Axios Sneak Peek

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Welcome back to Sneak. Smart Brevity™ count: 994 words ... 3.5 minutes.

Situational awareness: Former President Trump released a 12-page, conspiracy-filled statement tonight accusing the Jan. 6 committee of attempting to distract Americans from the economy and stop him from running in 2024.

1 big thing: Dems' sabotage ads

Illustration of donkey hiding behind elephant foot

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Democratic groups are buying ads touting some of the most extreme pro-Trump candidates in Republican primaries around the country — meddling in GOP contests to set up more favorable matchups in November, Axios' Sophia Cai reports.

Why it matters: The risky gambit assumes general-election voters will reject candidates who embrace conspiracy theories or lies about the 2020 election. But it could dramatically backfire by vaulting fringe Republicans into national office.

Driving the news: Ahead of last week's primaries, the Nancy Pelosi-affiliated House Majority PAC funded a 30-second TV ad promoting self-declared "Trump Conservative" Chris Mathys against moderate Republican Rep. David Valadao in California's 22nd District.

  • In California's 40th District, Democrat Asif Mahmood had been running ads casting Republican Greg Raths — who had to apologize last month for using antisemitic tropes — as his head-to-head opponent instead of moderate Rep. Young Kim.

In Colorado, a new Democratic super PAC cut a TV ad boosting far-right, election-denying state Rep. Ron Hanks in the June 28 GOP primary to decide who will take on Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

In the Pennsylvania governor's race, the state Democratic Party used campaign resources to boost Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano — who has been subpoenaed by the House Jan. 6 committee for his involvement in the pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" campaign.

  • Mastriano won the GOP nomination over former Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), prompting Cook Political Report to shift its forecast for the general election from "toss up" to "lean Democrat."

Flashback: In elections past, the tactic has been deployed with mixed success.

  • In a Politico piece titled, "How I Helped Todd Akin Win — So I Could Beat Him Later," then-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) described her 2012 strategy of engineering her ultimate general election opponent.
  • But Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign shows how the strategy can backfire in devastating fashion: The team sought to elevate Donald Trump in the GOP primaries, believing he would be an easier general election matchup.

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2. Jan. 6 committee eyes wire fraud

January 6 committee hearing

Photo: Susan Walsh/Associated Press

The House Jan. 6 committee made its clearest attempt yet today to establish potential criminal liability by people in former President Trump's inner circle, Axios' Lachlan Markay reports.

Driving the news: Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Amanda Wick, the committee's chief investigative counsel, zeroed in on what the Trump campaign's fundraising emails described as its "Official Election Defense Fund."

  • Those emails were central to a Trump fundraising operation that brought in about $250 million after the 2020 election, in part by promising the money would fund legal challenges and other efforts to overturn the election.
  • In reality, the committee alleged, millions of dollars were funneled to vehicles like Save America — a leadership PAC set up by Trump after the election — and other political and advocacy groups with ties to top Trump aides.

What they're saying: "The select committee discovered no such fund existed," Wick revealed in a pre-recorded video, citing taped depositions with two Trump campaign staffers.

  • "Not only was there the 'Big Lie,' there was the Big Ripoff,'" Lofgren said.
  • "It's clear that [Trump] intentionally misled his donors, asked them to donate to a fund that didn't exist and used the money raised for something other than what he said," she added in comments after the hearing.
Screenshot of Fox News' stream of Jan. 6 hearing
Screenshot via Fox News

Why it matters: Legal experts say this line of inquiry is a clear effort to show the Trump campaign and its allies may have used fraudulent tactics to raise money in the months after the 2020 election — when many top officials privately knew their claims of voter fraud were false.

  • "This is an allegation of textbook wire fraud," said Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor and white-collar crime professor at George Washington University.
  • Whether such a case would be successful is a different question: "There might be enough here to start a mail/wire fraud investigation, but there would still have to be a lot of accounting done before you could indict, much less convict, anyone," campaign finance attorney Brett Kappel told Axios.

Keep reading ... Full Axios recap of the hearing.

3. 📉 Charted: POTUS approval in midterm years

Presidential approval ratings in the past four midterm cycles from spring through Election Day
Data: Gallup. Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

In the last four midterm cycles, the president's approval rating by June was at or slightly above where it ultimately landed in early November, Axios' Alexi McCammond writes.

  • President Biden's average approval has hovered for months in the low 40s, but hit a new low today of 39.7% — worse than former President Trump's was at this point in 2018, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Why it matters: Biden's window of opportunity for improving his standing before the midterms — when presidential approval often dictates the performance of the party in power — is quickly closing.

4. Gun deal's tightrope

Tweet showing Gun Owners of America urging supporters to pressure senators
Via Twitter

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said senators working on the bipartisan gun safety deal are pushing to have legislative text wrapped by the end of this week, so the Senate can pass a bill before its two-week July 4 recess — an incredibly ambitious sprint.

  • Multiple Republicans are refusing to weigh in on the package before seeing the bill text — or waiting for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to endorse it.
  • But it’s quietly expected McConnell, who encouraged Cornyn to engage in the talks, will ultimately get behind a bill that Cornyn puts forward.

5. 🎧 Buzzy new pod

"History is US" cover
"History is US" is directed and produced by C13Original Studios. Photo: C13Original Studios

Princeton scholar and author Eddie S. Glaude is teaming up with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham to launch a new podcast examining America's troubled legacy on race, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

  • The six-part series — "History is US" — will be written and narrated by Glaude, who will examine race from Reconstruction to Jim Crow ... the civil rights movement to the election of President Obama ... Jan. 6 to the Buffalo mass shooting.

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