MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The highest ranking Republican in the Wisconsin Assembly said Friday that he was expanding a probe into the 2020 presidential election, saying it will take more investigators and time than originally planned.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos signed contracts in June with two retired police detectives and a former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice to handle the investigation. But those two investigators quit earlier this month, Vos confirmed for the first time Friday, leading him to “take a different tack.”
Vos has designated retired Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman as a “special counsel” and empowered him to hire as many investigators as he wants, with the goal of completing the probe this fall.
“If he thinks he needs one person, great," Vos told The Associated Press. "If he thinks he needs half a dozen, great.”
Gableman did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment.
The move comes amid growing calls from former President Donald Trump and other Wisconsin Republicans for a broader audit. Vos announced the move just three days after he said a fellow Republican lawmaker who was calling for a “forensic audit” was misinformed about the work already underway.
Vos said plans to change the investigation he ordered had been underway for a while, after Gableman came to him and said a more robust effort was needed with investigators who could work on it full-time. Though he didn't set a budget, Vos said it would be reasonable to spend several hundred thousand dollars on it.
The original contracts called for spending about $72,000 through September on the investigation. Vos had wanted to hire three former police detectives, but only signed contracts with two. Vos said both of them quit because they were hired to work part-time, but they said it required a full-time effort.
Wisconsin Democratic Party executive director Nellie Sires called it a “sham investigation.”
“The fact will remain that the 2020 election was free, fair and conclusive,” she said in a statement. "It’s time for the Speaker to end the charade and start telling the truth.”
Vos said he hoped to complete the work in the fall, around the same time that the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau completes its review that was ordered by the Republican Legislature. Vos has called their review a “multi-faceted forensic audit” even as he's faced pressure from Trump and the Republican chair of the Assembly elections committee to do a review more similar to the widely discredited one done in Arizona.
Vos said there is no one definition of “forensic audit” but he is hopeful the results of the probe he ordered, and the one done by the nonpartisan Audit Bureau, will be sufficient.
“If you have two independent investigations where they are going to go the way the evidence leads them, that should be something we should all get around," Vos said.
President Joe Biden won Wisconsin by just over 20,000 votes. There is no evidence of widespread fraud and courts rejected numerous lawsuits filed by Trump and his allies attempting to overturn the outcome. Democrats have derided calls for more investigations as feeding into conspiracy theories and lies that Trump actually won the state.
Trump last month called out Vos and two other Republican legislative leaders, saying they were “working hard to cover up election corruption.” Vos and the other Wisconsin Republicans said Trump was misinformed.
There are almost no documented cases of election fraud in Wisconsin.
Two people have been charged with election fraud out of more than 3 million votes cast in the state, and prosecutors are still reviewing a handful of other cases that were among 27 forwarded to them by elections officials. Similarly, very few potential voter fraud cases have been identified in Arizona.