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This story was republished on Jan. 6, 2022 to make it free for all readers

MADISON – The attorney overseeing a partisan review of Wisconsin’s presidential election this week stressed the importance of avoiding bias, but he and the team he’s assembling are showing signs they may have already made up their minds.

The attorney, Michael Gableman, claimed without evidence last year that the election had been stolen. Another lawyer listed as preparing a recent letter for Gableman expressed that same view and also argued conservatives needed “irate hooligans” as well as prosecutors who will “let our boys off the hook.”

Gableman, a former state Supreme Court justice, this summer also consulted with a Michael Best & Friedrich attorney who has done work for the Republican National Lawyers Association.

In an online video, Gableman said he would talk to people from all sides to ensure his election review isn’t “predetermined by bias.” Nonetheless, those he’s working with have a distinct point of view.

Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by 0.6 percentage points in Wisconsin. Those results were upheld by recounts in Dane and Milwaukee counties and a string of court rulings, including ones by the U.S. Supreme Court, the state Supreme Court and a federal judge nominated by Trump.

Critics have been unsparing in their assessments of Gableman’s work so far.

“Michael Gableman was hired by sore losers in a fair election, for the purpose of producing the kind of partisan hatchet job that is Gableman’s calling card,” said James Sample, a law professor at Hofstra University in New York.

Some are cheering Gableman on. Harry Wait, president of the conservative group Honest Open Transparent Government, contended enough questions have been raised to warrant a statewide look into what happened in 2020.

“Something isn’t right here,” Wait said.

This month Gableman sent letters to election clerks telling them to preserve their records in case he wants to review them. Clerks raised concerns about the authenticity of the letters because they came from a Gmail account listed as belonging to someone named John Delta.

Metadata in the letter said it was prepared by Andrew Kloster, a lawyer and former Trump appointee who, like Gableman, served as a Republican election observer last fall.

“Right off the bat, let me say this: the 2020 presidential election was stolen, fair and square. No use complaining,” Kloster wrote in an online post in April.

He argued America has a long history of election fraud and contended courts aren’t the place to settle election disputes. “Counting on the courts is what you do when you are lazy, or a rube,” he wrote.

Kloster, who in another post described himself as “the Forrest Gump of the Right,” volunteered for Republicans in Wisconsin before and after the election and served as an observer in Green Bay on Election Day. He wrote an affidavit about his experience in November and testified before the Assembly Elections Committee in March.

In his testimony, he raised questions about Green Bay’s use of an official from the National Vote at Home Institute to assist with the election and contended the chief of police posed “in a power move, like he was a boss from Tammany Hall” at the city’s absentee ballot counting center.

“The lack of transparency kneecapped our ability to protect the votes of Wisconsinites on Election Day,” he told the committee.

Kloster in his testimony described himself as a friend of Gableman’s, but it’s not clear what his role is with Gableman’s review of the election. Gableman and Kloster did not respond to questions from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

A call for ‘irate hooligans’

In an online post in April, Kloster wrote that Republicans in Wisconsin didn’t have an adequate political machine.

“The issue is that we need our own army of local bureaucrats. And we need to fight for our locales. We need our own irate hooligans (incidentally, this is why the left and our national security apparatus hates the Proud Boys) and our own captured DA offices to let our boys off the hook,” he wrote, referring to a far-right group that drew headlines for its involvement in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester hired Gableman this summer and gave him a taxpayer-funded budget of about $680,000. Initially, Vos hired retired cops to help Gableman, but they quit soon afterward.

So far, the election review has cost taxpayers about $44,000, according to state records. Payments have been made to Gableman and the retired officers who briefly worked for the state. No payments have been made to Kloster or anyone else.

Vos and Gableman have not said who Gableman will hire. The former justice has consulted at times with election conspiracy theorist Shiva Ayyadurai, but has not said whether Ayyadurai — who last year falsely claimed 1 million ballots were destroyed in Massachusetts — will have a formal role with Gableman’s review.

Also in Gableman’s orbit is Nick Boerke, a Michael Best attorney who works with the Republican National Lawyers Association.

This summer, Gableman was to have a conference call with Vos and Boerke, according to text messages released under the state’s open records law.

Boerke did not respond to questions from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but Michael Best general counsel Jon Margolies said the firm has not performed any work for Gableman and didn’t plan to do so in the future. Boerke’s communications with Gableman were in no way connected to the firm, Margolies said by email.

Michael Best has long had deep ties to Republicans in Wisconsin. The firm’s president is Reince Priebus, the former Trump chief of staff and former Republican National Committee chairman who has trumpeted Gableman’s review of the election.

Michael Best more than a decade ago provided Gableman with free legal services when he was accused of violating the ethics code for judges with a campaign ad that distorted his opponent’s record. The state Supreme Court deadlocked along ideological lines on whether Gableman broke the rules and he faced no discipline.

Gableman releases video and website

In his recent video, Gableman said he would force election officials to turn over information if they don’t voluntarily do so. So far, there is no sign that he has asked any officials for anything yet.

In the video, he urged people to provide him with information about the election but didn’t mention how they could communicate with him.

This summer Gableman quietly set up www.wifraud.com to allow the public to submit complaints about the election. The website shows 15 complaints have been submitted, all of them on July 28.

Some of the complaints on the site lacked crucial details, such as where in the state alleged incidents happened. Others used the complaint form to pose questions, with one person asking whether lines were deliberately long on Election Day to discourage people from voting.

In his video, Gableman contended government officials had to show the election was conducted fairly.

“You should know that the responsibility to demonstrate that our elections were conducted with fairness, inclusivity and accountability is on the government and on the private, for-profit interest that did work for the government,” Gableman said. “The burden is not on the people to show in advance of an investigation that public officials and their contractors behaved dishonestly.”

That’s the opposite of the standard Gableman had to apply when he was a justice. Ordinarily, those who claim there were improprieties bear the burden of proof.

“The idea that someone has to prove a negative is profoundly un-American,” said Scott McDonell, a Democrat who serves as Dane County’s clerk. “Everything’s been inspected and yet I’m supposed to disprove unfounded allegations. That’s not American at all.”

Mark Lindeman, director of the nonpartisan group Verified Voting, said Gableman should not handle the investigation given his unfounded claim that the election was stolen.

“I just don’t really see him as a credible, even-handed guide to this investigation,” Lindeman said. “If you say that someone looks guilty as sin, then you shouldn’t be on the jury. You certainly shouldn’t be the judge. So I think that concern inevitably will haunt whatever he does.”

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Those helping with Wisconsin 2020 election review making bold claims