MADISON, Wis. - The retired conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice leading a Republican-ordered investigation into the 2020 presidential election released a video Monday threatening to subpoena election officials who don't comply and saying the intent was not to overturn President Joe Biden's narrow victory in the battleground state.
The unusual six-minute video from Michael Gableman comes after election clerks were confused by an email his office sent last week that was flagged in at multiple counties as junk, a possible security risk and not forwarded to municipal clerks as he wanted.
Gableman said Monday that if the state's 1,900-plus municipal and county election officials did not cooperate with his investigation, he would "compel" them to comply. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he would sign subpoenas requested by Gableman as part of the investigation. Vos hired Gableman at a cost of nearly $680,000 in taxpayer money to conduct the investigation.
Vos declined to sign subpoenas sought by Rep. Janel Bandtjen, chair of the Assembly elections committee, seeking ballots, voting machines and other data in Milwaukee and Brown counties.
Gableman said local clerks who run elections in Wisconsin will be required to prove that voting was done legally.
"The responsibility to demonstrate that our elections were conducted with fairness, inclusivity and accountability is on the government and on the private, for-profit interests that did work for the government," Gableman said. "The burden is not on the people to show in advance of an investigation that public officials and their contractors behaved dishonestly."
Gableman, in his video where he appears to be standing in front of an image of the state Capitol, said his intent was not to challenge the results of the 2020 election that Biden won in Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes over former President Donald Trump. Some Republicans have called for a broader audit and said they believe there was widespread fraud, despite no evidence of that. Only two people out of about 3.3 million people who cast ballots have been charged with election fraud.
Those pushing for an audit similar to one done in Arizona's Maricopa County have pushed the false claim that the election was stolen from Trump.
Gableman addressed the call from former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, Brandtjen and others for a "forensic audit."
"It's important to note that the term ‘forensic audit’ is a confusing one, and it’s confusing because it has no commonly accepted definition," Gableman said. "Rather, the definition of each forensic audit is created by those who control that audit. The Office of Special Counsel is conducting a full investigation in order to get to the truth of what happened in our 2020 election.
Gableman said that investigation may include a "vigorous and comprehensive audit if the facts that are discovered justify such a course of action." He said his goal was "to put everything I know and everything I learned before you, the citizen, so that you can make up your own mind. "
Gablaman told a group of Trump supporters in November that he thought the election was stolen. A former Trump official a ppears to be working on the investigation. Gableman has not said who he has hired or submitted any invoices seeking payment yet.
Gableman’s investigation has already drawn bipartisan criticism. Republican state Sen. Kathy Bernier, chair of the Senate elections committee, earlier this month, said "there is not a reason to spread misinformation about this past election when we have all the evidence that shows otherwise."
Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said in a statement that Vos and Gableman were "wasting taxpayer funds to serve the political interests of a small group of Republican insiders who want to erode the freedom to vote. It’s a sham, a waste of time and money, and it’s damaging our democracy."
A review by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, ordered by Republicans, is also ongoing.
Gableman promised to provide updates in a "logical and responsible method" as appropriate, including additional videos.