By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Assembly Republican leader who hired a former state Supreme Court justice to investigate the 2020 election fired him Friday, three days after the lawmaker beat a primary opponent whom the investigator and former President Donald Trump had endorsed.
The firing of Michael Gableman capped a 14-month ride that began when Assembly Speaker Robin Vos hired him to look into the election under pressure from Trump. But as the probe progressed under bipartisan criticism, Vos’ relationship soured with both Trump and Gableman.
Vos initially said he was “supremely confident” in Gableman’s abilities. After his election win Tuesday, Vos called Gableman an “embarrassment to himself” and to the state. Gableman, who has repeated Trump’s lie that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen,” has said that Vos “never wanted a real investigation.”
“After having many members of our caucus reach out to me over the past several days, it is beyond clear to me that we only have one choice in this matter, and that’s to close the Office of Special Counsel,” Vos said in a statement issued first to The Associated Press on Friday.
Gableman’s did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
After Gableman’s work drew bipartisan scorn, his firing generated bipartisan praise.
Britt Cudaback, spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers who has been highly critical of the Gableman and the probe, reacted to the firing with one word: “Finally.”
“It was a good decision. It would have been a better decision six months ago,” said Republican state Sen. Kathy Bernier, chair of the Senate elections committee, who went on to add that she has “zero respect, for Michael Gableman.”
One major fissure between Vos and Gableman came when Gableman said in a report that lawmakers should consider decertifying the 2020 election, as Trump wants. Vos rejected that suggestion, citing widespread legal opinions that it is both unconstitutional and impossible to do.
Vos had repeatedly said the goal of the probe was not to overturn the 2020 election, a move Gableman later told Vos privately in writing was impossible. Even Gableman’s own attorney told lawmakers that decertification was “pointless.”
Vos said people with ongoing concerns about election integrity should focus on defeating Evers, who vetoed changes Republicans wanted. Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels supports disbanding the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission and has said he would have signed the bills Evers vetoed.
Michels’ adviser Chris Walker declined to comment on Gableman’s firing.
Vos hired Gableman to quell pressure he was feeling from those who believed Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election. President Joe Biden won Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes, an outcome that’s survived lawsuits, recounts, reviews, audits and even Gableman’s own investigation.
Unhappy with how he was treated by Vos, Gableman’s public comments critical of the speaker increased as did Trump’s. In April, Gableman called for pressure to be put on Vos to extend the former justice’s contract. Vos did so — albeit with a pay cut from his initial $11,000 a month. Vos put the investigation hold in May, pending resolution of ongoing lawsuits.
Their relationship reached a tipping point when both Trump and Gableman endorsed Vos’ primary opponent, leading to a tighter-than-expected race. Vos eked out with a 260-vote win. Vos said his victory showed lawmakers “don’t have to be a lapdog to whatever Donald Trump says.”
Gableman also faces legal trouble.
On Tuesday, a judge was to determine whether Gableman remains in contempt of court for not complying with the state’s open records law. Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington, in a scathing order, accused Gableman of unprofessional and misogynistic conduct related to a court appearance where he refused to answer questions and made sarcastic remarks about a female attorney.
Remington forwarded his contempt order to the committee that disciplines attorneys for possible further action, including suspension or repeal of Gableman’s law license. That is one of four open records lawsuits filed by the liberal watchdog group American Oversight. There are also two lawsuits related to the probe itself, including one filed by Gableman seeking to jail the Madison and Green Bay mayors for not providing testimony in private as he wanted.
The attorneys’ fees awarded so far has resulted in the total tab for Gableman’s investigation, all paid by taxpayers, that tops $1.1 million.
Gableman has used the probe to raise his national profile. He gave the prayer at Trump’s Wisconsin rally this month and he’s been a regular on conservative talk radio, including an appearance where he disparaged how Wisconsin’s chief elections official dresses.
Gableman also faced criticism for scant expense records, confusing emails, meeting with conspiracy theorists including MyPillow executive Mike Lindell, and making rudimentary errors, including multiple spelling mistakes. For instance, in records released during the lawsuits, Gableman and his team routinely misspelled Vos as “Voss.”
Democratic state Sen. Melissa Agard said it was “past time” for Gableman to be fired.
“I’m glad that Speaker Vos has stopped the bleeding for these tax dollars going to a sham investigation,” she added.