The involvement of Andrew Kloster, a Republican attorney and former member of President Donald Trump's administration, in the GOP's ongoing investigation into Wisconsin's 2020 election continues to raise questions about the credibility of the inquiry, which some have dismissed as a thinly veiled effort to undermine public confidence in elections leading up to the 2024 presidential vote.
On Friday, American Oversight, an organization investigating partisan election reviews in several states including Wisconsin, filed a lawsuit against the state Assembly and Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, for failing to release records related to the Republican-led investigation, which is which is being led by retired state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.
In an about-face Thursday, Kloster called Madison city attorney Michael Haas to inform him that the investigation had backed off an initial request for subpoenas and interviews with mayors and city clerks in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha. While city officials said the decision to pare down the initial request — which would have included hundreds of thousands of election-related documents — was good news, Richard Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California-Irvine, said Kloster's involvement in the audit further underscores that the effort is "far from credible."
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Hasen described the ongoing investigation as "ludicrous" and nothing more than a "PR stunt, as is happening around the country that is aimed at placating the Republican base and Donald Trump."
"It just adds fuel to the fire and it shows how lacking in credibility this so-called investigation is to bring in a Trump loyalist who has suggested that prosecutors not fairly consider the charges against those who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection," Hasen said. "If you’re trying to build confidence that you’re doing a fair investigation and you’re trying to bolster the integrity of the election process, this is exactly how to not do that.”
A recount and court decisions have affirmed that President Biden defeated Trump in Wisconsin by almost 21,000 votes. Only four voters out of roughly 3 million who cast ballots have been charged with fraud.
While Gableman has not disclosed who is working for him, an email sent last month to clerks asking for records as part of the investigation came from a Gmail account under the name "John Delta" and included a document created by a Kloster, who served as deputy general counsel at Office of Personnel Management and associate director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. Active with the Federalist Society, Kloster has been an outspoken supporter of Trump's baseless claim that the 2020 election was rigged.
Kloster is a graduate of the New York University School of Law and the University of Miami and currently works as an attorney in Washington, D.C., according to his bio with the Federalist Society. Before joining Trump's administration, Kloster worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The Federalist Society also notes that Kloster "has long tenure in the conservative legal movement, at the Scalia Law School, the Heritage Foundation, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and elsewhere."
Kloster in April posted online that "the 2020 presidential election was stolen, fair and square" and Wisconsin's election training was "woefully inadequate."
"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," Kloster wrote, in reference to members of the far-right who were involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
"To the extent that there was ever any doubt that this was not going to be a fair and impartial investigation, the hiring of Andrew Kloster just furthers that," said Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, who sits on the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections. "How on earth can you have an impartial investigation when those who are hired to do the investigating have made their forgone conclusions well-known?”
Trump still refuses to concede defeat and has pressured GOP legislators to investigate election fraud. Vos hired Gableman in June at a cost of nearly $680,000 in taxpayer money for the one-party investigation.
Vos' office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the investigation or Kloster's involvement Friday.
In American Oversight's lawsuit, the group alleges that Vos' office has failed to release documents related to the investigation submitted in an open records request. The Wisconsin State Journal has also requested similar documents, which have not been provided.
“On Tuesday night, Special Counsel Gableman appeared at a Green Bay council meeting and stressed the importance of transparency to promote election integrity," American Oversight executive director Austin Evers said in a statement. "He should talk to his boss, Speaker Vos, who has steadfastly failed to release records about the so-called investigation. Wisconsin has a right to know how this taxpayer-funded investigation is being orchestrated.”
Gableman has said he planned to look into advice the bipartisan state Elections Commission gave to clerks, and donations the Facebook-funded nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life gave to Wisconsin communities, to help run the 2020 election.
In a video last month, Gableman said he's not trying to overturn the election results, even though he told Trump supporters in November, without evidence, that he thought the election had been stolen.
In the last week, Gableman requested an almost boundless number of election-related documents from city officials in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha, likely representing hundreds of thousands of documents. Investigators also demanded interviews with the mayors and city clerks in those cities later this month. The subpoenas were issued by Vos, the only official associated with the investigation authorized to do so.
Late Thursday, Haas said he and officials in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Kenosha and Racine were informed that the subpoenas and interview requests had been rescinded and that Gableman's request now only pertains to records the city already has produced in response to public records requests.
UW-Madison political science professor David Canon said Gableman's decision to pare back his initial request was "a very positive development" but added concerns remain that the audit may further undermine the public's overall confidence in the 2020 vote, which could lay the groundwork for uncertainty heading into the 2022 and 2024 elections.
"Americans should be concerned about this because it doesn't really matter, because we know there's no credibility to this, but the investigation itself creates an atmosphere that there's something wrong," Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said.