Judge orders Vos, watchdog group to resolve records issue
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A judge on Tuesday ordered attorneys to meet and try and resolve their dispute over whether Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos turned over all requested records related to the ongoing investigation into the 2020 presidential race.
Dane County Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn again repeated her concerns that some of the records requested by the liberal watchdog group American Oversight might have been destroyed.
“This has got to stop,” the judge said. “Either these records exist or they don’t. ... If they were deleted or destroyed after an open records request was made, I think that’s relevant and I think the court needs to hear that.”
Vos’ attorney, Ronald Stadler, said no records were deleted after open records requests from American Oversight were received. But American Oversight attorney Christa Westerberg argued that records could have been deleted because requests sometimes weren’t forwarded to Vos staff members for days.
In one case, Vos’s office attorney Steven Fawcett did not notify staff of an American Oversight records request for 13 days. American Oversight wants Vos to do a more extensive search to find any records that were deleted.
The Legislature is not required to retain records unless an open records request has been filed. Both Vos and Fawcett said under earlier questioning from American Oversight’s attorneys that they routinely delete emails and text messages.
American Oversight argues that Vos made no effort to determine whether records that should have been made public were instead destroyed.
Bailey-Rihn ordered both sides to meet by Feb. 15, and she said she’d schedule another hearing if they can’t resolve the issue. American Oversight wants Vos to be found in contempt of court.
American Oversight has filed three lawsuits seeking various records from Vos and Michael Gableman, the former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice he hired to run the probe with $676,000 in taxpayer money. Vos, under pressure from former President Donald Trump, hired Gableman in June to conduct the investigation.
The group has already questioned Vos and Fawcett in private. Fawcett also testified in open court last month, saying he didn’t review records Gableman turned over to see if they were response to American Oversight’s records request.
Vos tried to stop his own deposition, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered it to proceed and Vos sat for it on Jan. 12.
Transcripts of Vos’s and Fawcett’s depositions were also included in an American Oversight motion filed with the court last week asking for information about records that might have been destroyed.
Vos, in his deposition, said he rarely looks at his official state email account where records requests are sent and he could not say how much time passes from when his office is alerted to a request and he is alerted to it.
Vos repeatedly said in his deposition that he’s not aware of details about open records requests his office receives because there are so many of them. Vos said he delegates the responsibility of handling those to Fawcett.
Vos said that he didn’t know whether his searches had captured deleted texts or other communications over which he had control. For example, Vos said he doesn’t control his official Twitter account and doesn’t even know the password to access it.
“It’s far too negative with people on the left who do nothing but call swear words and just trash people and chastise individuals, so I actually told my staff to specifically not tell me the password because I don’t want to be able to access it,” Vos said, according to the transcript.
Vos also said he only communicates with Gableman by phone. Vos said he’s also spoken with Trump by phone and that is also the only way they communicate.
At one point during his deposition, Vos said to American Oversight’s attorneys, “Wouldn’t it be easier if you guys just helped us find the fraud instead of fighting against it?”
Only five people in Wisconsin out of more than 3.2 million who cast ballots in the 2020 election have been charged with fraud, and multiple reviews have shown there was no widespread fraud.
President Joe Biden won Wisconsin by just under 21,000 votes, an outcome that has withstood recounts, lawsuits and multiple reviews.