Former Justice Michael Gableman in a new video said he has offered the clerks and mayors of five cities a “reprieve on the timing of their interviews” with his office so they could better provide the information he wants on the 2020 election.
But officials in several of the targeted communities told WisPolitics.com Thursday they don’t expect their mayors will end up speaking directly with Gableman’s office. Instead, they expect a city official with the best knowledge of how the elections were conducted will speak with the Office of Special Counsel after it reviews a batch of records being delivered today.
The 3-minute video is the latest twist in the subpoenas that Gableman sent as part of his Assembly GOP-backed probe. The first subpoenas directed clerks to appear at Gableman’s Brookfield office at 9 a.m. Friday. The second directed the mayors and “person most knowledgeable in regard to the November 2020” election to show up at 9 a.m. Oct. 22.
Gableman last week angrily disputed the suggestion he was dropping the subpoenas if city officials turned over records willingly and vowed in a radio interview, “They’re going to show up now, all of them, unless we reach an agreement specifically otherwise.”
In the new video, Gableman said his office worked with local officials to agree on a limited range of documents they believed they could provide as a “starting point” with the understanding that additional information would be provided “on a mutually agreeable timeline.” To address concerns that the original records request was burdensome, his office offered to proceed informally so long as public officials are willing to work in good faith.
“In cases where public officials are not interested in working with us, we have no alternative but to exercise the power granted to us by the state Assembly in order to compel them to testify and produce the documents this office has requested,” Gableman said.
Madison’s attorney sent Gableman a letter Thursday saying it was the city’s understanding the former justice included the requests for the mayor and clerk to appear for interviews “solely for the purpose of ensuring delivery of the documents” he’d requested.
With the delivery of the records, Mike Haas wrote, it was the city’s understanding that neither Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl would appear before Gableman Friday nor Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway on Oct. 22.
Meanwhile, the city was awaiting word from Gableman’s office if it intended to seek a deposition from the person most knowledgeable about the November 2020 election. Haas added the city would need more details about such a deposition, including the topics that Gableman would want to address “before we can confirm attendance by a City official.”
“Finally, we understand that your office reserves the right to request additional documents and interviews with City staff and officials. The City also reserves the right to object to the issued subpoenas or subsequent requests based on appropriate reasons,” Haas added.
Officials with Kenosha, Milwaukee and Racine told WisPolitics.com they had made arrangements to deliver by Friday the documents Gableman was initially seeking. They anticipated his office would review those records and then decide if additional documents were needed and whether he would request an interview with a city official. They each anticipated it would be the person most knowledgeable about the 2020 election rather than the mayor.
Amaad Rivera-Wagner, chief of staff to Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich, said the city sent the requested documents. The city doesn’t expect Genrich being asked to meet personally with investigators for an interview, but was in ongoing discussions with Gableman’s office.
Gableman also said in the new video his office doesn’t have the power under state law to “engage in any kind of prosecution.”
“This is wise because it prevents public officials from pleading the fifth in order to avoid providing information or giving testimony that’s relevant to this investigation,” he said, adding it serves as an assurance of transparency.
Previously, he has said officials who cooperated with his probe would be granted immunity.
On Thursday, he said there was no need for local officials to “lawyer up,” a reference to Gov. Tony Evers’ advice to clerks before talking to the former justice. The guv has dismissed the taxpayer-paid probe as a “boondoggle.”
Earlier this week, Assembly Campaigns and Elections Chair Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, said she opposed extending immunity to the mayors of the five cities, particularly Genrich.
A main focus of Gableman’s request so far has been the private funding the five cities received to help cover the costs of putting on an election during a pandemic. The grants went to some 200 Wisconsin communities, though the bulk of the money went to Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee and Racine.
She said providing Genrich “immunity after all the time it has taken to uncover his actions will not serve justice.”
See the Gableman video: