MADISON, Wis. - The Republican-hired investigator of Wisconsin’s 2020 election testified 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 call illegal.
Michael Gableman released a 136-page "interim report" amid a nationwide GOP effort to reshape elections following President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.
Gableman, a former conservative state Supreme Court justice who revealed Tuesday that he voted for Trump and whose probe has been dismissed as partisan by election experts and some Republicans, spent three hours detailing his findings before the Assembly elections committee.
It was immediately met with bipartisan criticism.
Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke rejected the call to decertify the election.
"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" and that decertifying the election was "IMPOSSIBLE. NOT LEGAL."
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called Gableman’s work a "circus," an "embarrassment for our state" and a "colossal waste of taxpayer dollars" that spreads misinformation about the election, attacks the integrity of election workers and emboldens people to harass and demean public servants.
He urged Republicans to end the investigation.
But Gableman, who said he was negotiating a contract extension, said he would keep doing the work without one.
"This guy need a competency test," Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan tweeted in response.
Much of Gableman’s report attacked millions of dollars in funding from a Mark Zuckerberg-backed foundation aimed at increasing voter turnout. Most of the money went to five Democratic-dominated cities. Gableman said the money amounted to "illegal bribery." Three courts in the past year have upheld the grants as legal.
His report also criticized how the state handled nursing home ballots during the pandemic as well as absentee ballot drop boxes. He recommended dismantling the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission that Republicans created.
Gableman said his report provided rationale for decertifying the election, but whether to do that wasn't up to him. The report said doing that would not change who is president.
Gableman revealed for the first time that he had voted for Trump.
"You bet I did," he said during a back and forth with a Democratic lawmaker.
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 review of Wisconsin and other battleground states also found far too little fraud to have tipped the election for Trump.
Gableman's report, paid for with $676,000 in taxpayer money, was first due in October 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.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, who filed a lawsuit to block Gableman's subpoena of the elections commission, called the report "a full-throated attack on our democracy and a truly shocking example of the authoritarian mindset at work."
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.
Gableman said his only goal was to find the truth.
"And while we don't have it entirely yet, we're getting there," he said.
Gableman recommended dismantling the bipartisan elections commission, which the Republican-controlled Legislature created in 2016, calling it "hopelessly incompetent." 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 more than $10 million grants awarded to Wisconsin cities by the Zuckerberg-funded The Center for Tech and Civic Life amounted to illegal bribery and was an "impermissible and partisan get out the vote effort."
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.
Gov. Tony Evers (D)
"This circus has long surpassed being a mere embarrassment for our state. From the beginning, it has never been a serious or functioning effort, it has lacked public accountability and transparency, and it has been a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.
"This effort has drawn bipartisan opposition, and nothing about it has changed or will change what the courts, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, and multiple other reviews have already proven: Wisconsin held a free, fair, and secure election in November 2020. Wisconsinites’ votes were counted in every municipality by trusted local officials, in the presence of representatives from both parties, and machines across the state were subject to an official audit. This effort has spread disinformation about our election processes, it has attacked the integrity of our clerks, election administrators, and poll workers, and it has emboldened individuals to harass and demean dedicated public servants.
"The right to vote is a fundamental core value of our democracy—it should not be subject to the whim of politicians. No politician should be able to abuse their power to prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots or to cheat our election results just because they didn’t like the outcome of the last election. Every day this effort continues it is an increasingly dangerous and ongoing threat to our democracy. Any mere condemnation of this effort rings hollow—it has to end. Enough is enough. Republicans in the Legislature have always had the ability to end this effort, and I call on them to do so today."
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin)
"Like the Legislative Audit Bureau, Special Counsel Gableman raises severe issues regarding the 2020 election in Wisconsin that need to be taken seriously. The goal of our efforts moving forward is to restore confidence in our election system. That starts by following established law – which the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) failed to do multiple times during the 2020 election. The lack of cooperation by WEC and some local election officials is not only troubling, but their obstruction of his investigation raises other serious issues. I will continue to study the Special Counsel’s findings and work to make sure no legitimate vote is cancelled by a fraudulent one."
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul
"This report is a full-throated attack on our democracy and a truly shocking example of the authoritarian mindset at work.
"The report provides a roadmap for attempting to overturn the will of the voters based on a fringe legal theory. It includes recommendations that would restrict access to voting and make it harder to detect fraud. And it disparages due process and public records requests because they are inconvenient to certain individuals with power.
"The Vos-Gableman investigation will long be remembered as a shameful, deeply embarrassing episode for our state legislature. The Republicans in the legislature who are responsible for this train wreck have an obligation to our democracy to condemn and end this preposterous fake investigation."
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler
"The GOP’s handpicked prosecutor just encouraged the Wisconsin Legislature to throw out and disenfranchise the votes of the more than 1.6 million Wisconsinites who voted for the president in 2020 and illegally decertify the results of a free, fair, and secure democratic election. As ridiculous as this notion sounds, it’s a deadly serious authoritarian threat to our Constitution, and it could well menace our democracy in 2024. Gableman and his cronies are laying the groundwork for Republicans to overturn future elections when they don’t like the outcome.
