MADISON, Wis. (CN) — A conservative former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice hired by Republican legislative leaders to investigate the 2020 election called for the elimination of the bipartisan state elections board and encouraged lawmakers to explore decertifying the 2020 election during a hearing on his investigation before a GOP-controlled legislative elections committee on Tuesday.
Michael Gableman was hired by state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, over the summer for one of multiple probes into alleged irregularities and illegality during the 2020 general election. Vos announced the hire at the state Republican Party’s convention less than a day after former President Donald Trump said Wisconsin GOP leaders were not doing enough to investigate his claims of fraud he continues to insist cost him reelection.
Gableman—who was the subject of an ethics investigation while a sitting justice and claimed without evidence in 2020 that bureaucrats had stolen the election from Trump—has an approved budget of nearly $680,000 in taxpayer money for his probe, which stalled late last year in part because of legal fights over subpoenas he issued. The former justice has been largely mum on his probe’s activities and personnel, but it is known he has courted conspiracy theorists and Trump-aligned election truthers and visited Arizona’s widely condemned election audit last year.
On Tuesday, Gableman—with a slideshow featuring graphs, pull quotes and videos—made multiple broad, conspiratorial accusations of lawbreaking, obstruction and subterfuge by Meagan Wolfe, administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, or WEC, as well as onetime employees of Barack Obama, George Soros, state Democratic officials like Governor Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, and several other organizations and individuals throughout the 2020 election and his investigation.
“I had no other goal in mind than to find the truth,” Gableman said of his audit, which he also said is unfinished.
The chief issue in Gableman’s crosshairs was the Center for Tech and Civic Life, or CTCL—an organization run by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan—and about $8.8 million dollars for election administration it provided to the cities of Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, Kenosha and Green Bay, all among Wisconsin’s largest and most liberal regions. Around 200 other Wisconsin municipalities got CTCL money as well, as did many other areas nationwide.
In essence, Gableman charged that Zuckerberg and others associated with CTCL colluded with partisans to use the guise of grant money meant to facilitate voting amid the Covid-19 pandemic to fund a clandestine get-out-the-vote effort targeting Black voters in liberal cities, which Gableman claims violated Wisconsin law prohibiting election bribery.
Gableman also claimed the WEC intentionally broke the law by failing to deploy special voting deputies to nursing homes to help residents in those facilities vote in the 2020 general election. He played videos of eight nursing home residents of varying levels of cognitive disability, whose relatives were surprised they had voted in 2020, being interviewed by an attorney with his investigation.
WEC officials have said they did not send the deputies to nursing homes because Covid-19 restrictions barred visitors from the facilities, and they were worried about disenfranchising absentee voters. Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, a conservative, called for WEC officials to be prosecuted in connection with voting protocols at a Racine-area nursing home, but a county prosecutor last month declined to bring charges.
Gableman’s report makes multiple recommendations, including dismantling the, in his words, “at best hopelessly derelict” WEC and encouraging legislators to consider decertifying Wisconsin’s electors for the 2020 election, which he repeated on Tuesday to brief applause from members of the public in the committee hearing room. He also wants voter rolls and voter eligibility records to be made publicly available free of charge.
After his two-hour presentation, state Representative Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, challenged Gableman’s claim that he “has no dog in this fight” by pointing out his history of Republican credentials, campaigning and donors, and questioned the “boogeyman” tone of his report. Gableman defended his career and audit work and reiterated he is only interested in the truth and fair elections, with no ulterior motive.
Some Republicans have also recently called for WEC to be dissolved, but legislative leaders, Vos included, have expressed skepticism about getting rid of the agency.
A lawyer for the Wisconsin Legislature said during Tuesday’s hearing that there is no legal avenue for decertifying the 2020 election at this point, which Gableman disputed. Other nonpartisan attorneys and legislators have said it is an impossibility.
The former justice made no direct claims about extensive voter fraud during testimony on his report, nor did he claim the misconduct he alleged caused President Joe Biden to beat Trump.
The WEC responded to Gableman's report on Tuesday afternoon with a statement defending the transparency and integrity of its election administration and saying that "special counsel Gableman's report is based upon mischaracterizations of Wisconsin election statutes and administration, and therefore, the utility of his report is minimal."
The elections board pointed out that "nearly every item in special counsel Gableman's report has already been litigated or otherwise addressed." This would include, it seems, the CTCL grants, since a federal judge in Green Bay dismissed a lawsuit over them in October of 2020, and a state court lawsuit over the grants also failed. The WEC itself tossed complaints filed directly with the agency over the grants in December.
Evers and Kaul released statements before the close of Tuesday’s hearing decrying Gableman’s audit in blistering terms. Evers called it a “circus” and an “embarrassment for our state,” whereas Kaul called it “a full-throated attack on our democracy and a truly shocking example of the authoritarian mindset at work.”
Litigation over Gableman’s wide-ranging subpoenas is ongoing. A Waukesha judge is expected to issue a ruling in April in a lawsuit in which Gableman asked for the Democratic mayors of Green Bay and Madison to be jailed for refusing to cooperate with his investigation, which both mayors deny. Gableman has since asked for more people to be jailed in that lawsuit, including the mayor of Racine and Ann Jacobs, the current WEC chair.
In another lawsuit over Gableman’s subpoenas brought by Kaul on behalf of the WEC and Wolfe, a Madison judge in January declined to block the subpoenas but allowed the complaint challenging them to proceed. Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for March 17 in Dane County Circuit Court.
Two other reviews of the 2020 election—one by Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and another by a nonprofit conservative law firm—found no widespread, outcome-affecting fraud but made dozens of recommendations to the WEC and lawmakers on how to clean up election procedures.
Biden won Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes in 2020. His victory was confirmed by a recount demanded by Trump, and multiple lawsuits challenging the result failed in both state and federal courts.
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