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Wisconsin's top Republican Robin Vos sues to block Jan. 6 subpoena

Wisconsin Republican Robin Vos
Andy Manis
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Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) addresses the Assembly on December 4, 2018 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Updated Tuesday at 10:05 a.m. CDT

Wisconsin’s Republican Assembly leader is suing to block a subpoena that orders him to testify before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection about a conversation he had with Donald Trump about overturning the 2020 election.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos filed the lawsuit on Sunday in federal court in Wisconsin arguing that the subpoena falls outside the scope of the committee’s investigation into last year's Capitol attack and infringes on his legislative immunity from civil process.

Vos, who had a falling out with Trump this summer, also alleged that the short notice of the subpoena placed an undue burden on him. Rep. Bennie Thompson, committee chair, issued the subpoena Friday ordering Vos to appear on Monday morning either in person or via videoconference.

He did not testify. The deposition was postponed.

Vos says he went to court because he has legislative immunity from the civil process, and the subpoena came from what Vos says is an unlawful committee and lacks a lawful purpose.

Jay Heck, state director of Common Cause Wisconsin, says the legislative immunity argument doesn't make any sense. "The Legislature hasn't even been in session since the springtime, so there isn't any reason he couldn't comply, other than he doesn't want to. Subpoenas need to be complied with and this is a subpoena from a Congressional committee that has the capacity and the legal authority to be able to compel him to do so," Heck tells WUWM.

In his lawsuit, Vos said the only explanation for the “extreme deadline" was to conduct the interview before the committee's next televised hearing on Wednesday “so that clips can be edited out to be used in a multimedia show."

Others who have been subpoenaed by the committee have also sued to avoid giving testimony.

Vos, in a statement Monday, said he was surprised to be subpoenaed because he has no information about the events surrounding the Jan. 6 attacks.

“Given how close we are to the midterms, this subpoena seems to be more about partisan politics than actual fact-finding,” he said.

Heck dismisses that argument. "If it wasn't the election coming up, it'd be another excuse. Of course, after the election, the Legislature will be in session and he'll say he's working on the state budget. So, there's always a reason not to [comply with the subpoena]," he says.

A letter from Thompson that accompanied the subpoena said lawmakers want to talk with Vos about a July call with Trump in which the former president asked Vos about steps he was taking to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The call was in response to a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that absentee ballot drop boxes, which were used in the 2020 election and others before it, would be illegal going forward.

After Vos took no action to overturn the election, Trump endorsed his primary challenger.

Vos narrowly won his primary, and three days later fired Michael Gableman, the former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice he had hired, under pressure from Trump, to investigate the 2020 election. Vos called Gableman, who also endorsed his primary opponent, an “embarrassment."

Gableman’s inquiry turned up no evidence of widespread fraud, but the investigator joined Trump in calling for lawmakers to consider decertifying the 2020 election.

The new lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Pamela Pepper of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, based in Milwaukee. She was appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama.

A person who answered the phone at Pepper's office Monday quickly told WUWM "no comment." Vos's lawyers and media spokespeople for the House committee did not respond either.

The committee has another hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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