Vos’ deleted emails reveal communications with election deniers, Republican officials

By: - April 11, 2022 4:46 pm

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos | official website

A massive set of previously deleted emails released by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos last week show him and members of his staff regularly in communication with advocates of conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election and unveil new details about Vos’ agreement with former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who has been conducting a review of the election on behalf of Vos and the Assembly. 

Last week, Vos released 20,000 pages of emails following an open records request and a lawsuit from the government watchdog group American Oversight. American Oversight fought for the release of emails that had been deleted from government accounts, opening a way to get around state legislators’ practice of regularly deleting their communications. 

Because Vos’ release of the emails was so massive, American Oversight has so far processed and published just 150 pages from the large cache the group received. The emails reveal interview requests to Vos from right-wing media outlets such as One American News Network and Newsmax; emails from lawyers who worked with Rudy Giuliani and other prominent members of the fight to keep former President Donald Trump in office; insights into Gableman’s contract and how Gableman’s investigation has proceeded since it started last June. 

The emails show that in January, Gableman and Vos attorney Steve Fawcett were discussing an extension of Gableman’s contract with the Legislature and Fawcett suggested cutting Gableman’s salary in half. 

Fawcett’s suggested amendment said that Gableman would be paid $11,000 a month for January, February and March if he delivered a final report on the election to the Legislature and the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections by the end of February. After March, Gableman would be paid $5,500 per month until all litigation related to the review was completed. 

This language isn’t included in the contract extension that Vos and Gableman eventually signed and on March 1, Gableman presented a report but told committee members that it was only a “second interim report.” 

Vos and Gableman have each expressed frustration with the lawsuits against the review, which include local and elections officials raising constitutional objections to subpoenas requesting private interviews. 

Gableman’s review was initially given a budget of $676,000. 

The emails also show a flurry of activity within Vos’ office as he and his staff attempted to figure out how to respond to growing calls for extensive reviews of the 2020 election from the Republican base and the farthest right-wing members of the Assembly GOP caucus. 

Initially, Vos said he’d hire several former police officers to conduct a review of the election, but eventually decided to hire Gableman and establish a “special counsel” to investigate Republican claims of fraud. 

Nearly a year later, even the hiring of Gableman hasn’t been enough to quell Republican complaints as Vos faces a primary challenge and some members of the Legislature continue to call for more extreme measures

The batch of emails includes a number of communications from Michael Sandvick, a former Milwaukee police detective whom Vos initially hired to conduct the investigation.

In an email to former Vos adviser Joe Handrick, Sandvick asks for former conservative Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly to forward affidavits about the counting of ballots in Milwaukee. Kelly, who lost his seat to Jill Karofsky in April of 2020, is considering running for the Supreme Court again. Kelly has not been prominently involved in Republican efforts to cast doubt on the 2020 election results, but has written in favor of changes to election law that Republicans have called for. 

“Joe [I’ve been told] Dan Kelly is in possession of affidavits regarding observations made by observers at the Milwaukee central count. Could you ask him to forward copies [if they] exist,” Sandvick wrote in early June of 2021. 

That same day, members of Vos’ staff and producers for the right-wing media outlet Newsmax were exchanging several emails about the speaker’s appearance on the channel that morning to talk about Sandvick’s hiring. 

Last summer, as the investigation evolved from three former cops into the establishment of Gableman’s office of special counsel, Vos and his staff received emails from and communicated with a wide variety of election conspiracists. 

A few days after Vos’ appearance on Newsmax, Victoria Toensing, an attorney who, along with Giuliani, assisted in Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results, sent an email to Vos asking to discuss his proposed changes to state election law. 

“Robin, I am a Washington DC lawyer who worked with Rudy et al after November election,” Toensing wrote on June 7. “I would like to discuss an issue with you re your revisions to state election law. Is there a good time today after noon to call you?”

The released emails do not include a response from Vos. 

On July 16, Vos and a number of other Republican legislators received an email from Jefferson Davis calling for a “full-forensic audit” of the 2020 election. Davis, former Menomonee Falls Village President, has been one of the state’s loudest backers of  widely discredited election conspiracy claims and has aligned himself with Rep. Tim Ramthun (R-Campbellsport), whose gubernatorial campaign has been largely based on attacks against the state’s election administration. 

“It is abundantly clear and painfully obvious that there was widespread election fraud in these 9 counties if not more,” Davis wrote. “Our most sacred right and privilege in Wisconsin is to be able to vote and to know our vote will be counted honestly and with total transparency without any fear or concern of that vote being compromised or cancelled due to election fraud. Please honor this decades old tradition and law by immediately conducting a full-forensic audit (i.e. ballots, machines, tabulators, thumb drives, chain of custody, software, logins, scanners, etc.) of the November 3, 2020 Election.”

Last month, Vos met with Davis and other election skeptics as he attempted to appease members of his caucus calling for more extreme measures — including the legally impossible move of decertifying the 2020 election results. 

One month after Davis’ email, Vos’ chief of staff Jenny Toftness received an email from Thomas Schreibel, a Republican attorney and member of the Republican National Committee (RNC). Schreibel was attempting to connect Vos with members of the RNC. 

“I talked to the speaker yesterday about connecting him with the [RNC] to talk election integrity,” Schriebel wrote on August 13. 

Four days later, the records show Toftness as a “required attendee” of a scheduled conference call with Schreibel and a member of the RNC titled “RNC Election Integrity.” 

That same month, an unsigned draft letter in the records addressed to Assembly Republicans lays out the supposed case for allowing Gableman to expand the scope of his review. 

“After preliminary inquiries into the 2020 election by our appointed special counsel, former Justice Mike Gableman, it has become clear that the scope and authority of the independent investigation of the 2020 election irregularities must be expanded,” the draft, dated August 16, states. “We believe additional resources will be necessary in order for Justice Gableman to fully undertake a more robust investigation. These extra resources may be used to hire investigators as needed, work with data experts, travel for investigative needs, and hire professionals as he determines appropriate. If Justice Gableman concludes that another audit in addition to the forensic audit being conducted by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) is necessary, we will support that effort.”

A few days later, Gableman sent a “status letter” to members of Vos’ staff, with the added note that these are his “preliminary” observations and that he doesn’t expect this letter to be made public while he’s still conducting his work. 

The belief that any documents created while his investigation was still active should remain secret was a legal theory expressed by Gableman’s attorneys as they attempted to fight records requests from American Oversight. 

In his August status letter, Gableman wrote that he wanted to focus on three topics in his review — the Wisconsin Elections Commission, outside funds received by municipalities to assist with election administration and problems with voting machines. 

In the eight months since that status update, Gableman has dropped the focus on machines but remained adamant that there is evidence of wrongdoing by the WEC and the leadership of several Democratic-leaning cities who received grants from a group partially funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. 

All of the theories and apparent evidence presented by Gableman to prove his allegations have been debunked.


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.