Ballots are stored in boxes and bags as workers recount Milwaukee County's ballots at the Wisconsin Center. Photo by Adam Kelnhofer, WisPolitics.com, Nov. 23, 2020.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Tuesday Michael Gableman’s office will remain open as the former justice fights lawsuits challenging his subpoena powers in a review of the 2020 election.

The statement came a day after Donald Trump called for the probe to continue and Gableman appealed to the Rochester Republican to keep his Brookfield office open. The former justice wrote in a letter obtained by WisPolitics.com that closing the office would “render pointless and a waste of taxpayer money the entire investigation.”

The amended contract that Gableman and Vos signed earlier this year concludes on Saturday even as the former justice fights lawsuits challenging his attempts to compel state and local officials to provide private depositions at his office rather than in public before a legislative committee. Already, Assembly Republicans have racked up more than $250,000 in legal bills in those suits, according to records WisPolitics.com obtained. That doesn’t include anything Gableman may have paid outside counsel with the $676,000 budget that Vos originally approved for the probe.

Gableman wrote closing his office would undermine efforts in court to validate his attempts to compel depositions at his private office from those he’s subpoenaed. He argued that would weaken the Assembly as well as the speaker’s office while inviting “a left-wing group” to sue to block oversight “the next time they want to hide something.”

Some 200 Wisconsin cities received $10 million from a group largely funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to help cover the costs of putting on the 2020 election during a pandemic. Of that, $8.8 million went to five Dem-run cities, which have been a focus on Gableman’s probe.

“This time it is nursing home abuse and corrupt elections administration: next time it could be worse,” Gableman wrote. “And you can bet there are private left-wing groups drafting new contracts that are even more shady, so that bad actors can privatize our elections again in 2024. This has to stop, and it will not stop if we shut down the (Office of Special Counsel) and give up on the lawsuits now.”

Gableman wrote in Monday’s letter he was willing to reduce his salary — which had been $11,000 a month — to $1 annually if money was an issue.

In Tuesday’s statement, Vos said the office will remain open “as we guarantee the legal power of our legislative subpoenas and get through the other lawsuits that have gridlocked this investigation.” In one of the lawsuits, a judge pushed back until July a hearing that had been scheduled for last week. That suit is over whether Gableman can have the Waukesha County sheriff detain the mayors of Madison and Green Bay along with a string of local officials unless they comply with his directive to provide depositions in private.

“We are grateful for Justice Gableman’s offer to reduce his salary as we are all concerned about the judicious use of taxpayers’ dollars,” Vos said. “Our intention is to remain within the original budget allocated for the investigation.”

Dems have ripped Gableman’s investigation for a series of gaffes, accusing him of promoting conspiracy theories. The latest flap came over Gableman’s assessment that a city of Milwaukee IT employee was likely a Dem because she had a “weird nose ring,” colored her hair, liked snakes, lived with her boyfriend and liked to play video games.

State Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said Vos should’ve shut down the probe and said the legal tab run up by Assembly Republicans is solely due to Gableman’s insistence on having officials testify in private rather than in public before a legislative committee.

“Even a dollar paid to Gableman is a dollar too much of taxpayer money to fuel conspiracy theories,” Spreitzer said.

Monday’s letter was the latest effort to pressure Vos on Gableman’s probe. The former justice went on Steve Bannon’s podcast two weeks ago to warn that Vos’ staffers indicated they would pick up his office equipment Tuesday and urged listeners to demand Vos allow him to continue his work. And Trump Monday issued a statement calling for Gableman’s review of the 2020 election to continue, warning there would be a boost to the primary challengers of “RINOs” who interfere with the probe. Trump’s statement didn’t mention Vos by name, though the speaker has drawn a primary challenger for his Assembly seat.

Though the amended contract ends Saturday, it includes a provision calling for Gableman and Vos to meet once the lawsuits are completed to determine if additional resources were necessary to complete the investigation.

A Vos spokeswoman said Gableman had asked to buy his office equipment and the speaker had agreed. She didn’t immediately respond to follow-up questions seeking details of the arrangement.

Gableman wrote in his letter the only possible downside to keeping the office open would be the legal fees to defend the subpoenas he issued with Vos’ approval.

Legal bills obtained by WisPolitics.com through the open records law show the legal tab has already eclipsed $250,000. And that doesn’t include the bills for the ongoing legal fight over access to records stemming from Gableman’s probe or a case in Waukesha County asking for officials to be jailed unless they comply with the former justice’s subpoenas.

The legal bills obtained by WisPolitics.com show taxpayers have reimbursed nearly $90,000 for outside counsel in the American Oversight suits.

Platinum subscribers can see yesterday’s PM Update, where this story originally ran, for more details on the legal bills and a copy of Gableman’s letter: https://www.wispolitics.com/2022/tue-pm-update-vos-says-gablemans-office-will-stay-open-after-former-justice-says-closing-it-would-be-a-waste-of-taxpayer-money/

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