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 has extended Michael Gableman’s contract to review the 2020 election through April as the former justice remains entangled in a series of lawsuits challenging his authority to carry out the probe.

Gableman’s investigation has been maligned by lawmakers in both parties over a series of gaffes. But Vos, R-Rochester, on Tuesday praised Gableman in a statement for doing “an outstanding job looking into the election concerns people all across Wisconsin had.” He said Gableman “continues to face unwarranted resistance.”

Those lawsuits include arguments that Gableman must interview witnesses in public before an Assembly committee rather than in his private office as he’s sought. Another challenges his efforts to have local officials jailed unless they submit to private depositions.

“We will continue to fight the obstruction and myriad of lawsuits filed by Democrats and out-of-state liberal activists, questioning the Legislature’s subpoena power and ultimately keeping this matter from concluding in the time frame we expected,” Vos said.

The original contract was set to expire last fall. But Vos and Gableman signed an extension that provided $676,000 in taxpayer money to carry out the probe. That budget included a note that suggested the funding was through Dec. 31.

The amended contract runs through April 30 unless extended by both parties. It also pledges the Assembly will cover attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses from ongoing litigation. The contract doesn’t include a cap on those costs.

Under the amended contract, which was released late Tuesday afternoon:

*Gableman can’t exceed his budget unless approved by the Assembly. The provision also allows Gableman to move around money that was included in the original budget. For example, WisPolitics.com reported earlier this year that Gableman had already exhausted the budget line for office supplies.

*Gableman’s office is directed to obtain the necessary documents to conclude the investigation, “including prosecuting and defending its lawsuit subpoenas for documents and testimony.”

*after concluding the ongoing litigation, Gableman and Vos will consult on whether an additional investigation is warranted.

*the Office of Special Counsel is authorized to provide legal representation to Vos, the Assembly and anyone the speaker designates for any matters related to Gableman’s work. That provision allows Gableman to retain additional counsel — with Vos’ approval — to provide that legal representation. The Assembly shall cover attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses.

During last week’s appearance before the Assembly Campaign and Elections Commission, Gableman suggested he was “just getting started.” The report he delivered last week also promised to deliver another report on the use of indefinitely confined voting, but provided no timeline for that.

Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, said she hoped Gableman’s effort would come to an end after presenting his “embarrassing sham of an investigation” to a committee last week.

“This extension from Speaker Vos is outrageous and a gross abuse of taxpayer dollars,” Agard said. “Instead of using these funds to invest in and better our state, Republicans continue to fund conspiracy theories and harmful rhetoric with taxpayer dollars. Over half a million taxpayer dollars have cushioned Gableman’s pockets for the last eight months, and the GOP is inciting this corruption.”

Meanwhile, a Dane County judge has ordered the immediate release of some 700 pages from the Gableman probe that the former justice and Vos had sought to shield from public view.

See the amended contract here.

See the documents here.

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