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Wisconsin election investigator cancels mayors' interviews

Susan Bence

The retired Wisconsin Supreme Court justice leading a Republican-ordered investigation into the 2020 presidential election in the battleground state on Thursday canceled plans to interview mayors and election officials from the state's five largest cities, days after he subpoenaed them.

The interviews were canceled just a day after the mayors were subpoenaed and less than a week after subpoenas went to election clerks. They were told to appear at an office in suburban Milwaukee on Oct. 15 or Oct. 22 to be interviewed by Michael Gableman, the attorney who is leading the probe.

Madison city attorney Mike Haas said he got a call Thursday afternoon from Andrew Kloster, who is working with Gableman, informing him that the mayors and other city officials who received subpoenas would not have to be interviewed.

Gableman did not immediately return a message seeking comment late Thursday.

Haas said the same message was delivered to city attorneys in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha. Those are the state's five largest cities and President Joe Biden carried all of them on his way to winning Wisconsin by just under 21,000 votes.

The mayors of those five cities and election administrators all received subpoenas over the last week calling on them to produce a wide array of election documents and appear for interviews.

Instead, Haas said the cities were asked to provide investigators their responses to all open records requests they received related to the election. That will result in a “hodge podge” of information from the cities, since not all of them received and responded to the same requests, he said.

Kloster worked in former President Donald Trump's administration. Gableman has not publicly confirmed that he is working on the probe, but his name showed up as the author of an email that went to election clerks.

Gableman has said that his investigation will focus largely on grants that the five cities received to help run the election from the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life.

The grants were funded by donations from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. They angered some Republicans because $6.3 million went to the five Democratic cities, but Republican-heavy areas in Wisconsin also received smaller grants. Nationwide, the center gave about $350 million to communities to help make it easier to run elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gableman also subpoenaed the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission and its administrator Meagan Wolfe. Wolfe said late Thursday that she had not yet heard from attorneys with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is representing the commission.

Democrats have decried the Gableman investigation as a farce and an attempt to undermine public confidence in elections. There is no evidence of widespread fraud in Wisconsin. Only four people out of about 3 million who cast ballots in the election have been charged with fraud.

The mayors were highly critical of the subpoenas, saying the sheer amount of information requested was unprecedented and impossible to provide in the two weeks given to turn it over. Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian called the investigation a “colossal waste of time and money.”

Haas said Madison will turn over all the requested documents on a thumb drive by the requested Oct. 15 deadline.

Gableman told a crowd of Trump supporters in November that the election had been stolen, then on Tuesday night told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an interview that he didn't understand how elections work.

“Most people, myself included, do not have a comprehensive understanding or even any understanding of how elections work,” Gableman told the Journal Sentinel.

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