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Wisconsin Assembly leader fires former judge he hired to investigate voter fraud

Wisconsin Assembly leader fires former judge he hired to investigate voter fraud

(CNN)Wisconsin’s Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Friday fired the conservative former state Supreme Court justice he hired last year to investigate fraud in the 2020 election — ending a controversial probe that drew bipartisan criticism.

Vos first hired Michael Gableman in July 2021 as a special counsel under pressure from former President Donald Trump and his allies to relitigate his 2020 loss in the state, but the relationship between the Republican lawmaker and Gableman soured after Vos refused entreaties to decertify President Joe Biden’s victory in the state.

Vos’ move to end the probe came just days after he survived a primary challenge from an opponent that Trump and Gableman had backed.

    “After having many members of our caucus reach out to me over the past several days, it is beyond clear to me that we only have one choice in this matter, and that’s to close the Office of Special Counsel,” Vos said in a statement.

      CNN has reached out to Gableman’s office and to his attorney.

        The Associated Press first reported Gableman’s firing.

        In all, the cost of the investigation topped $1 million.

          The partisan review, part of a nationwide effort by Republicans to cast doubt on Biden’s win, drew criticism from the start.

          Months before he was hired, Gableman appeared at a November 7, 2020, rally and said he believed the Wisconsin election had been stolen.

          Gableman’s blunders and extreme legal steps taken during the investigation prompted calls for the review to be shut down.

          During the course of the probe, he threatened to jail local officials who refused to answer his questions in private interviews.

          And a memo uncovered by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this year appeared to show Gableman’s team probing the backgrounds of public employees.

          One case — part of a document entitled “Cross Pollinators” and posted on the special counsel’s website — concluded that a Milwaukee city employee was likely a Democrat because she “has a weird nose ring,” plays video games, “loves nature and snakes” and lives with her boyfriend although they are not married.

          Gableman’s inquiry also faced several lawsuits, related to open records requests.

          State Sen. Melissa Agard, a Democrat who is a member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, said a formal audit should be conducted into the investigation, which she said was authorized to spend over $1.3 million.

          “After many other analyses of Wisconsin’s 2020 election, there have been no demonstrations of widespread or significant fraud that affected the outcome of our election,” Agard said in a written statement. “Gableman has been grifting on the taxpayers’ dime for over a year now.”

          Biden won Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes in 2020, a victory that has survived multiple lawsuits and election reviews.

          (A recent ruling by the conservative majority on the state’s Supreme Court concluded that most ballot drop boxes — which were widely used in the 2020 election during the height of the pandemic — are prohibited. But the ruling did not change the outcome of that year’s contests.)

          Wisconsin is a key battleground state with high-stakes races on the ballot in November. The state’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is seeking a second term amid a challenge from Trump-backed GOP nominee Tim Michels. And in a race that could help determine which party controls the Senate, Republican US Sen. Ron Johnson will face Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat.

          Evers has repeatedly vetoed bills passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that sought to overhaul voting rules in the state.

          In his statement Friday, Vos said Gableman’s inquiry — along with a separate report from the legislature’s audit bureau — “clearly showed concerns and problems with the 2020 election.”

            But he said Republicans should focus their efforts on electing “a Republican governor in November so we can pass the bills that were vetoed by Governor Evers.”

            This story has been updated with additional background information.

            CNN’s Andy Rose and Natalie Anders contributed to this story.