Judge orders Wisconsin investigator to stop deleting records

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The work of an investigator looking into the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin generated fresh criticism Thursday after newly posted documents included a memo describing one elections worker as “probably” a Democrat in part because she loves nature and “has a weird nose ring.”

Also on Thursday, a judge ordered Michael Gableman to stop deleting records, the latest legal defeat for the former state Supreme Court justice.

Gableman has released two interim reports on the election won by President Joe Biden and has suggested the GOP-controlled Legislature look into decertifying his victory. Republican leaders including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who hired Gableman, have repeatedly said they have no intention of trying to decertify the win.

Gableman’s reports have not included evidence to back up the false claims that Donald Trump won Wisconsin in 2020.

A recently posted unsigned document on Gableman’s website, titled “cross pollinators,” details his probe into public employees who work in elections.

That memo contends that a geographic information system analyst for Milwaukee is “probably” a Democrat because she plays video games, “has a weird nose ring,” sometimes colors her hair, “loves nature and snakes” and lives with a boyfriend but is not married to him.

Other documents posted on Gableman’s website misspell the name of Vos, who hired him, as “Voss.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on the documents.

“It is bizarre,” state Sen. Kathy Bernier, a Republican who leads the Senate Elections Committee, said of the memo. “It is speculative. It is stereotypical. It’s not something I would expect out of a conservative’s position.”

Bernier, who has long been critical of Gableman’s investigation, said he is on a “partisan crusade and he’s harming Republicans in the process.”

“There’s something wrong with him,” she said.

Gableman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Biden’s win over Trump by nearly 21,000 votes has withstood recounts, independent audits and reviews and numerous lawsuits. Still, Vos ordered the review by Gableman last summer under pressure from Trump and others who falsely contend the election was stolen.

Gableman’s work is mired in lawsuits, including three brought by the liberal watchdog group American Oversight. It filed numerous open records requests seeking documents primarily from Vos and Gableman. Vos has been found in contempt in one case for failing to turn over records.

Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington on Thursday issued an order in another of those lawsuits, telling Gableman “not to delete or destroy any record that is or may be responsive” to the group’s open records requests.

Remington made the order after Gableman’s attorney told American Oversight that it “routinely deletes documents and text messages that are not of use to the investigation.”

The nonpartisan Legislative Council, attorneys who advise the Legislature, said in October that deleting such records, even by a state contractor like Gableman, is a violation of Wisconsin law.

Gableman’s attorney, James Bopp, has argued in court filings that the record retention law does not pertain to contractors. Bopp did not immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday.

Bopp said in the April 8 letter to American Oversight that all responsive records have been turned over and once the investigation is complete, all materials will be made public. Bopp said that Gableman’s office routinely evaluates documents, including text messages and emails, to determine whether the record is of use to the ongoing probe. Those determined to be relevant are retained and the others are deleted, Bopp said.

American Oversight adviser Melanie Sloan faulted Gableman’s office for deleting the records.

“If this investigation was above board, the Office of Special Counsel would have maintained and released records of its work required by law,” Sloan said. “Instead, it is fighting tooth and nail to hide its work from the public. This inquiry is nothing more than an attempt to prop up conspiracy theories and undermine free and fair elections.”

Gableman’s contract runs through the end of April, but he has indicated in recent interviews that he does not expect it to be extended.

Remington in March released more than 700 pages of documents from Gableman, records the judge said did not support conclusions made in Gableman’s latest report or that showed there has been much of an investigation at all.

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