"Gableman’s report makes clear that the stakes are colossal in 2022 — Wisconsin is ground zero in the fight to protect free and fair elections. Should a Republican win the governor’s race in the fall, our state will see anti-democracy legislation signed into law instead of vetoed. Wisconsin voters would be hit with a profound rollback in voting rights and spikes in election interference from Republicans aiming to rig elections in their favor. This is not a hypothetical risk; it is the explicit platform of the Republican candidates for governor. Tim Ramthun has rallied in the Capitol to decertify the 2020 election results, Kevin Nicholson has sowed doubt in the legitimacy of our elections, and Rebecca Kleefisch has refused to say if she would have certified the 2020 election—or if she would sign legislation allowing the overturning of the 2024 election. If these Republican candidates think they should be governor, they need to speak out against Gableman’s disastrous and embarrassing investigation, unequivocally condemn the idea that Wisconsin’s 2020 votes shouldn’t count, and commit now to certifying the results of the 2024 election and refusing to overturn them.
"Governor Evers is the last line of defense against authoritarian attacks on American democracy emanating from the Republican Party. We have been lucky that Governor Evers is in office and resolute about vetoing restrictions on the right to vote. As long as he is our governor, Wisconsinites can trust that he will continue to stand up for democracy, protect our right to vote, and fight for free and fair elections. Those who care about democracy should do everything in their power to re-elect Governor Evers to a second term."
State Rep. Barbara Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc)
"Since the November 2020 general election, I have been working hard on behalf of my constituents to weed through hyper-partisan vitriol on both sides of the aisle in order to get to the truth regarding election integrity. The interim report from Special Counsel Gableman presented in front of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections affirmed much of what I have been telling constituents of every political persuasion the past sixteen months. Every Wisconsinite should be disturbed at the notion of outside interests swaying the votes by directing funds to specific communities based upon their political tendencies; not following the law when it comes to individuals in long-term care facilities; opening up the state to illegal ballot harvesting with the use of drop boxes; and recommendations by the Wisconsin Elections Commission that did not comport with the law. Wisconsin voters have also long been concerned about WEC’s refusal to clean up our voter rolls in compliance with state law.
"Every legal Wisconsin voter deserves to feel confident about the integrity of their vote. Until we reach that point, we must continue to refine the process and prosecute wrongdoing. Unfortunately, our State Attorney General as well as other partisan district attorneys have been asleep at the switch on this issue. My hope is that the information uncovered via referrals from the Racine County Sherriff as well as lawsuits filed by Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty will be addressed by our Wisconsin State Supreme Court. While my esteemed colleagues on the other side of the aisle continue gaslighting, claiming this is just a big conspiracy theory, both the Legislative Audit Bureau and Special Counsel Gableman have separately uncovered illegal activity that occurred under the guise of COVID-19 mitigation. In fact, as Gableman detailed, very little of the funds used from the Center for Tech and Civic Life were actually used to address concerns with the virus.
"While Gableman suggested that the Legislature had grounds to examine the possibility of decertifying the 2020 presidential election, he also emphasized that it would not result in removal of Joe Biden as President. Therefore, I question the point of decertification and maintain the belief that these problems should be handled through current legal and Constitutional measures as well as repairing our flawed election laws. I appreciate how this entire situation has motivated voters to stop taking their voting rights for granted and inspired more volunteerism as poll workers and election observers."
Racine Mayor Cory Mason
"Do not be fooled: Gableman and the GOP's intention with this absurd "investigation" is to undermine our democracy. These baseless and unsubstantiated claims of election illegalities do a profound disservice to Wisconsin's municipal election clerks and election officials, who all worked tirelessly and creatively to ensure citizens' ability to vote in the midst of a pandemic.
"Even more concerning, Gableman's recommendations lay bare an agenda that aims to make it harder for Wisconsin residents, particularly residents of color, to vote. Gableman’s insistence on continuing this charade of an "investigation," with closed door interviews and threats of jail time for mayors and election officials, has no place in our democracy.
"We should all be embarrassed and frightened of what it will mean for our state if Republicans won't come to their senses, finally acknowledge that Joe Biden won Wisconsin in 2020, and apologize for the damage they have done to our democratic principles and institutions.
"While we wait for the GOP to stop allowing these unfounded and outrageous attacks on our secure and fair elections, I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that all of Racine's citizens can exercise their right to vote, safely, and without harassment or delay."
State Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee)
"I give the Gableman report a capital F. This side show circus was a waste of money, a PR stunt, a fleecing of the taxpayers, and it didn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know. This investigation accomplished exactly nothing. We already know there was no widespread voter fraud. Gableman’s report is an underhanded attempt to undermine Wisconsinites’ faith in our elections in order to justify the dismantling of the Wisconsin Elections Commission so that Republicans can select the referees for the next election.
"Speaker Vos wasted $676,000 of taxpayer money and he should pay that money back. Gableman needs to issue an apology to the elected officials he has threatened and to the citizens he lied to with his ridiculous innuendos and sloppy work. The legislature should audit the Office of Special Council to find out once and for all how exactly the money was wasted and what kind of corruption was done. I’m renewing my call to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to authorize that audit.
"Gableman is admittedly unqualified and a demonstrably partisan hack. It is utterly unforgivable that Speaker Vos appointed him and allowed him to waste taxpayer resources this way."