On Wednesday, Republicans’ fake investigation into Wisconsin’s 2020 election fell apart in the most spectacular manner possible. This implosion took the form of a stunning 25-page ruling that marks the end of this particular road for the state’s election deniers. After undergoing a full-on meltdown in open court, the man in charge of the partisan probe—former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman—is now at risk of losing his law license. His office faces fines of $2,000 a day. And the records surrounding his conspiracy-fueled 2020 election “investigation” that he has fought so hard to conceal from the public will soon see the light of day.
It is difficult to imagine a more humiliating conclusion to this sad chapter in Wisconsin history for those in the state pushing Trump’s Big Lie. The lawyers who were supposed to find evidence of fraud have destroyed their professional careers. The GOP politicians who supported this bogus audit are in contempt of court. And no one has produced an iota of evidence to suggest that Democrats stole the election. While attempting to discredit Joe Biden’s victory, Wisconsin Republicans have only bolstered its legitimacy.
The Gableman probe began when Robin Vos, Republican speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, created and funded an Office of Special Counsel to undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 results. He appointed Gableman to lead the effort, which immediately collapsed into a bizarre smear campaign against the state’s election officials. (Shortly after the election, Gableman falsely claimed that “elected leaders” let these officials “steal our vote.” He never presented any evidence for his claims.) The ex-justice issued sweeping, error-ridden subpoenas demanding mountains of documents, then threatened to arrest his targets. His fishing expedition sought to intimidate civil servants into turning over so much information that he could craft a nonsensical narrative of fraud that might convince unsophisticated, aggrieved, and brainwashed observers. (Early on, this tactic worked.) And he intended to withhold the basis for his claims from the public.
Wisconsin, however, has a robust public records law, and the liberal watchdog American Oversight sought records from the probe that would illustrate its deceptive nature. Gableman refused to turn over key documents, which led to extensive battles in Wisconsin state courts. In short, the courts ordered Gableman, Vos, and their allies to turn over the relevant records, which they declined to do. Vos was held in contempt of court due to his “abject disregard” of a court order. Gableman, uncowed, went on deleting documents sought by American Oversight, and the organization requested that his office be held in contempt as well. On Friday, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Frank Remington sided with American Oversight from the bench, but did not issue a written decision until Wednesday.
At Friday’s hearing, Gableman threw a “tantrum,” as Remington described it. Gableman refused to answer questions, instead accusing the judge of acting “as an advocate” for American Oversight. He then gestured toward the bailiff and “taunted” the court by saying: “I see you have a jail officer here. You want to put me in jail, Judge Remington? I’m not gonna be railroaded.” With a “raised voice,” “accusatory tone,” and “twisted facial expression,” Gableman “pointed and shook his finger at the judge” while accusing him of engaging in a “fishing expedition.” (The ex-justice did not, it seems, see the irony in this accusation.)
During a short recess, Gableman told an attorney that this hearing was Remington’s “time to shine … what passes for success for him.” He ensured that a microphone picked up his comments. Then, in a mocking tone, he impersonated Remington asking a female attorney in the courtroom to come to his chambers—implying that she would engage in sexual activity with the judge. When Remington reminded Gableman that the microphone picked up every word, the ex-justice persisted in his tirade.
“The circus Gableman created in the courtroom,” Remington wrote on Wednesday, was “an affront to the judicial process.” Gableman’s “demeaning conduct has discredited the profession,” “disrupted a court proceeding,” and violated both “his oath as an attorney” and “duty of professional responsibility.” Moreover, his “sophomoric innuendo” about the female attorney “is a sad reminder that in 2022, woman lawyers still have to do more than be excellent at their job.” The judge referred Gableman for “appropriate disciplinary action by Wisconsin’s Office of Lawyer Regulation,” strongly suggesting that he should be stripped of the ability to practice law. He also imposed a $2,000 daily fine on Gableman’s Office of Special Counsel until it produced the required records.
Finally, Remington noted that only two weeks ago, “our colleague the Honorable Judge John P. Roemer was assassinated by a person who he had sentenced.” This crime, he wrote, “was unmistakably intended to affect the court system as a whole,” and “lawyers who appear in court should help to protect the court system even if they have a problem with the judge.” Gableman’s “unfounded accusation that I am biased” has already provoked threats against Remington, which the ex-justice’s conduct seems designed to escalate.
“That these threats originate with the statements of a retired judge,” Remington concluded, “is the saddest part of this whole experience.”
It is hard to see how Gableman’s investigation can continue after this mortifying episode. As recently as Tuesday, Trump cited the Wisconsin audit as the one that was going to vindicate his lies about the 2020 election. Yet the public has no reason to trust the probe and every reason to dismiss it as an assault on free and fair elections in Wisconsin. Rather than root out nonexistent fraud, Gableman is fighting to save what’s left of his legal career. Vos and his fellow Republicans in the Assembly have distanced themselves from the ex-justice and appear eager to put this whole sham behind them. And no one has put forth any proof of any mass fraud to steal the 2020 election from Trump. To the contrary, this episode has only demonstrated the resilience and integrity of the state’s judiciary. Incredibly, Gableman was once a part of that judiciary. Now he will be lucky to hold onto his law license.