Former Justice Michael Gableman | Screenshot from YouTube
On Monday, the ethically challenged former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who is overseeing state Republicans’ “investigation” of Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election released a six-minute video warning local elections clerks that he might use his subpoena powers to force them to hand over information. He also put them on notice that the burden of proving that the election was not fraudulent is on them.
The video, featuring former Justice Michael Gableman standing in front of a screen with an image of the State Capitol projected behind him, is the first concrete evidence of a return on the investment from $680,000 in taxpayers’ money the Legislature gave Gableman to dig through election results that have already been certified, recounted, and affirmed by multiple courts. Among the line-items in Gableman’s budget is $15,000 for “communications,” some of which was clearly spent on the Youtube video, featuring Gableman looking dapper in a black pinstripe suit and red tie.
“It’s notable how professional the video looks and how organized it is, in stark contrast to what we’ve seen so far in this investigation from Justice Gableman,” Jeff Mandell, founder of the progressive legal outfit Law Forward, commented dryly.
Indeed, Gableman’s investigation has gotten off to a bumpy start. Before he got his current gig as a self-styled unbiased arbiter of election integrity, Gableman was loudly pronouncing that the presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump, telling a group of Trump supporters that state leaders had allowed “unelected bureaucrats at the Wisconsin Election Commission to steal our vote.”
But look at him now, somberly intoning that “this investigation will be guided by a search for the truth and not by political priorities or political timetables. … We are not challenging the results of the 2020 election. Rather, we are holding government officials accountable to the public.”
Gableman’s first official effort to hold those officials accountable was to send an email to dozens of local elections clerks ordering them to preserve election records. The email, sent from a nonsecure Gmail account with the name “john delta,” raised concerns about a potential security risk, as well as investigators’ general lack of professionalism. Some clerks never saw the email because it was filtered into their spam folders. One compared it to “something someone made up on their home computer in their mom’s basement.” Others didn’t reply to the email for security reasons, since it did not come from a government source or law office. In any event, Gableman’s demand that local clerks preserve election records was redundant: It’s already required by law.
“We know that there are active, hostile foreign nations trying to … hack our election,” Dane County elections clerk Scott McDonell told UpNorthNews. “And this bozo is asking us to send router logs over to his Gmail?”
“[The email] leads me to believe this isn’t a real investigation, just a political stunt to try to appease [the] far-right base that is still clinging to this ‘Big Lie,’” added Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson.
Gableman did nothing to dispel that impression when he traveled to Maricopa County to view the much-derided election-fraud “audit” in Arizona, or when he attended an election-conspiracy conference hosted by MyPillow CEO and far-right conspiracist Mike Lindell. Nor did he increase confidence when it was revealed that he has been consulting with Shiva Ayyadurai, the U.S. Senate candidate who lost to Elizabeth Warren and then falsely claimed a million ballots in Massachusetts had been destroyed, as well as 4.2% of votes for Donald Trump nationwide. The number 4.2 was significant, Ayyadurai told former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in a podcast, because it figures prominently in the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
But back to the Gableman video, which was really a nice, professional-looking piece of work, for which you and I, the taxpayers, should pat ourselves on the back. Those Republicans sure know how to spend our money to make themselves look good!
“I work directly for you, the people of Wisconsin,” Gableman says in the video. “The rich and the powerful have all the representation they need.”
On behalf of we, the people, Gableman makes an effort to clear up some possible arguments about what he’s doing in advance:
“Investigations must remain open to receiving information from all sources,” Gableman says, “regardless of the personal biases of some sources. Otherwise the result would be predetermined by bias rather than by the truth. … It would be foolish to prejudge evidence by prejudice against individuals.”
“The office of special counsel will not prejudge any individual or any argument,” he adds for good measure. Read: no matter how crazy.
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Buckle your seatbelt for more evidence from “The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” But for now, Gableman is keeping the really juicy stuff to himself.
“Speaking about the internal workings of an ongoing investigation is reckless and irresponsible,” he explains in the video. Spilling the beans could lead to witness intimidation, for example.
Then Gableman himself goes on to discuss the internal workings of his investigation, saying he’s begun the investigation “in earnest,” meeting with witnesses and getting more information. And, he adds, evidence has already been produced that shows “some election officials acted unilaterally in deciding not to follow established state law.” He will compel those officials to pony up evidence, by force if need be. That’s the kind of claim that has led to harassment of election officials by members of the public who are convinced that, as Gableman himself put it, local clerks who oversaw the 2020 election were out to “steal our vote.”
Besides the Big Lie, Gableman’s investigation is promoting the lie that Wisconsin elections are generally plagued with fraud. And another lie, on top of that, is that his office seeks to restore public confidence in elections. In fact, he seeks to do just the reverse. He wants to undermine public confidence in elections, and help Republicans spread false claims to suppress the vote and, when they lose, pretend that they won.
In service of that mission, Gableman is demanding that elections clerks prove a negative — a logical impossibility — and convince him that they didn’t cheat.
“The responsibility to demonstrate that our elections were conducted with fairness, inclusivity and accountability is on the government and on the private, for-profit interests that did work for the government,” Gableman says solemnly. “The burden is not on the people to show in advance of an investigation that public officials and their contractors behaved dishonestly.”
“That’s a big shift from how we understand both the administration of elections and the administration of justice,” Mandell points out.
Both of those crucial pieces of our democracy are now at risk.
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