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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump is reviving his 2016 playbook, trying to sully or smear the Biden family reputation, like he did with the Clintons during his last campaign.

The big picture: When Trump was running against Hillary Clinton, he seized on her email servers and past scandals. He hammered her on the issue, and used it to define her with many voters. Clinton couldn't put it to rest early, and it dragged her down through the end.

  • Now, Trump wants to use questions about Hunter Biden's work in Ukraine, and any alleged involvement by his father, Joe Biden, as the 2020 sequel to the email servers. In both cases, he twists reality to make it seem like everyone’s dirty.
  • Once again, Trump is trying to paint his opponent as shady, hoping it will be an early, definitional wound. 

Here's Trump's six-part playbook to make Ukraine 2016's sequel:

  1. Argue that your opponent is guilty of something as bad or worse than the accusations against you. 
  2. Create constant fog, amplified by Twitter. Allege the media is guilty, too.
  3. Convince party leaders and Fox News to fall instantly in line, focused solely on your opponent's supposed transgressions.
  4. Demand documents and testimony, fostering an "everyone's dirty and hiding something" atmosphere.
  5. Stymie anyone on your side who's thinking of dissenting by torching them on Twitter, like he did to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
  6. Bet that your own standing, while getting no better, gets no worse.

The state of play: Biden's team decided it was important to respond aggressively to avoid a Trump trap. One campaign official said they looked less at how Clinton had responded to the private email server controversy and more at how the media had covered it.

  • "There are no guard rails anymore" and they couldn't assume the truth would prevail on its own, the official said, so the campaign immediately began pressing journalists to give context to Trump's accusations by talking about independent reporting that has found neither the former vice president nor his son had acted in a corrupt fashion, and that in fact Biden had been pushing to fight corruption in Ukraine.
  • The official rejected assumptions that Trump's actions will hurt Biden and help Warren no matter what. They said the coverage of Biden became noticeably fairer within days of their approach with journalists, and that last Saturday, when Biden spoke out about Trump smearing him, he tripled his average per-day fundraising.

What's next: Biden seems determined to continue not to let Trump pin him into a corner.

  • He put out a statement saying Congress should do its thing, and he will focus on campaigning. He also tried to go after Trump on health care, to shift back to a policy argument.  
  • Biden said last night on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!": "It's such a blatant abuse of power that I don't think it can stand. Based on the material that they acknowledged today, it seems to me it's awfully hard to avoid the conclusion that it is an impeachable offense and a violation of constitutional responsibility."

Go deeper: The call heard 'round the world

Go deeper

Scoop: Qatar emir to visit White House on Monday

The emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, leaves the White House after meeting President Trump in 2019. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

The emir of Qatar will meet with President Biden at the White House on Monday to discuss Afghanistan as well as contingency plans to provide natural gas to Europe in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Europe's reliance on Russia for 40% of its natural gas is undermining Biden's attempts to coordinate "massive" sanctions to be imposed from both sides of the Atlantic if Russia invades. The White House wants Qatar to help ensure European countries can enforce tough sanctions without risking an energy crisis.

Biden: There won't be "American forces moving into Ukraine"

President Joe Biden told reporters Tuesday that he does not foresee U.S. troops moving into Ukraine.

Why it matters: Biden's comments come as tensions between Russia and Ukraine persist, and a Russian invasion of Ukraine appears increasingly likely.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments — Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Biden admin withdraws temporary vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers — New York Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Hochul's mask mandate for public areas — Sarah Palin tests positive, delaying defamation trial — Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker