Voss fires Michael Gableman ending a 2020 election review

Robin Vos fires Michael Gableman, ending a 2020 election review that's cost taxpayers more than $1 million and produced no evidence of fraud

Molly Beck
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON – Assembly Speaker Robin Vos fired Michael Gableman on Friday, more than a year after he hired the former Supreme Court justice to probe the 2020 election and three days after Vos barely survived a primary challenge Gableman supported. 

Vos ended Gableman's contract with the state that has provided a national platform and more than $100,000 in salary to Gableman over the last 14 months but has produced a review of former President Donald Trump's 2020 loss that has promoted election conspiracy theories and revealed no evidence of significant voter fraud

The review has cost state taxpayers more than $1 million through costs for salaries and legal fees related to lawsuits filed against Gableman and Vos over ignored requests for public records. 

Vos did not respond to multiple requests from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for comment. He told WISN-12's Matt Smith in an interview for UPFRONT that Gableman was sent a letter. 

"We did it through the process of the contract," Vos said. "I really don't think there's any need to have a discussion. He did a good job last year, kind of got off the rails this year and now we're going to end the investigation."

Vos' decision to fire Gableman comes a week after Trump announced to a Waukesha crowd that Gableman had turned on Vos and that Gableman, like Trump, had endorsed Vos' primary opponent Adam Steen. Vos won the primary Tuesday but only barely — defeating Steen by just 260 votes. 

"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 Friday. 

On election night, Vos called Gableman "an embarrassment to the state" who wasn't worth talking about — a stark contrast to the praise Vos used to introduce Gableman and the 2020 probe to the 2021 Republican Party of Wisconsin state convention.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, left, and former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, right.

"We give you our word that we are doing everything we possibly can to uncover what occurred in 2020," Vos told Republicans during their first state party convention since Trump began tying make-believe voter fraud to his loss in the Badger State, contributing to losing his presidency. 

But since then, the review failed to accomplish those goals. Lawmakers did not receive any recommendations from Gableman before wrapping up their work for the year. The review has turned up little information not previously known and has not found evidence showing the 2020 election outcome was incorrectly called.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had a one-word reaction to the end of the probe: "Finally."

Rep. Mark Spreitzer, a Democrat on the Assembly Elections Committee who often sparred with Gableman during presentations to the committee, said, "Robin Vos never should have hired Michael Gableman in the first place." 

"It took Gableman endorsing against him in a Republican primary to convince Vos of what we've known all along, which is Gableman's an embarrassment to the state of Wisconsin."

Spreitzer said Vos should seek to recoup taxpayer money spent on the review or paid to Gableman. 

Rep. Cindi Duchow, R-Town of Delafield, said Friday "there is simply no need for taxpayers to continue to retain his services" now that his review is over. 

Gableman's efforts, which officially began on July 1, 2021, have resulted in a cost to taxpayers of $1 million — more than $300,000 over his budget — and a steady drumbeat of explosive court hearings and rulings in lawsuits over Gableman's desire to jail election officials and mayors who refused to be interviewed behind closed doors, and his decision to ignore requests from the public for records related to his probe. 

The probe has been fraught with mishaps, like a botched deposition after an attorney tasked with conducting an interview with a local official subpoenaed by Gableman was not licensed to practice law in Wisconsin.

And at times Gableman has been at the center of its controversy by making misogynistic comments about women he sees as adversaries.

While there are no tangible results of the review, elections experts have said they see it having a lasting impact on confidence in the state's system of elections. 

"It's about time," Senate Elections Committee chairwoman Kathy Bernier said about Gableman's contract termination. 

Bernier, a Republican from Lake Hallie who previously worked as the Chippewa County clerk, has long criticized Gableman for his promotion of debunked and baseless claims about voting patterns in the 2020 election. 

"Michael Gableman did all of this to enrich himself financially and to make himself important," she said about his motives for the probe. 

Corrinne Hess of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report. 

Contact Molly Beck at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.