MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge on Monday rejected an attempt by the state’s Democratic attorney general to block a subpoena issued by a Republican-hired attorney seeking to interview the state’s chief elections administrator and obtain election-related documents and data as part of a GOP-ordered investigation.
The ruling from Dane County Circuit Judge Rhonda Lanford is a victory for Michael Gableman, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who was hired last year by Republicans to investigate the 2020 election. It means that he can move forward — at least for now — with a closed-door interview with the state’s top elections official, Meagan Wolfe, even as other legal battles over his authority are pending.
The investigation was supposed to be complete by the end of December, but now Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he wants a report by the end of February so the Legislature can act in March on recommendations made.
Vos hired Gableman, allocating $676,000 in taxpayer money for the investigation into the election to address concerns brought forward primarily by conservatives. Democrats have dismissed the probe as a political move designed to perpetrate the lie that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden won Wisconsin 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.
Gableman issued subpoenas to the mayors and elections officials in Wisconsin’s five largest cities, as well as to Meagan Wolfe, administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Gableman filed a separate pending lawsuit in Waukesha County asking a judge to jail the mayors of Madison and Green Bay if they don’t comply.
The mayors argue they have cooperated with Gableman as requested. Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich is seeking sanctions for Gableman over what the mayor contends are lies he’s made about his response to the subpoena. The judge in that case scheduled a hearing for Jan. 21.
Attorney General Josh Kaul, who represents the elections commission, filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary injunction to block the subpoena issued to Wolfe seeking records from the elections commission and a private interview with her. Kaul argued such an interview should only be done in public before the Assembly elections committee.
Justice Department attorneys had also argued that the subpoenas was too vague and broad and that the investigation was unlawful and focused on “debunked theories” about the 2020 election.
Lanford, in Monday’s ruling, declined the attorney general’s attempt to block the subpoena of Wolfe, saying Kaul had not yet met the standard required for such a ruling. In part, Kaul did not show that Wolfe would suffer irreparable harm if she testified, Lanford said.
Lanford did decline to dismiss the lawsuit entirely as Gableman has requested.
Neither Kaul nor Gableman immediately returned requests for comment.