Axios Sneak Peek

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Welcome back to Sneak. Smart Brevity™ count: 1,060 words ... 4 minutes.

Situational awareness: Former U.S. envoy for Afghan peace talks Zalmay Khalilzad told Axios' Dave Lawler he regrets the failure to secure a political agreement before the Taliban captured Kabul one year ago. Go deeper.

1 big thing: "Defund the FBI" threatens GOP messaging

Illustration of an elephant stepping over caution tape.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Republicans used the "defund the police" slogan after George Floyd's murder to paint the Democratic Party as radical.

  • But since the FBI's search of former President Trump's resort home Mar-a-Lago, a growing number of GOP candidates and lawmakers are rallying around their own calls to defund or abolish federal law enforcement agencies, Axios' Andrew Solender and Alayna Treene report.

Why it matters: The new demands muddle a narrative embraced by Republicans long before the Black Lives Matter demonstrations of 2020 — that they are the party of law enforcement.

  • Strategists say it could jeopardize the GOP's chances in some contests in November.
  • Ken Spain, a founding partner of Narrative Strategies and former GOP campaign official, told Axios: "This might score political points in the handful of remaining GOP primaries, but it will serve as a textbook case study in how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the general election.”

The big question: Could this become the new Trump loyalty litmus test?

Driving the news: Dan Bolduc and Bruce Fenton, leading Republican Senate candidates in New Hampshire, said in a recent debate they believe the Department of Homeland Security and top agencies need to be significantly "reduced" and called for abolishing the FBI.

  • Anthony Sabatini, a leading primary candidate in Florida's 3rd District, tweeted on the night of the Mar-a-Lago search that Florida should "sever all ties with DOJ immediately" and arrest FBI agents on sight.
  • Tim Baxter, a candidate in New Hampshire’s 1st District, expressed support for abolishing the FBI in a debate on Saturday. Another candidate, Karoline Leavitt, called to "investigate, litigate and incarcerate them."
  • Sandy Smith, the GOP nominee in North Carolina’s 1st District, tweeted a poll with "Abolish the FBI" as one of the options.

Asked in a recent radio interview whether Republicans are "actually going to be willing" to defund the FBI, IRS and other agencies, Bo Hines, the Trump-endorsed GOP nominee in North Carolina's 13th District, responded: "Well, I mean we have to."

The position also has been embraced by Texas GOP chair Matt Rinaldi and Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who is selling "Defund the FBI" merchandise.

The other side: Democrats are already using calls to defund the FBI to turn the traditional "law and order" dynamic on its head.

  • Wiley Nickel, Hines' Democratic opponent, fundraised off the Republican's comments — calling them a "slap in the face to every hard-working law enforcement official."
  • "While the other side wants to defund the FBI, we want to fund our kids' future," Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Democrats' Senate candidate in Ohio, said last week.

What we're watching: After Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) told Axios that calls to defund the FBI make Republicans look "unserious," he received a MAGA lashing online.

  • Even some Trump-aligned Republicans in key races aren't going along with the calls. Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters' campaign told Axios he wants to reform, but not defund, the FBI.

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2. 🚨 Status update: Trump's legal peril

Data: Axios research. Table: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

⚡ More headlines:

  • DOJ said it opposes the release of the underlying affidavit for the FBI's Mar-a-Lago search because "it would serve as a road map to the government's ongoing investigation" and "chill future cooperation" by witnesses.
  • Indicted Trump Organization CFO Alan Weisselberg is nearing a plea deal with Manhattan prosecutors but is not expected to cooperate with a broader investigation into Trump, the New York Times reported.
  • A judge ordered Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to testify before the Atlanta special grand jury investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

3. 💰 Senate GOP's campaign cash crunch

Rick Scott
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chair of the NRSC. Photo: Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has cut TV ad reservations by millions of dollars in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona — three of the most competitive races in the country, the New York Times' Shane Goldmacher reports.

Why it matters: The "likely sign of financial troubles" comes ahead of a critical final stretch in the midterms cycle. NRSC spokesman Chris Hartline told the Times in a statement: "Nothing has changed about our commitment to winning in all of our target states."

Between the lines: The NRSC is seeking to stretch its money as far as possible, including by shifting funds around to do more "hybrid ads" — joint ads paid for by the candidate and the Senate GOP campaign arm, a source familiar with the situation tells Alayna.

  • The NRSC's money woes are driven in part by the fact it had to spend earlier in the cycle, since many candidates have struggled to pay for television ads without help from outside organizations.
  • Several of the key battlegrounds Republicans need to spend in — Phoenix, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Philadelphia — are top media markets and expensive for ad buys.

The big picture: Some Republicans fear that the nomination of flawed candidates, including Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Blake Masters in Arizona, could cost the party a golden opportunity to take back the Senate.

4. 🇦🇫 Republicans ready Afghanistan subpoenas

Taliban celebrate in Kabul
Taliban take to the streets in Kabul to celebrate anniversary of takeover. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are threatening to subpoena the State Department over the Biden administration's flawed withdrawal from Afghanistan in anticipation of taking back the majority in the midterms, Alayna reports.

Why it matters: Winning the House would give Republicans subpoena power for the first time since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, providing the GOP with new investigative tools to probe a key pain point in Biden's presidency ahead of 2024.

  • The chaotic scenes and deaths of 13 U.S. service members in a terrorist attack at Kabul's airport last August coincided with the start of Biden's sliding approval rating.

What they're saying: "They want Afghanistan to go away. You see this with their own internal reviews. They're either classified or they haven't released them," Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the committee and likely chairperson if Republicans regain the House, told Axios.

Keep reading.

5. 🏖️ Parting shot

Biden on a bicycle
Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden will return from his vacation in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, tomorrow to sign the Inflation Reduction Act at the White House, before hitting the road to sell his signature legislative achievement nationwide.

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