Gableman Vos Convention
In this screen image from WisconsinEye, former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman (left) is introduced by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (center) at the Republican Party of Wisconsin state convention on June 26, 2021, as the head of an alleged investigation into results of the 2020 presidential election in the state.

With no evidence of any 2020 election fraud, the antics serve to keep the GOP’s right-wing invested in efforts to cast doubt on past elections and impede future voting.

Robin Vos blinked.

The Speaker of the Assembly said Tuesday a review–which Republicans refer to as an investigation– of the 2020 election in Wisconsin that was supposed to wrap up this week will continue, just as former President Donald Trump urged on Monday in a thinly-veiled threat.

Vos said the probe will continue beyond Saturday, when the state’s contract with their inquisitor, former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, was supposed to end. Gableman’s effort is one of multiple 2020 election reviews pushed by Republicans and funded by Wisconsin taxpayers, despite no evidence of fraud that could change the outcome of President Joe Biden’s 21,000-vote victory.

Gableman has delivered two interim reports, most recently in March, but he has failed to meet numerous deadlines. None of his findings provided substantiated evidence that Trump actually won Wisconsin.

Gableman’s recommendation that the Republican-controlled Legislature take a look at decertifying Biden’s win was met with bipartisan scorn.

Despite these failings, Trump and the chair of the state Assembly committee on elections put public pressure on Vos, the state’s top Republican, to extend the secretive, haphazard, much-criticized probe—a $676,000 contract that paid Gableman $11,000 a month. Vos twice extended the contract, most recently last month.

As the deadline loomed, Trump issued a not-so veiled threat at Vos on Monday.

“Anyone calling themselves a Republican in Wisconsin should support the continued investigation in Wisconsin without interference,” Trump said in a statement.

“I understand some RINOs have primary challengers in Wisconsin,” Trump said without naming Vos or his primary challenger, Adam Steen. “I’m sure their primary opponents would get a huge bump in the polls if these RINOs interfere.”

RINO refers to “Republican In Name Only,” an acronym used by the far-right wing of the party against moderates and others who chose not to engage in efforts to undermine an election outcome that has survived recounts, partisan and nonpartisan reviews, and numerous lawsuits. 

With no widespread fraud discovered in Wisconsin or in any state, the alleged investigations are seen by many as a partisan tactic to keep Trump’s base enthused and exhaust other voters who may begin doubting election integrity or skipping elections out of frustration.

Vos, the longest-serving Assembly speaker in state history, has tried to appease the wing of his party who support Trump and question the outcome of the election, while also pushing back against those who want to decertify Biden’s win.

Wisconsin’s probes and other state efforts to provoke public doubt about the 2020 results have dragged on, even after a much ridiculed one wrapped up in September in Arizona without offering proof to support Trump’s claims of a stolen election. Similar efforts are being pursued by Republicans in the presidential battleground states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Biden also won. And in Utah, a panel of majority-GOP lawmakers in December approved an audit of the state’s election system. Unlike Arizona, the Utah effort will be conducted by nonpartisan legislative auditors and is not focused solely on 2020.

Wisconsin Assembly Elections Committee Chair Rep. Janel Brandtjen, who has invited election conspiracy theorists to testify before her committee and supported calls to decertify Biden’s win, joined Trump in calling for the Gableman assignment to go on.

“If Speaker Vos shuts down the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation now, not only will he be condoning cheating, he’ll be legalizing it,” Brandtjen said Monday, without any factual basis.

Vos did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

Gableman, in a series of recent appearances on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcasts, has urged Vos to allow the work to continue. Gableman asked listeners to call and email Vos to tell him not to have movers remove state furniture from his office on Tuesday.

Gableman did not return a message Tuesday.

The inquiry by Gableman—who worked briefly in the Trump administration—gave no pretense of impartiality from the very beginning, when Vos announced it at last year’s state Republican Party convention, which included a Gableman appearance. From the start, the effort has drawn bipartisan criticism, with opponents highlighting Gableman’s November 2020 comments that the election  had been stolen from Trump.

Once his work began, Gableman was criticized for surrounding himself with Trump loyalists, sending confusing emails, making basic errors in his filings, and meeting with conspiracy theorists. He was sued over his response to open records requests and for subpoenas of mayors and other local elections officials who said they were willing to testify publicly, but not behind closed doors as Gableman demanded. A hearing on Gableman’s case seeking to jail the mayors for noncompliance is scheduled for July.

A judge last week ordered Gableman to stop deleting emails and other records. The judge in that case scheduled a Tuesday hearing.

As part of that lawsuit last month, the judge criticized documents obtained from Gableman as showing that the average person “will come to the conclusion that this has been much to-do about nothing, that these documents do not support the argument that there has been an investigation.” 

In recent weeks, Gableman drew new criticism for disparaging how Wisconsin’s top elections administrator, Meagan Wolfe, dressed.

Investigative documents posted publicly in late April showed the probe had expanded to look at the political leanings of public workers involved in elections. One unsigned memo that described a Milwaukee city employee as “probably” a Democrat because she “has a weird nose ring,” colors her hair and lives with her boyfriend again drew criticism.

“There’s something wrong with him,” Republican state Sen. Kathy Bernier, chairwoman of the Senate elections committee, said of Gableman in response to that memo.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.