Axios Sneak Peek

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June 06, 2023

Welcome back to Sneak. Smart Brevity™ count: 906 words ... 3½ minutes.

1 big thing: DeSantis' Iowa plot

Gov. DeSantis, flanked by Florida first lady Casey DeSantis, stands in front of a John Deere tractor in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Flush with $82.5 million that was just transferred from his state campaign account, the super PAC backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is ready to spend huge sums on a bet that the Republican electorate is angrier and more conservative than it was in 2016, Axios' Hans Nichols and Alex Thompson report.

  • This week, the super PAC Never Back Down will begin a $5 million ad buy through July 4 designed to burnish DeSantis' conservative credentials, sources told Axios.

Why it matters: The DeSantis team's theory is that swing voters in the 2024 GOP primaries are on the far right, not the center right.

  • "The fight for the soul of the party isn’t about tax cuts or trade deals," Jeff Roe, a top adviser to Never Back Down, told Axios.
  • "It is this cultural combat that we have as a country. ... These people know that DeSantis is a culture warrior for this time."

Zoom in: DeSantis has sustained some $18 million in attack ads from Trump’s super PAC and muddled through a buggy Twitter announcement.

  • But the latest polling for the Never Back Down PAC shows DeSantis within 2 percentage points of Trump in Iowa in a head-to-head matchup, up from a 14-percentage-point deficit in mid-May.
  • At the national level, Trump still has a comfortable lead, up 53%–26%, according to a CNN survey from May 24.

The intrigue: DeSantis advisers appear more focused on getting to the right of Trump on hot-button cultural fights, including attacking corporate support for LGBTQ+ causes and how sexual education is taught in schools.

  • DeSantis world doesn’t seem overly concerned by a Federal Election Commission complaint from a campaign finance group that questioned the legality of the transfer of more than $80 million from the state campaign account to a federal one.

By the numbers: In addition to buying airtime, DeSantis' team is investing heavily in its ground game in early states.

  • In Iowa, Never Back Down says it has knocked on 65,963 doors, relying mostly on volunteers who have gone through an eight-day training camp in West Des Moines. That’s led to 9,126 conversations, officials say.
  • The campaign goal is to reach each likely caucus-goer five times before the Iowa caucuses in early 2024.

Go deeper: Pence also has an Iowa-centric strategy, with a top adviser promising that “we’re going to organize Iowa, all 99 counties, like we’re running him for county sheriff.”

2. GOP's FBI escalation

Rep. James Comer. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

A full FBI briefing has failed to dissuade Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) from holding contempt hearings against FBI Director Christopher Wray, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

  • Why it matters: This escalates the growing rift between Republicans and the FBI — and Speaker McCarthy has promised to support Comer with a contempt vote on the House floor.

Driving the news: The FBI provided Comer and ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) access today to an FBI form made in 2020, detailing an allegation about a criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Joe Biden.

  • The form, called an FD-1023, is used to chronicle interviews with FBI sources and does not inherently indicate wrongdoing.
  • "At the briefing, the FBI again refused to hand over the unclassified record to the custody of the House Oversight Committee, and we will now initiate contempt of Congress hearings this Thursday," Comer said.

Between the lines: Comer and Raskin received the same briefing and viewed the same documents, but they're telling two very different stories.

  • Comer told reporters the FBI revealed that the form is part of an ongoing investigation, which he speculated to be the federal inquiry in Delaware involving Hunter Biden. The document's source has worked with the FBI for more than a decade.
  • Raskin pushed back on the idea of the form being part of an ongoing investigation. His takeaway was that the allegations are the same as the Ukraine-related allegations brought by Rudy Giuliani, which were evaluated by a federal prosecutor under former President Trump.

3. Trump lawyers meet Jack Smith

Lawyers Lindsey Halligan, left, John Rowley and James Trusty. Photo: Nathan Howard/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Trump lawyers got their meeting with special counsel Jack Smith today, visiting the Justice Department for a sit-down that lasted several hours.

  • They were there to urge against an indictment over the former president's handling of classified documents, and to talk through their concerns over the handling of the investigation, the Washington Post reports.
  • The meeting did not include Attorney General Merrick Garland or deputy AG Lisa Monaco.

Why it matters: Trump's tone toward the investigation is reaching a tenor similar to that from before he was indicted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Screenshot via TruthSocial

The bottom line: Two Trump advisers briefed on today's meeting expect a charging decision in the coming weeks, the Post reports.

  • Grand jury activity has slowed down on the case, reports CBS News, which was first to spot the Trump lawyers entering the Justice Department.

🏈 4. Pic du jour: Eagles fan welcomes the Chiefs

Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images

After their 38-35 triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII, the Kansas City Chiefs visited the White House today for a welcome from President Biden.

  • "I have to be careful what I say today. I married a Philly girl," Biden said.
  • "Fortunately, she is overseas right now. She's a rabid Eagles fan. And the way the game ended, I might be in for a rough night. Jill still doesn't even believe the Eagles player who acknowledged the holding penalty."

Biden was presented with a #46 Chiefs jersey by Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce.

Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

📬 Thanks for reading. This newsletter was copy edited by Brad Bonhall.