Another judge rips Wisconsin 2020 election investigator for destroying records

By Ryan King

A judge directed Republicans in the Wisconsin State Assembly not to delete any records in the investigation of the 2020 presidential election in the state.© John Hart/APFormer state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman is pictured.

Dane County Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn expressed disbelief that she had to issue such an order but emphasized it was necessary because the inquiry is being led by former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, whose team has said they destroyed unimportant documents.

“I don’t want any records destroyed,” Bailey-Rihn said, per Fox 11 News. “I’m frankly amazed that I have to say, ‘Don’t destroy records that are subject to an open records request,’ or order that to occur. All of us know what the law is.”

A lawyer for Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos argued that the speaker has no control over Gableman’s cooperation with open records laws, but Bailey-Rihn was unconvinced. She noted that while Gableman would not be held in contempt of court, Vos could face such a ruling. The judge moved to hold the speaker in contempt in March for not releasing all the records from Gableman’s inquiry in an earlier order.

“I just can’t believe the explanation is, ‘We can’t control our subcontractors,’” Bailey-Rihn said, per WPR. “That just doesn’t seem to be satisfactory to the court since the contractors work for the Assembly. They work for the taxpayers.”

The new order came in response to a lawsuit brought by watchdog group American Oversight seeking records from state Assembly contractors “created prior to the establishment of the Assembly’s Office of Special Counsel.”

“Speaker Vos’s ever-expanding list of excuses — they don’t exist, they’ve been deleted, we can’t control our contractors — for failing to produce records to which Wisconsin citizens are legally entitled don’t ring true,” Melanie Sloan, senior adviser at American Oversight, said in a statement. “Next, he’ll claim the dog ate them. This deliberate effort to deprive the public of information undermines our democracy and the rule of law.”

Last month, in a separate lawsuit, a different judge ordered Gableman not to delete any documents that may pertain to American Oversight’s public records requests. Lawyers for the watchdog group presented a letter from Gableman’s office that said documents deemed “irrelevant or useless” got deleted, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Wisconsin law contains exceptions that allow lawmakers to destroy certain types of records, and Gableman’s attorneys unsuccessfully argued that applied to him.

Vos hired Gableman to investigate the 2020 election in the Badger State amid pressure over former President Donald Trump’s heavily disputed allegations of election fraud there. The speaker renewed the state’s contract with Gableman in March.

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Shortly before the contract renewal, Gableman released his preliminary interim report and claimed the state should consider decertifying the election because of widespread malfeasance. His allegations centered on claims that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg had an improper influence on the election by funding a nonprofit group that gave financial aid to municipalities working to adapt election procedures to the pandemic. The Wisconsin Elections Commission aggressively panned his report.

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