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David Chipman, failed nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Even before President Biden formally withdrew his nominee to be the nation's top firearm regulator on Monday, a new conservative opposition research group was ready for a victory lap.

Why it matters: Democrats honed a research operation during the Trump era that effectively opposed some of his top nominees. Two veteran Republican operatives behind the American Accountability Foundation didn't see a comparable apparatus for the GOP, so they set out to create one.

  • AAF co-founder Tom Jones was a senior staffer to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
  • Matt Buckham, the other co-founder, worked in Donald Trump's White House Office of Presidential Personnel, which oversees nominations to Senate-confirmed posts.
  • "We know they put [David Chipman] up because he aligned with the Biden administration on guns. ... You know that there's gonna be issue advocacy galore out there," Buckham told Axios. "But is this individual qualified, what is his character, what is his background? Those are the questions that groups weren't digging into."

Driving the news: Chipman, who lobbied for gun safety group Everytown after leaving ATF, was the first high-profile Biden nominee to withdraw from consideration.

  • His nomination immediately drew opposition from gun rights groups such as the NRA.
  • In withdrawing the nomination, the president conceded Chipman was unlikely to get the 50 votes in the Senate needed for confirmation.

What's new: During an interview, Jones took credit for helping to unearth and publicize allegations from Chipman's former colleagues at ATF — where he was a special agent until 2012 — that he'd disparaged agents of color who received promotions.

  • Jones said he learned of the allegations while speaking to some of those former colleagues personally. AAF compiled all they could, he said, then shared its findings with the Daily Caller.
  • Within a week, another outlet, The Reload, had spoken with other former agents who corroborated the story. After it published additional details, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded a new hearing on Chipman's nomination.
  • AAF also helped organize a letter to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, from seven retired ATF agents and investigators opposing Chipman's nomination.
  • Jones shared Chipman research memos with Judiciary Committee Republicans — while also publishing the memos publicly on the AAF's website — and suggested potentially damaging lines of questioning for Chipman's hearings.

Between the lines: AAF's research largely ignored policy. Its strategy more resembled the type of research that political campaigns compile on their opponents: public records digging and research focused on Chipman's background.

  • The group remains focused on a suite of high-profile Biden nominees, and it has set up a website, BidenNoms.com, as a public repository of its research.
  • AAF was formed early this year as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, meaning it can't engage in political activity — despite its founders' backgrounds in GOP politics.
  • It expects to operate on a $750,000 budget this year, a spokesperson told Axios. During the interview, Jones and Buckham declined to identify any of their donors.

Go deeper

Pence seeks $18 million war chest

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks in Des Moines in July. Photo: Rachel Mummey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Mike Pence is positioning himself for a 2024 presidential run by aiming to raise a whopping $18 million this year, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: While polls show Donald Trump as an early Republican favorite, his former vice president also has been making moves to be a candidate. His group, Advancing American Freedom, is shaping up as a vehicle for testing the waters and building the infrastructure needed for a White House bid.

Updated 36 mins ago - World

North Korea claims latest missile test new weapon launched from submarine

North Korean state media claims the country's military fired this missile on Tuesday. Photo: Korean Central News Agency

North Korean state media announced that a detected ballistic missile launch off its east coast on Tuesday was a newly developed weapon test-fired from a submarine.

Why it matters: Pyongyang's latest in a series of recent missile launches into the sea happened hours after U.S. officials emphasized their commitment to restart negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which have stalled since talks broke down during the Trump administration, AP notes.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Manchin's massive means test

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is offering progressives a trade: He'll vote for their cherished social programs if they accept strict income caps for the recipients, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Manchin’s plan to use so-called means-testing for everything from paid family medical leave to elder and disabled care would drastically shrink the size and scope of the programs. It also would bring a key moderate vote to the progressive cause.

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