Axios Sneak Peek

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Welcome back to Sneak. Smart Brevity™ count: 1,058 words ... 4 minutes.

Situational awareness: An appeals court will allow the Justice Department to resume reviewing classified documents seized from former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago as part of its criminal investigation.

👀 Breaking: A former Trump official tapped to lead the Inter-American Development Bank allegedly threatened to "burn" or "bring" the bank down over an investigation into a rumored affair he had with a female staffer, Axios' Hans Nichols reports.

1 big thing: McCarthy's speaker threat

House Freedom Caucus
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House Freedom Caucus is so far refusing to back GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for speaker should its party win back the majority — testing what commitments it can leverage in exchange for its members' support, Axios' Alayna Treene and Andrew Solender report.

Why it matters: The ultra-conservative group, which has a history of dislodging Republican leaders whom members didn't see as properly representing the conservative movement, is plotting a return to relevance after years of seeing its influence fade.

  • If Republicans regain the House majority with tight rather than wide margins, it could give the caucus more power.

Driving the news: The group's chairman, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), and other members are pushing for the GOP conference to vote on a new House rules package before electing the new leadership, as The Washington Examiner and Punchbowl News have reported.

  • It's one of several leverage points the caucus is discussing.

What they're saying: Perry told Axios "it's a different game" when a party is in the majority, compared to when they’re in the minority and totally unified on opposing the other party.

  • "Somebody has to be the conscience of the conference and actually do the things we said we were going to do on the campaign trail," Perry said.
  • As for aligning behind McCarthy, Perry said: "Talk to me on Nov. 9." For now, Freedom Caucus members have adopted an official stance of neutrality in leadership elections, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) told Axios.

Between the lines: There was a time when the caucus — which often served as a check on party leadership and the GOP establishment overall — largely dictated conservative messaging and activism.

But the group's star power has weakened in recent years for key three reasons:

1. The minority: House Republicans have been more unified — and less involved in policymaking decisions — in their last four years in the minority.

2. Donald Trump's rise: The caucus was once viewed as the beacon of the right, but was overtaken in 2016 by a larger-than-life figure who preached many of the same ideals and principles.

3. Leadership shakeup: Former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — original co-founders of the Freedom Caucus — were once the frontmen.

  • But Meadows left Congress in late 2020 to become Trump's chief of staff, while Jordan has since landed a spot within House Republican leadership and endorsed McCarthy for speaker.

What to watch: Some members want to adopt more scorched-earth tactics toward President Biden.

  • Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) told Axios he wants to "force this president to sign bills that would rescind some of the harm" of Democratic policies and "shut it down if necessary. Gridlock is a good thing compared to the alternative."

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2. 🔎 Mueller's dominos

Robert Mueller
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Trump reflexively casts every allegation of wrongdoing against him as the continuation of a partisan "witch hunt" that began the moment he launched his political career.

  • Motivations aside, there is in fact a clear investigative through-line that led to today's $250 million lawsuit and criminal referral by New York Attorney General Letitia James, Axios' Zachary Basu writes.

How we got here: Former special counsel Robert Mueller — an original Trump antagonist whose Russia investigation dominated headlines in the first years of his presidency — referred former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to the Southern District of New York after uncovering his financial crimes in 2018.

  • Cohen pleaded guilty to making hush-money payments on Trump's behalf and soon became one of the president's most vocal critics.
  • On Feb. 27, 2019, Cohen delivered 10 hours of voluntary public testimony to the House Oversight Committee in which he revealed — under questioning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — that Trump artificially inflated and deflated the value of his assets to obtain favorable tax treatment.
  • "I will remind everyone that this investigation only started after Michael Cohen ... shed light on this misconduct," James said in her press conference today.

What to watch: Trump is expected to respond in full to today's developments in an interview with Fox's Sean Hannity at 9pm ET.

3. 🏛️ Sign of the times

Pence presiding over joint session of Congress
Then-Vice President Mike Pence presides over the certification of Biden's victory on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo: Erin Schaff/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Nine House Republicans voted with all Democrats to pass a bill reforming the Electoral Count Act, a 135-year-old law Trump sought to exploit by pressuring then-Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Stunning stat: None of the nine Republicans will be on the ballot in November's elections.

  • They include Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), John Katko (R-N.Y.), Chris Jacobs (R-N.Y.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) and Tom Rice (R-Okla.).
  • Eight voted for Trump's impeachment after Jan. 6 and are retiring or were defeated by right-wing primary challengers. Jacobs announced his retirement after drawing GOP backlash for supporting gun control legislation in the wake of the Buffalo mass shooting.

Latest: The Jan. 6 committee has reached an agreement to interview Ginni Thomas, conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in the coming weeks.

4. 🗳️ House majority math

Henry Cuellar for Congress sign
Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The Cook Political Report moved three more House seats in Democrats' direction, the latest welcome sign for a party facing historical and geographic headwinds in its quest to hold onto its majority:

Why it matters: Republicans now need to win six out of 31 toss-ups to secure the majority, while Democrats need 26 out of 31, according to Cook's Dave Wasserman.

Go deeper: Visualizing the GOP's path to the majority (N.Y. Times)

5. ⛽ Tweet du jour

Tweet about Jamie Dimon testimony
Via Twitter

Context: JPMorgan, whose CEO Jamie Dimon testified today before the House Financial Services Committee, is the world's largest financier of fossil fuels.

📬 Thanks for reading tonight. This newsletter was edited by Zachary Basu and copy edited by Kathie Bozanich.