MADISON, Wis. - A Republican-ordered investigation into Wisconsin's 2020 election could cost taxpayers at least $680,000, more than nine times the original cost of contracts signed earlier this summer, according to Reince Priebus, the former state and national head of the Republican Party.
Priebus revealed details about the expanded cost of the probe during an appearance on a podcast hosted by Steve Bannon, a former adviser to former President Donald Trump. Priebus briefly served as Trump's chief of staff.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos hired former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to conduct the probe. Under the original contract, Gableman was to be paid $44,000 over four months and three investigators were to get $9,600 each. One of the investigators was never hired and the other two quit last month.
Priebus told Bannon that the investigation would cost "about $680,000, at least to start." He did not specify whether the money would come from taxpayers, donations or both.
Vos, who is close friends with Priebus, met with Trump at an Alabama rally on Saturday and promised to keep him updated on the investigation.
Priebus, Vos and Gableman did not immediately return message seeking comment Wednesday.
"Republicans are wasting taxpayer dollars on this fantasy they’ve created," tweeted Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach in reaction to the news. "That’s money that should be invested back in our communities."
Vos hired Gableman to examine the outcome of the election won by President Joe Biden by nearly 21,000 votes in Wisconsin. Gableman last week traveled to South Dakota to attend an event hosted by MyPillow executive Mike Lindell that included advocates of conspiracy theories. He previously traveled to Arizona to talk with those involved with a widely discredited Arizona election audit there.
Democrats and other critics of Gableman's investigation have said his time would be better spent in Wisconsin talking with election officials and those with direct knowledge about how elections are run in the state.
Gableman has said a thorough investigation into Wisconsin's election was warranted and the intention was not to attempt to overturn the results. Biden's victory has withstood recounts in two counties and multiple state and federal lawsuits, but Republicans passed a series of bills that would toughen absentee voting rules, all of which were vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
The investigation Gableman is leading is one of several in the state.
The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau is conducting a review of the election as ordered by Republicans. That is expected to be done in the fall. And Republican Rep. Janel Brandtjen, chairwoman of the Assembly Elections Committee, issued subpoenas earlier this month to election clerks in Milwaukee and Brown counties seeking voting machines, ballots and other records but legislative attorneys have said they're not valid unless Vos signs them.
The clerks in both counties said the subpoenas are being reviewed. Vos has said if Gableman determines that subpoenas are necessary, he will "look into making sure those can happen."
Priebus said he was told that subpoenas would be issued in the next week or two. He did not specify whether they would be new subpoenas or if Vos was signing the ones issued by Brandtjen.