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Republican-hired Gableman's Wisconsin election report heavily criticized

Michael Gableman
Screen capture from WisEye
Wisconsin state capital closeup at sunset in Madison, Wisconsin.

Updated March 2 at 8:57 a.m. CDT

The Republican-hired investigator of Wisconsin’s 2020 election said 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 have said is illegal.

The release of investigator Michael Gableman's 136-page “interim report” comes amid a nationwide GOP effortto reshape elections following President Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump.

The report was met with bipartisan criticism.

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke immediately rejected the call to decertify the election, saying it was a “fool’s errand.”

“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.”

She tweeted that decertification was “IMPOSSIBLE. NOT LEGAL.”

The report outlined ways that Gableman believed Biden’s win could be decertified, but it also said doing that would not have any legal consequence.

“It would not, for example, change who the current President is,” the report said.

Gableman, a former conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who said before he was appointed that the election had been stolen from Trump, presented highlights of the report before the Assembly elections committee. He delineated a host of alleged problems with the 2020 election and recommendations, including eliminating the state’s bipartisan state elections commission.

Perhaps the biggest news Tuesday was Gableman giving fuel to conservatives who are trying to take away Biden's electoral votes.

Gableman's most extensive comments on the topic came as he was quizzed by Jodi Emerson, a Democratic state Representative from Eau Claire. Emerson said, "Are you saying we should decertify Wisconsin's votes from 2020?"

Gableman responded, "I'm not saying it and I did not say it because it's not my place to say it. What is my place to say, and what I do believe and what I do say, is there appear to me, without having the benefit of input from any substantive witness, there appears to me to be very significant grounds for such an action."

Emerson then asked a legislative council attorney, Peggy Hurley, to sum up some memos she's issued about the legality of trying to take away a presidential winner's electoral votes.

Hurley said, "Our position is once the electoral votes have been received by the Congress that closes the door. The election is then done."'

Attorney Jeffrey Mandell, who is representing the mayor of Green Bay in a lawsuit opposing a subpoena from Gableman, dismissed the report.

“There does not appear to be anything new in this report, although it is apparent that Michael Gableman is adopting the most fringe and extreme arguments presented by election deniers,” Mandell said. “This report, and Mr. Gableman’s presentation, is an embarrassment. This process needs to come to a quick end.”

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 reviewof Wisconsin and other battleground states also found far too little fraud to have tipped the election for Trump.

The report, paid for with $676,000 in taxpayer money, was due at the end of last year 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.

Those lawsuits are still pending and because of that, Gableman said his investigation can’t conclude.

“Of course we’re not done,” Gableman said.

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.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin 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.

“I had no other goal in mind to find the truth," Gableman said. "And while we don't have it entirely yet, we're getting there.”

Gableman recommended dismantling the bipartisan elections commission, which the Republican-controlled Legislature created in 2016, calling it “hopelessly incompetent” and "hopelessly derelict of duty." 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 grants awarded to Wisconsin cities by The Center for Tech and Civic Life amounted to illegal bribery and was an “impermissible and partisan get out the vote effort.”

Three courts in the past year, along with the Wisconsin Elections Commission, have rejected claims that the grants were illegal.

The center awarded more than $10 million in grants to more than 200 communities in Wisconsin, including heavily Republican areas. However, the bulk of the money, about $8.8 million, went to the state’s five largest and heavily Democratic cities. It was part of $350 million given out nationally. The foundation is run by Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

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.

Under questioning from Democrats Tuesday, Gableman acknowledged voting for Donald Trump in 2020. "If you're asking did Mike Gableman, private citizen support, vote for Donald Trump? I'll tell you, I'll violate the sanctity of the ballot box, you bet I did," he said.

Leading Wisconsin Democrats added to the criticism of Gableman. Gov. Tony Evers called the investigation a circus that "has long surpassed being a mere embarrassment for our state." Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul called on Republican lawmakers to end this "preposterous fake investigation."

Gableman did find a friend in Wisconsin Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. Johnson said the probe "raises severe issues regarding the 2020 election that need to be taken seriously."

Editor’s note: A portion of the audio is from WisconsinEye.

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