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No city officials testifying as part of election subpoenas

Close up Shiny Wooden Law Gavel in Dark Brown Color, on Top of Wooden Table at the Office.
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Adobe Stock
Close up Shiny Wooden Law Gavel in Dark Brown Color, on Top of Wooden Table at the Office.

Representatives for elections officials from Wisconsin’s five largest cities and the state elections commission said Thursday that the officials won’t have to sit for interviews with the Republican-hired lead investigator, even though the subpoenas they were issued called for that to happen.

Representatives from Milwaukee, Madison, Kenosha, Racine, Green Bay and the Wisconsin Elections Commission said that they were working to provide documents instead of sitting for interviews. Lead investigator Michael Gableman has said those who cooperate will not have to testify Friday as the subpoenas issued earlier this month called for.

Gableman also subpoenaed mayors from all five cities and has waffled on whether he will make them appear as called for on Oct. 22.

In a video posted online Thursday, Gableman acknowledged that his office had no prosecutorial power even though in a video released Saturday he had promised immunity from prosecution to mayors if they complied with the subpoenas.

“There is no need to lawyer up and there should not be lawyers between the people of Wisconsin and their elected and appointed officials,” Gableman said, referring to comments Gov. Tony Evers made urging election officials to be “lawyered up.”

“It’s very important to emphasize there is no legitimate reasons for state officials to treat this as an adversarial process,” Gableman said.

Gableman, a retired Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, was hired by Republican Assembly Robin Vos to investigate how the 2020 presidential election was run in the state. There is no evidence of widespread fraud, but some Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have falsely said the election was stolen.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul this week called it a “fake” investigation and called for it to end. Kaul’s Department of Justice is representing the state elections commission and its administrator, Meagan Wolfe, who had been subpoenaed to sit for a closed-door interview with Gableman on Friday.

Kaul argues that under the law, any such interview must be before the Assembly elections committee and open to the public.

The elections commission, like the cities, is providing documents to Gableman that had previously been subject to earlier filed open records requests, said Kaul spokeswoman Gillian Drummond.

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

In his video, Gableman said he gave officials more time to prepare and provide more thorough and relevant information to the questions he was asking.

That contradicts what city officials said Thursday.

Madison city attorney Mike Haas said officials planned to provide election-related documents that had been previously subject to open records requested by others before Gableman launched his probe.

“They have agreed that nobody needs to show up if we do that,” Haas said. “We’ll have a cover letter outlining our understanding of where things are at that goes with the thumb drive.”

Amaad Rivera-Wagner, chief of staff to Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich, said the city was also providing material to Gableman and no city officials are being asked to come testify.

“The city will continue to discuss with the office of special counsel their requests for information as they evolve,” Genrich said.

President Joe Biden won Wisconsin by just under 21,000 votes, an outcome that has withstood recounts and multiple lawsuits.

An independent election audit by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Audit Bureau is also nearing completion.

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