff for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, said the mayor’s office “(does) not anticipate the need to show up in person at the date and time stated in the subpoenas.”

“We will provide documents to the special counsel that have previously been shared for other proceedings. And, we anticipate further discussions,” Fleming said via email. “We are reiterating our willingness to cooperate.”

Shannon Powell, chief of staff for Racine Mayor Cory Mason, said neither the mayor nor the city clerk’s interviews would happen as previously scheduled. Madison city attorney Mike Haas confirmed the same for Madison officials.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is representing the Wisconsin Elections Commission and its administrator, Meagan Wolfe, in the probe, issued a statement Thursday that state officials would also not be moving forward with in-person testimony at this time.

“We have agreed that no one from WEC will be appearing or testifying tomorrow, and we have also agreed to continue discussions about the possibility of future testimony and under what conditions that may take place,” said department spokesperson Gillian Drummond.

Earlier this week, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul called on Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who launched the investigation, to halt the probe.

The investigation, which is taxpayer funded and has an initial budget of roughly $680,000, comes after Wisconsin has completed a series of routine state election audits and a presidential recount in the state’s two largest counties. None of those reviews have uncovered widespread fraud or wrongdoing. There have also been numerous Republican-backed lawsuits in the state, all of which have failed to result in findings of wrongdoing by election officials or voters.

President Joe Biden won Wisconsin by about 21,000 votes — a margin similar to several other razor-thin statewide elections in recent years.

More Wisconsin Stories. Give now.

Trustworthy news, world-class music and Wisconsin stories … made possible by people like you.