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Nikki Haley argues Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis are both into “vendetta stuff.” James Comer’s FBI d͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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June 6, 2023
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Principals

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Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

Nikki Haley says Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis are both into “vendetta stuff” and that their grievance-driven antics just aren’t all that different from each other. As Shelby Talcott writes today, Haley wants to position herself as the conservative who can deliver some Trump policies without the erratic behavior, but DeSantis is so far standing in the way of that path.

And as the day turns in Congress, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer is promising to start contempt proceedings against FBI Director Christopher Wray for refusing to turn over a document that Wray let Comer and committee ranking member Jamie Raskin see. Morgan Chalfant goes down the rabbit hole over the 2020 document, which allegedly relates to an unsubstantiated claim by an informant that President Biden was engaged in a bribery scheme while he was vice president. Democrats accuse Comer of spreading partisan innuendo about the president from a shaky source.

“What’s the Deal on Permitting Reform?” That’s the topic for Semafor’s big summit today, which will talk to top lawmakers, industry leaders, and environmentalists about one of the hottest topics in Washington — whether a deal is possible to cut red tape for critical infrastructure, renewable energy, and fossil fuels. We have a little preview today from a chat I recorded yesterday evening with Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C. who is trying to push for more energy of all kinds while protecting the South Carolina lowland coast from offshore drilling. Join us online today.

And another big event option for you: We will be thinking about wobbly globalization and a world with big powers seething at each other at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Global Impact Forum tomorrow. Semafor is the proud media sponsor and yours truly will be interviewing Ukraine Ambassador Oksana Markarova, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and others. Join us.

Finally, our own Benjy Sarlin gets a text on being able to distinguish between true power and B.S. in DC from Ben Terris, author of The Big Break: The Gamblers, Party Animals, and True Believers Trying to Win in Washington While America Loses Its Mind.

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Priorities

☞ White House: President Biden will hold his second Cabinet meeting of the year today. In the lead-up to the meeting, the White House announced Invest.Gov, an interactive website tracking public and private investments across the country tied to Biden’s economic agenda.

☞ Senate: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the bipartisan group working on AI announced three separate senators-only briefings on the topic over the current work period, according to a Dear Colleague letter they are sending today.

☞ House: JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon will lunch with members of the New Democratic Coalition this afternoon. The House Armed Services Committee announced plans to start their own markup of the NDAA on June 13, after a delay due to the debt ceiling negotiations. Speaker Kevin McCarthy threw cold water on a push by Senate defense hawks to pass a supplemental defense funding bill that would exceed the spending caps in the debt limit bill. “The senators are not paying attention to how the system works,” McCarthy said. “The idea that they think they’re going to go around it is not going to work.”

☞ Outside the Beltway: A state school board in Oklahoma on Monday approved the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma’s application to establish what would be the first taxpayer-funded religious school in the U.S. The state’s attorney general, Gentner Drummond, criticized the decision as unconstitutional and “not in the best interest of taxpayers.”

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Need to Know
Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

Lawyers for Donald Trump met with officials at the Justice Department on Monday and made their case for why special counsel Jack Smith should not charge the former president over his handling of classified documents since leaving office, according to the Washington Post. Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti’s take: “Overall, this meeting suggests a charging decision will come soon. Not in the next day or two — prosecutors have to consider the pitch — but perhaps next week or the week after.”

Former vice president Mike Pence made his presidential bid official, filing paperwork declaring his longshot 2024 GOP bid before a launch event in Iowa tomorrow. Meanwhile, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu took himself out of the running. His reasoning? “The stakes are too high for a crowded field to hand the nomination to a candidate who earns just 35 percent of the vote,” he said, “and I will help ensure this does not happen.”

An important dam and power plant on the frontlines of the battle in Ukraine was destroyed on Tuesday, causing flooding and raising concerns about safety at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Both sides blamed each other for the disaster. The dam is located on Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine.

Sen. Tim Scott appeared on “The View” Monday morning and pushed back against its hosts’ assertion he was an “exception” to systemic racism, which he said was a “dangerous, offensive, disgusting” message for Black teens to hear. He argued “progress in America is measured by generations” and that “yesterday’s exception is today’s rule.” Shelby’s view: The segment went viral on conservative Twitter and shows why Scott is such a unique candidate, including his willingness to sit down with the opposite side and respectfully debate. It also showcased his rhetorical skills, something we didn’t see earlier in his launch when he was struggling to lay out a position on abortion.

A pair of cable news tidbits from Semafor’s Max Tani: The CNN public relations department, among the scapegoats in the network’s rolling crisis, will now report to new chief operating officer David Leavy — not to the network’s embattled CEO, Chris Licht. And Amy Sohnen, Fox News’ longtime senior vice president of talent development, is leaving the network at the end of the month, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation.

