Wisconsin judge lets GOP-led election review continue

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A state judge in Wisconsin is allowing a GOP-led review of the 2020 election to proceed in the state, turning back — at least temporarily — a bid to stymie the probe led by the Democratic state attorney general.

In Wisconsin, former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman is leading an investigation of the 2020 election with the blessing of state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Election experts have warned that post-election partisan reviews, like the one in the state, are harmful to the democratic system because they can serve as vehicles to legitimize, rather than allay, former President Donald Trump's conspiracy theories about widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Rhonda Lanford issued a ruling on Monday that denied state Attorney General Josh Kaul’s bid to undercut Gableman’s probe. Kaul sought to block a subpoena Gableman sent to Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe to compel her testimony.

Kaul’s suit sought a temporary injunction to stop the subpoena, arguing in part that it should be unenforceable because it was too broad and because it sought Wolfe’s testimony in private rather than in public.

Lanford denied Kaul’s challenge on procedural grounds, writing in her decision that the plaintiffs “have not shown irreparable injury, an inadequate remedy at law or preservation of the status quo — elements necessary for the Court to consider in deciding whether to grant a temporary injunction.”

But Lanford also allowed Kaul’s challenge to Gableman’s subpoena to continue, as he looks to permanently block enforcement. Lanford denied a motion from the former judge to entirely dismiss Kaul’s suit.

In a recent interview with WISN-TV, Vos said that he hoped Gableman's probe would wrap up by the end of February, so that the Republican-controlled chamber could consider new legislation. Vos also said he has spoken to Trump a half-dozen times about the review.

"Given Speaker Vos’ recent comments indicating that the Gableman investigation will soon be coming to a close, it is my hope that former Justice Gableman will withdraw these unnecessary subpoenas rather than continuing to litigate over them," Kaul said in a statement after Monday's ruling was issued.

Lanford’s ruling will likely have an effect on other lawsuits in the state. Gableman has threatened jail time in an effort to enforce separate subpoenas of the mayors of Madison and Green Bay. Those issues are part of a separate suit being heard in Waukesha County, with a hearing scheduled for later this month.

Lanford also allowed for the possibility of a temporary injunction in the future, writing that should Gableman “seek to enforce the subpoenas before this case is decided on the merits through contempt, imprisonment or other means similar to the action pending in Waukesha County … Plaintiffs can certainly file another motion for temporary injunction that the Court will schedule as soon as its calendar permits.”

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