MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge on Tuesday ordered that Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos sit for a deposition with attorneys for a liberal watchdog group seeking records related to the GOP-ordered investigation into the 2020 election.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn denied an attempt by Vos and his staff attorney, Steve Fawcett, to block the Jan. 12 depositions.
It’s the latest defeat for Vos in the battle between him and American Oversight over records the group is seeking. Vos has turned over some documents, but the group argues he should be found in contempt for not complying quickly enough with court orders to produce more information.
“The citizens of the state of Wisconsin deserve the truth,” Bailey-Rihn said Tuesday. “Either these records exist and they’re being improperly withheld or they don’t exist.”
She said questioning Vos and Fawcett about their attempts to locate the records — and whether any were destroyed — is allowed and necessary to determine if the law is being complied with.
Vos’s attorney, Ronald Stadler, said American Oversight wanted to question Vos as part of a broader agenda, which he did not specify.
“This is a fishing expedition,” he argued.
Bailey-Rihn said the depositions can relate only to the documents that American Oversight requested and what searches were done to locate those documents.
Vos last year hired former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who claimed without evidence that the presidential election was stolen, to lead the investigation. His initial contract was for $676,000 in taxpayer money, but that expired last month. Vos has said the probe will last longer and likely cost more money, but he hasn’t said how much more or released a new contract.
Vos ordered the investigation in response to pressure from former President Donald Trump who has wrongly claimed the election in Wisconsin was stolen from him.
President Joe Biden won the state by nearly 21,000 votes, an outcome that has withstood recounts and numerous lawsuits. An Associated Press review of battleground states contested by Trump, including Wisconsin, found too few cases of fraud to affect the outcome.
Reviews by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty both found no widespread fraud. However, both recommended dozens of ways to improve elections. The Wisconsin Elections Commission has already taken steps to address issues raised in the audit.
Republicans have been pushing for more dramatic election law changes, including weakening the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission and giving the GOP-controlled Legislature more power over elections. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat up for reelection next year, has vetoed Republican bills that would make it more difficult to vote absentee.
American Oversight has filed three lawsuits in the fight over records created between May and August related to Vos hiring Gableman.
Last week, Bailey-Rihn ordered Vos to explain why he had provided so few documents in response to American Oversight’s open records request for contractor records. Vos’ attorneys have said that all available documents have been provided.
Bailey-Rihn last week declined to find Vos in contempt. The judge scheduled a Jan. 24 hearing to gather more information about what records exist and how thoroughly Vos and Assembly Chief Clerk Ted Blazel searched for them.
In another American Oversight lawsuit, Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington in December ordered Vos and Gableman to immediately release records related to the investigation. A hearing on that was set for Jan. 21.
Two other pending lawsuits are directly related to the Gableman investigation. One, brought by Gableman in Waukesha County, attempts to force the mayors of Madison and Green Bay to sit for depositions behind closed doors with him and his investigators. Another, brought by Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, seeks to block a subpoena from Gableman seeking records and a closed-door interview with the state’s top elections administrator, Meagan Wolfe.
A ruling that case is expected by Monday.
Last week, Gableman issued additional subpoenas to Madison officials and a Democratic Wisconsin Elections Commission board member seeking more information.