MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) — Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Hired to Investigate President Joe Biden’s Victory in the battlefield Thursday testified that he routinely deleted records and deactivated a personal email account even after receiving requests for open records.
Michael Gableman testified in a court hearing about whether the person who hired him, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, should face sentences after he was previously caught contemptuous of the way he handled American Oversight’s record requests.
Dane County Circuit judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn decided not to punish Vos for contemplation, but said she would later determine whether Vos would be punished for the way he handled requests for outstanding records. She arranged a hearing for July 28.
Bailey-Rihn said Gableman often gave conflicting testimony, but it was clear that he had destroyed documents “contrary to what fits into the scheme of things”.
Vos hired Gableman a year ago, under pressure from Donald Trump, to investigate the former president’s loss to Biden by just under 21,000 votes in Wisconsin. The investigation has cost taxpayers about $900,000 to date. Biden’s win has survived two recounts, multiple lawsuits, an unbiased audit and a review by a conservative law firm.
Gableman has released two interim reports, but his work has faced a barrage of bipartisan criticism. Vos suspended his work this spring pending the outcome of lawsuits challenging his ability to subpoena elected officials and others who participated in elections.
Gableman testified Thursday that he worked early on the investigation at a library in Milwaukee and used his personal email account. Gableman said he didn’t keep notes he took at meetings he attended, including one in South Dakota in August hosted by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell. He also testified that he deleted records when there was no pending request for open records and determined that this was not helpful or relevant to his work.
“Did I delete documents? Yes, I did,” he said.
Gableman testified that someone in his office deleted his personal Yahoo email account for him after he received an open-record request from American Oversight. Gableman had used that account last summer before he had an official state email address.
The judge asked Gableman if he searched the account for responsive records before deleting it, and he said, “I believe so.”
“I specifically remember going back, don’t I,” Gableman said. “But I would have looked at every email account available to me.”
Gableman also revealed that he had to go to the emergency room for COVID-19 after attending an election conference hosted by Lindell in August.
“I went out because I thought there would be solid evidence of Chinese interference from the (voting) machines and I was very disappointed at the lack of content to back up those claims,” Gableman said. “And I was annoyed that I had gone out and it turned out I had COVID. Anyway, I didn’t find anything I could use during that seminar.”
Gableman, who is under questioning in court, also said his investigation involved being aware of how elections work because “I didn’t have a very sophisticated or complicated understanding.”
Gableman, who smiled as he took the stand, calmly answered questions from the judge and US Oversight attorney Christa Westerberg for more than 90 minutes. He had made sarcastic remarks about Westerberg two weeks ago when he testified in another case in which he was the defendant.
Gableman declined to answer questions during that hearing, and in a damning injunction last week, Dane County Circuit judge Frank Remington accused Gableman of unprofessional and misogynistic behavior. The judge fined him $2,000 a day until he complied with open file requests, and referred the matter to the office that regulates lawyers in the state for possible further disciplinary action.
Gableman has appealed against that ruling.
Vos and the Assembly have argued that they were not responsible for the administration of Gableman’s office. But Bailey-Rihn disagreed. She found Vos contemptuous in March for not complying with the records law, but determined on Thursday that he had taken steps to clear the contempt warrant. The judge left open the question of whether he will receive sentences under the open records law.
The case is one of three outstanding lawsuits filed by liberal watchdog group American Oversight. They are all seeking data related to the 2020 election investigation that Gableman led.