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Capital City Sunday: Brandtjen still pushing subpoenas; where the U.S. failed in Afghanistan

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The chairwoman of the Assembly's Elections Committee says she still seeks to have clerks in two counties turn over ballots and voting machines from the November election.

Dozens of court challenges and recounts in Dane and Milwaukee counties have maintained that President Joe Biden won Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes.

Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomnee Falls) said in an interview with 27 News she still believed Wisconsin should conduct an Arizona-style audit in which a third-party group gets access to the machines - something the U.S. Department of Justice warned could be a federal crime and has led other states to have to replace compromised voting equipment.

In Arizona, the group Cyber Ninjas, oversaw a GOP-demanded audit in Maricopa County, something other Arizona Republicans in that county have mocked as a sham.

Brandtjen did not directly answer questions about whether she trusted Cyber Ninjas - which Gov. Tony Evers has derisively called the "Ninja Turtles" - to conduct a similar audit in Wisconsin and if that's who she preferred to answer her questions about the 2020 presidential election.

"We're not talking about the Ninja Turtles then anymore, we're talking about truly the Cyber Ninjas and that was the opportunity to talk about how we're gonna have oversight," Brandtjen said. "It's not just the 2020 election; it's about elections going forward."

The Legislative Council, which acts as lawyers for the legislature, has issued two different memos finding Brandtjen alone does not have the authority to issue such subpoenas. The council found the subpoenas would need the signatures of Speaker Robin Vos and Assembly Chief Clerk Ted Blazel.

Neither Vos nor his office have not answered questions about whether he'd sign off on Brandtjen's subpoenas, although he's previously said her push for an Arizona-style audit was "misguided."

Vos is using taxpayer money to fund his own investigation of the election. The speaker hired former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to oversee the review.

Vos expanded Gableman's funding and timeline after the three initial investigators hired by Vos resigned.

"At the end of the day, aren't we all working for the same thing?" Brandtjen said. "Either we have issues with the machines and we have issues with voters being able to legitimately cast their ballot or we don't."

There has been no proof presented of any kind of hacking into voting machines that altered or discounted ballots.

Where it went bad in Afghanistan

Fort McCoy, Wisconsin's only active military base, is preparing for the arrival of an unknown number of Afghan refugees who've applied for Special Immigrant Visas amid the Taliban's rapid takeover of the country.

As the U.S. winds down its 20-year war in Afghanistan, Ali Abootalebi, a professor of Middle East politics at UW-Eau Claire, said he believed the mission was doomed from the beginning in 2001 because the goal of nation-building there was never realistic.

Abootalebi said the U.S. only made matters worse, first when George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq and then over four different presidencies that he said failed to focus American investments on building infrastructure, instead focusing on training an Afghan military that ended up offering hardly any resistance to the Taliban.

"True that there have been an improvement in the status of women and Afghanis are living longer now, that's correct," Abootalebi said. "But I think what we could have a lot better in terms of preparing and promoting Afghani infrastructure."

Abootalebi said Presidents Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden all also failed to properly address rampant corruption within the Afghan government, which he argued kept it from gaining much legitimacy in the eyes of Afghan civilians.

"I know for sure, talking to former students who actually served in Afghanistan in different projects that the Afghani government was very corrupt," Abootalebi said. "Most of the money that America spent was concentrated on top and did not trickle down to the bottom."

Abootalebi said the biggest recent blunders were the Trump administration's decision to negotiate a troop draw-down in 2000 and not include the Afghan government in those conversations.

He then said the Biden administration was culpable for poorly planning its withdrawal, leading to chaotic and horrifying scenes this past week as desperate Afghans tried to leave the country or even reach the airport in Kabul.

"Logistically, yes, I think it was a mistake to declare a deadline in terms of withdrawal," Abootalebi said. "And not being prepared for this kind of scenario."

Democratic Senate field nearly at a dozen

The field of Democrats seeking the party's bid in the 2022 U.S. Senate election grew even more crowded Tuesday when Steven Olikara announced the launch of his campaign.

Olikara, a Brookfield native who founded the Millennial Action Project, made the announcement in Milwaukee. He became the 11th candidate in the Democratic primary.

Olikara said his campaign would aim to reach people who feel they've been left out of politics. While Olikara formally announced his candidacy Tuesday, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin invited Olikara to deliver a speech with other declared Senate candidates at the party's annual convention in June.

"Our core demographic is disillusioned voters, people who are feeling disenfranchised by the political process," Olikara said. "We're talking about a fundamental change to the business model and the culture of our politics."

When asked what he would consider to be a signature policy accomplishment in the Senate, Olikara said he would prioritize pursuing legislation that reduces the influence of money in politics.

"Money is at the root of this corrupted and misaligned business model," Olikara said. "I've seen members of Congress who get elected and they become full-time telemarketers raising dollars."

Olikara's Millennial Action Project has touted its financial support from a number of influential organizations, including Facebook and WeWork. Olikara said mentioned the support of philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, although the group's announcement of her gift did not disclose the amount she gave.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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