The Republican takeover of Wisconsin: GOP officials defy the courts and the voters

After launching a baseless election audit, Republicans are refusing to turn over documents relating to the recount

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published April 1, 2022 5:45AM (EDT)

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (Andy Manis/Getty Images)
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (Andy Manis/Getty Images)

A circuit judge on Thursday found the Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, in contempt of court for refusing to turn over documents relating to the state's recount of the 2020 presidential election. 

"Robin Vos had delegated the search for contractors' records to an employee who did nothing more than send one vague email to one contractor," wrote Dane County Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn. "Putting aside for the moment the impropriety of making a contractor responsible for a records request … Robin Vos did not tell [sic] that contractor which records to produce, did not ask any of the other contractors to produce records, and did not even review the records ultimately received. Still worse, the Assembly did nothing at all."

Bailey-Rihn has ordered Vos to release the materials within fourteen days or pay a daily fine of $1,000 any time after that, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bailey-Rihn established that, if the documents aren't provided, Vos must provide an explanation.

RELATED: Trump campaign avoids $8M bill by limiting Wisconsin recount to cities with large Black populations

Wednesday's ruling stems from an inquiry Vos launched back in May off the back of Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud. According to The Washington Post, Vos' sham audit, which has a taxpayer-funded budget of $700,000, has enlisted the help of retired police officers and an attorney. Thus far, Vos has also subpoenaed scores of election officials across the state in metropolitan areas like Green Bay, Racine and Milwaukee.

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In October, nonpartisan watchdog American Oversight filed a lawsuit against Vos and the Wisconsin State Assembly demanding that the judge release records detailing the investigation – a request that Bailey-Rihn has now affirmed. 

 "Speaker Vos and the Assembly have had ample opportunity to comply with the court's order and produce records," Bailey-Rihn wrote. 

RELATED: Dear Wisconsin: If Trump wants a recount, make him pay up front

Still, Bailey-Rihn's ruling only deals with one of three suits filed by American Oversight. 

Vos, for his part, has suggested that Bailey-Rihn's ruling is part of a politically-motivated smear campaign. 

"It's a liberal judge in Dane County trying to make us look bad. I don't know about you, but when you have deleted emails, how do you get deleted emails back if they're from Gmail?" he said, according to "We already have an expert saying they can't be done. You have a judge who's focused on making a name for herself, and that's all she's doing."

Thus far, no substantive evidence has emerged to justify the Vos' recount, for which he is being paid $11,000 a month. President Biden defeated Trump by a margin of 21,000 votes in Wisconsin, a result that a conservative law firm confirmed in December after a ten-month review of the election. 

RELATED: "Crazy conspiracy theory": Wisconsin GOP investigator pushes illegal effort to "decertify" election

The ruling against the GOP speaker comes amid another outrage over the Republican takeover of the state's Natural Resources Board, which, like Vos' sham audit, is benefiting from a highly partisan State Assembly willing to defy the norms of good government. 

On Friday, the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board called on Fred Prehn to resign from the Natural Resources Board over his refusal to step down eleven months after his term expired. Prehn will theoretically be able to continue serving until his replacement is confirmed by the State Assembly, whose Republican caucus is indefinitely delaying the transition.

"Prehn seems to think he can serve for life, like an emperor," the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board wrote. "If that's true, then good government in Wisconsin is further eroded – along with the public's ability to hold government officials accountable."

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, and The New York Daily News.

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Brief Elections 2020 Gop Republicans Robin Vos The Big Lie Wisconsin