It’s no secret that those behind the Wisconsin Assembly’s taxpayer-funded election inquiry demonstrated little care for proper record-keeping practices. In American Oversight’s litigation for related public records, Special Counsel Michael Gableman — who led the partisan inquiry — even admitted in court that he had regularly deleted documents, and Assembly Speaker Vos continues to fight against efforts to ensure the public has information about the actions of government officials.
New records obtained by American Oversight in our investigation of Gableman’s actions further illustrate this disdain for the state’s public records retention law: According to emails, a month and a half before Gableman was fired by Vos last summer, boxes of documents from Gableman’s Office of Special Counsel (OSC) were passed between the offices of state lawmakers, including Vos, apparently with no instructions for their proper storage.
On June 23, 2022, Vos’ legal adviser, Steve Fawcett, emailed state Rep. Janel Brandtjen — an outspoken election denier who repeatedly criticized the review for not going far enough — about several boxes of documents that her office had apparently sent to Vos.
“These documents do not belong to us, nor do we have any idea what they are for,” Fawcett wrote. “Presumably they belong to the Committee on Campaigns and Elections. We are returning them to your office and custody. If they are not your documents, please return them to whomever you received them from.” Brandtjen at the time chaired the Assembly’s election committee, a position she used to promote conspiracy theories about election fraud and call for election decertification before she was stripped of the position by Vos in late 2022.
Melodie Savidusky, an aide in Brandtjen’s office, responded to Fawcett’s email later that day, writing, “When Justice Gableman thought his office was closing, he dropped his original investigation files off in my office with the intention of delivering them to your office.” The month before, Vos had paused the election inquiry to address litigation, including several public records lawsuits filed by American Oversight.
The emails are the latest example of the problematic record-keeping practices displayed throughout Gableman’s investigation. Gableman’s work for the Assembly was extended multiple times after his initial contract expired in December 2021, though an updated contract was not produced by Gableman or the Assembly until March 2022. In court, Gableman’s lawyer said Gableman had framed his extended contract to hang on his office wall.
On June 23, 2022 — the same day that Fawcett and Brandtjen emailed about the boxes of records — Gableman appeared in court for one of American Oversight’s lawsuits and testified that he had routinely deleted records related to the investigation, even after having received public records requests. He also stated that someone in his office deleted his personal Yahoo email account for him after he had received a request from American Oversight.
The week after Gableman’s admission under oath to routinely deleting documents, American Oversight, represented by Democracy Forward and Pines Bach LLP, filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent OSC from further destruction of records. That lawsuit is still active, with lawyers for OSC, Vos, and the Assembly continuing to fight against American Oversight’s efforts to ensure those records are preserved and ultimately released.
Vos fired Gableman on Aug. 12, 2022, ending an investigation that had cost Wisconsin taxpayers more than $1 million and produced no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election.
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