GOP investigator: Wisconsin should weigh decertifying vote

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican-hired investigator of Wisconsin’s 2020 election testified Tuesday that the state Legislature should “take a very hard look at the option of decertification of the 2020” presidential election, a move that GOP leaders reiterated they won't make and that nonpartisan attorneys call illegal.

Michael Gableman released a 136-page “interim report” amid a nationwide GOP effort to reshape elections following President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.

Gableman, a former conservative state Supreme Court justice who revealed Tuesday that he voted for Trump and whose probe has been dismissed as partisan by election experts and some Republicans, spent three hours detailing his findings before the Assembly elections committee.

It was immediately met with bipartisan criticism.

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke rejected the call to decertify the election.

“Still not legal under Wisconsin law,” Steineke tweeted. “Beyond that, it would have no practical impact b/c there is no Constitutional way to remove a sitting president other than through impeachment or incapacity. Fools errand. Focus on the future.”

Ann Jacobs, the Democratic chair of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission, tweeted that Gableman was promoting a “crazy conspiracy theory” and that decertifying the election was “IMPOSSIBLE. NOT LEGAL.”

The commission issued a statement saying Gableman’s report was based upon mischaracterizations of state law and election administration, nearly every issue had been litigated or otherwise addressed, and therefore the report's usefulness was “minimal.”

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called Gableman’s work a “circus,” an “embarrassment for our state” and a “colossal waste of taxpayer dollars” that spreads misinformation about the election, attacks the integrity of election workers and emboldens people to harass and demean public servants.

He urged Republicans to end the investigation.

But Gableman, who said he was negotiating a contract extension, said he would keep doing the work without one.

“This guy need a competency test,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan tweeted in response.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who hired Gableman, said his work must continue because of the unresolved lawsuits challenging subpoenas he issued.

Much of Gableman’s report attacked millions of dollars in funding from a Mark Zuckerberg-backed foundation aimed at increasing voter turnout. Most of the money went to five Democratic-dominated cities. Gableman said the money amounted to “illegal bribery.” Three courts in the past year have upheld the grants as legal.

His report also criticized how the state handled nursing home ballots during the pandemic as well as absentee ballot drop boxes. He recommended dismantling the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission that Republicans created.

Gableman said his report provided rationale for decertifying the election, but whether to do that wasn't up to him. The report said doing that would not change who is president.

Gableman revealed for the first time that he had voted for Trump.

“You bet I did,” he said during a back and forth with a Democratic lawmaker.

Biden defeated Trump by just under 21,000 votes in Wisconsin, a victory that has withstood recounts, multiple state and federal lawsuits, an audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and a report by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

An Associated Press review of Wisconsin and other battleground states also found far too little fraud to have tipped the election for Trump.

Gableman's report, paid for with $676,000 in taxpayer money, was first due in October but delayed after mayors and state and local election officials filed multiple lawsuits to block subpoenas issued to them. The officials said they were willing to meet in public to discuss the election, but not behind closed doors with Gableman.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, who filed a lawsuit to block Gableman's subpoena of the elections commission, called the report “a full-throated attack on our democracy and a truly shocking example of the authoritarian mindset at work."

Gableman said he had spent about $360,000 so far on the investigation and issued 90 subpoenas, but no one with information about how elections are run has spoken with him.

Vos ordered the Gableman probe under pressure from Trump and conservatives who wrongly believed that Wisconsin's election had been stolen. Trump on Tuesday encouraged people to watch the hearing where Gableman presented the results of his report.

Gableman said his only goal was to find the truth.

"And while we don't have it entirely yet, we're getting there,” he said.

Gableman recommended dismantling the bipartisan elections commission, which the Republican-controlled Legislature created in 2016, calling it “hopelessly incompetent.” Republican candidates for governor are also campaigning on doing away with the commission, a move that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican legislative leaders oppose.

“I will not be part of any effort, and will do everything possible to stop any effort, to put politicians in charge of deciding who wins or loses elections,” Steineke tweeted during Gableman's testimony.

Gableman also said that more than $10 million grants awarded to Wisconsin cities by the Zuckerberg-funded The Center for Tech and Civic Life amounted to illegal bribery and was an “impermissible and partisan get out the vote effort.”

Gableman said he hoped the report’s recommendations would be used by lawmakers to enact changes before the session ends next month. But Vos said last week before what was expected to be the Assembly’s last day in session that he didn’t expect any action on the recommendations before the 2022 midterm election.

The Legislature did pass a package of election bills last week largely based on recommendations from the nonpartisan audit. Evers is expected to veto all of them.