—Morgan Chalfant and Shelby Talcott

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Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: McCarthy told Punchbowl that a supplemental assistance package for Ukraine is “not going anywhere” in the House and indicated additional aid would need to be approved as part of the $886 billion in defense spending agreed to by the speaker and Biden.

Playbook: Bidenworld is planning to ignore the candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who launched a very longshot bid to challenge the president in the Democratic primary. Politico explores why Kennedy is gaining a little traction in polling (a recent CNN poll found him at 20% to Biden’s 60% among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters).

The Early 202: In the wake of tensions between McCarthy and the House Freedom Caucus over the debt ceiling deal, McCarthy is expected to meet with a small number of lawmakers from the group today.

Axios: Big tech companies are rolling back policies established to tamp down misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 election on their platforms.

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Shelby Talcott

Nikki Haley’s pitch: Ron DeSantis isn’t different enough from Donald Trump

REUTERS/Dave Kaup

THE NEWS

Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump are finally both in the presidential race and sparring daily over their records, leadership style, and name pronunciation. But as the two heavyweights look to differentiate each other, Nikki Haley is trying to convince GOP voters they’re one and the same.

The former South Carolina governor is trying to carve out a lane by arguing that — both on policy and style — DeSantis isn’t a big enough leap from Trump for Republicans disinclined to hand the former president a third nomination.

One prime example? DeSantis’ ongoing legal and political battle with Disney over the company’s criticism of a law restricting classroom discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation.

During her CNN town hall on Sunday, Haley seemed to link it to Trump’s feuds, arguing the company had taken liberal stances in the past on issues like immigration, but that DeSantis only turned on them when criticized personally.

“It’s just like all this vendetta stuff,” Haley said. “We’ve been down that road.” (DeSantis hit back on Monday afternoon during a Fox News appearance.)

Haley’s team has been laying the groundwork for this idea — binding the top two candidates together as one in an effort to best DeSantis as the main non-Trump alternative — for weeks now. At the same town hall, she slammed both candidates over their unwillingness to clearly say whether they want Ukraine to beat out Russia.

“For them to sit there and say that this is a territorial dispute, that’s just not the case — or to say that we should stay neutral,” Haley said. “It’s in the best interest of our national security for Ukraine to win.”

Just days before DeSantis’ campaign launch, Haley’s team also sent out a memo to “interested parties” that argued against DeSantis’ pitch as the more grown-up “credible alternative” to Trump. “Not ‘Trump Without the Drama.’ Just ‘Mini-Trump,’” Haley’s team declared, pointing to recent leaks of internal debate prep footage from DeSantis’ 2018 race, as well as a Florida congressional lawmaker noting that he declined to endorse DeSantis in part because he couldn’t get a call back.

SHELBY’S VIEW

One of the main arguments Haley’s campaign has made is that “a sizable number of voters … want someone that will continue a lot of Trump’s policies, but not [have] the same style,” as one source close to the campaign explained.

In my own conversations with voters over the past few months, that fact certainly seems true — it’s common to hear voters who like his record, but not his volatile behavior or rhetoric.

The problem for Haley? So far, DeSantis is seen as that candidate, and both he and Trump have very high favorable numbers with Republican voters.

In that sense, her team’s latest attack effort makes sense: Much like 2016, lower-polling candidates have to focus on knocking off the number two option before being seen as the only real alternative to the top dog. Haley is hoping to undercut a key premise of the Florida governor’s run: His ability to get things done and his relatively steady, leakless campaign and governor’s office.

On the last point, those close to Haley see more of an opportunity to rebrand DeSantis as a chaos candidate over the past few weeks, as the online Twitter warring between DeSantis and Trump’s camps have continued to heat up, with insults and accusations flying freely.

“Their staff is going after each other nonstop,” a second person close to Haley’s campaign argued. “There’s no discipline, and it’s all very childish — like they’re in a kindergarten food fight.”

Even if she manages to undermine DeSantis, she still has to work to stand out from the current pile-up at third place. But it’s clear she’s caught their attention: The pro-DeSantis Super PAC “Never Back Down” has targeted Haley, despite the fact that she remains polling in single digits.

ROOM FOR DISAGREEMENT

So far, Haley’s push to tie DeSantis together with Trump doesn’t seem to faze the frontrunner, who seems happy to welcome more candidates into the field to divide his opposition. One reason he might be pleased: Her attacks tie into Trump’s main attacks against the Florida governor: That he’s simply Trump-lite, that his campaign has suffered from sloppy missteps, and that he is ultimately not ready for primetime.

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Investigations

Comer vs. the FBI

REUTERS/Craig Hudson

The Republican-led House Oversight Committee’s investigation into President Biden and his family is entering new territory: Chairman James Comer, R-Ky. is promising to kickstart contempt proceedings against FBI director Christopher Wray over a document containing unverified allegations he and the panel’s ranking member viewed behind closed doors on Monday.

