By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Tuesday said the investigation he ordered into the 2020 presidential election will spill into next year and cost more money, factors he blamed on Democrats who are fighting subpoenas.
The current contract Vos signed this summer with former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to lead the investigation runs through the end of this month at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $680,000. As part of his investigation, Gableman sought subpoenas of the mayors of the state’s five largest cities and the state’s top elections official.
Gableman said the mayors of Madison and Green Bay should be jailed if they don’t sit for a deposition. A court hearing in that case is set for Jan. 21. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul is trying to block the subpoena of Meagan Wolfe, the state election administrator, and a court hearing on that is set for next week.
Those legal fights will prolong the Gableman investigation indefinitely, Vos said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“My goal always was to conclude the investigation by the end of the year,” Vos said. “I never in my wildest dreams predicted the level that Democrats would go to try to block and throw up roadblocks to everything that we’re doing.”
Had Democrats cooperated, Vos said, the investigation would be over this month. Vos said if Gableman has to “spend most of his time and money fighting Democrat efforts to shut down the investigation, he might have to have more resources. But that’s on the Democrats, not on us.”
Dragging out the investigation is in the best interest of Republicans because it gives the appearance that something illegal happened, said Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz.
“The only thing wrong that happened for them is Joe Biden won and Donald Trump lost,” Hintz said. “I don’t expect them to ever wrap up the investigation.”
Democrats, and some Republicans, decry the investigation as a sham given that some of those hired by Gableman worked in Trump’s administration or have supported conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. Trump lost to President Joe Biden in Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes, an outcome that’s been upheld following recounts, multiple court rulings and a nonpartisan audit.
Vos and other Republicans defend the probe, saying they are trying to address issues raised by voters and others about procedures and private grant money awarded to heavily Democratic cities during the election.
Republican state Sen. Kathy Bernier, chair of the Senate elections committee and the former Chippewa County election clerk, on Monday blasted the investigation.
She called it a “charade” designed to appease the GOP’s conservative base, urged its completion as soon as possible and said questioning the integrity of elections will ultimately hurt turnout for Republicans.
“I understand there is frustration when you have a president saying there is massive voter fraud,” Bernier said, noting that Trump claimed fraud regularly as far back as the 2016 Iowa caucuses. “We have a great system here and no one should falsely accuse election officials of cheating.”
Vos said he interpreted her comments as voicing frustration about the lack of Democratic participation.
“It’s not just one side, Republicans, or the other side, Democrats, that have lost confidence in the election, it’s the whole population if we don’t figure out how to remind people what the rules are and have a standard set for everybody, no matter where you live or how you vote,” Vos said.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul applauded Bernier for her comments.
“I wish we would see more Republicans speaking out,” Kaul said Tuesday.
Kaul accused Gableman and Republicans of “chasing after conspiracy theories.” Vos last week refused to call claims that Biden stole the election from Trump conspiracy theories.
“It’s clear that the efforts we have been seeing from some partisan Republicans are designed to destabilize our democracy and confidence in our democracy,” Kaul said.
In addition to the investigation, Trump supporters are also looking at enacting a constitutional amendment on elections to get around Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and empowering the secretary of state’s office to take over some election-related duties that the bipartisan elections commission currently handles.
Hintz said the Republicans’ ultimate goal was to empower the Legislature to overturn election results it doesn’t like.
Vos said he was “skeptical” of empowering the secretary of state, an office that hasn’t had a role in running elections for nearly 50 years. Instead, Vos said he was most interested in ways to overhaul the existing bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission, which the GOP-controlled Legislature created.
“I want to look at all the potential models,” Vos said of how he wants elections run in Wisconsin. “I don’t say that I have the be-all, end-all answer right now. I think the current process is broken.”