Republicans argue the document, which was produced by a confidential informant in June 2020 (and has not been released publicly), implicates Biden in a criminal scheme, without offering any substantiating evidence. White House spokesman for oversight and investigations Ian Sams accused Comer of engaging in a “fact-free stunt” to “spread thin innuendo to try to damage the President politically and get himself media attention.”

Comer and the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., viewed the document and queried FBI officials about it for more than an hour on Capitol Hill. But Comer says that isn’t enough and that he wants the document — an FD-1023, which describes information from confidential human sources — turned over to the committee.

“Given the severity and complexity of the allegations contained in this record, Congress must investigate further,” said Comer, whose plans for contempt are backed by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

In a statement, the FBI called the move “unwarranted,” noting the bureau’s existing efforts to accommodate Comer’s subpoena for the document.

Comer and Raskin offered wildly different characterizations of the status of the document itself. Comer, who said previously that the document contains allegations about Biden engaging in a bribery scheme with a foreign national when he was vice president, told reporters that the document “has not been disproven” and is part of an ongoing investigation. He said he suspected the ongoing investigation is located in Delaware, without providing any evidence to back up his claim or any specifics regarding the allegations.

Raskin said he was unaware of any ongoing probe. He said the FBI told him and Comer that a team of Justice Department officials under then-President Trump led by Scott Brady, then the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, reviewed the document and decided it didn’t warrant opening a preliminary investigation. He dismissed the allegations as “second hand hearsay,” saying they were relayed to a human source by people in Ukraine.

A senior Trump official familiar with the investigation confirmed to Semafor that the document was among those reviewed by Brady to filter out anything that could be disinformation at a time when there were concerns within the department about information Rudy Giuliani was peddling from dubious Russian and Ukrainian sources.

The former official, who declined to describe the document, also recalled that it was passed on to federal investigators in Delaware who were handling the investigation into Hunter Biden but said they weren’t sure what became of it. Other news outlets have reported that the claims in the document were never substantiated. Raskin said he didn’t hear anything during the briefing about the document being involved in an ongoing investigation.

Comer said he plans to begin contempt hearings for Wray on Thursday. The FBI director, who was appointed by Trump, has become a political football on the 2024 Republican campaign trail lately, with Ron DeSantis promising to fire him on his first day in office.

Morgan Chalfant

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Permitting Reform Week

With the debt ceiling wrapped, energy permitting reform is set to be the next hot topic in Congress — with enormous stakes for the entire economy. Today Semafor is hosting a summit looking at whether bipartisan compromise on the issue is possible, featuring Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.and John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., as well as Reps. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, Scott Peters, D-Calif., Mike Waltz, R-Fla., and Nancy Mace., R-S.C.

Mace, a member of the Conservative Climate Caucus, spoke to Semafor’s Steve Clemons in a pre-recorded interview about how her South Carolina district has embraced an “all of the above” approach to energy.

“Eventually we’ll all be driving EVs, but that’s not tomorrow,” she said, adding there needs to be “a reasonable transition time for us to figure out renewables” that still includes fossil fuel production.

But she and her state also highlight the complexities involved with negotiating a deal to approve more energy projects. She has qualms about her party’s push to open up more federal land to oil and gas drilling — partly because it could put South Carolina’s tourism industry at risk.

“One of the things that’s really important to my home state of South Carolina is making sure that we limit any possibility for drilling off South Carolina’s coast,” Mace says. “There’s plenty of oil and gas in the Permian shale where we are drilling to take care of our needs for quite some time, there’s no need to go drill on other federal lands that might be protected.”

—Jordan Weissmann

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One Good Text

Ben Terris is a writer with the Washington Post’s Style section. His new book “The Gamblers, Party Animals, and True Believers Trying to Win in Washington While America Loses Its Mind” profiles the colorful figures who rose to prominence — and sometimes fell — in the Trump era, including a gambling pollster, a Republican establishment heretic, and a leftist oil heiress.

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Blindspot

Stories that are being largely ignored by either left-leaning or right-leaning outlets, according to data from our partners at Ground News.

WHAT THE LEFT ISN’T READING: New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Monday announced a partnership to house asylum-seekers in 50 houses of worship across the city and said he hopes to expand the program to private residences with spare rooms.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: A Texas county sheriff has recommended criminal charges in the case of 49 asylum-seekers who were flown involuntarily from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard on flights chartered by DeSantis.

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Credits

Editor-at-large Steve Clemons

Washington Bureau Chief Benjy Sarlin

Washington Editor Jordan Weissmann

National Security Reporter/Lead Principals Writer Morgan Chalfant

Congress and Politics Reporter Kadia Goba

Domestic Policy and Politics Reporter Joseph Zeballos-Roig

2024 Campaign Reporter Shelby Talcott

Senior Politics Reporter David Weigel

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