The GOP Field Takes Shape

Happy Wednesday! With our interns officially aboard for the summer, The Dispatch’s 2023 softball season begins in earnest tonight. We promise to keep you updated on how it unfolds—unless things are going poorly, in which case we’ll never speak of it again.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories  

  • The Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power plant in southern Ukraine collapsed yesterday, flooding surrounding villages and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people. Ukrainian and NATO leaders have blamed Russia for the dam’s destruction, while Russia has claimed Ukraine was responsible. Definitive evidence of who is behind the collapse has yet to emerge, but engineering and explosives experts suggest the most plausible explanation for the destruction is an internal explosion at the Russian-controlled dam.
  • The Washington Post reported Tuesday the United States had intelligence of a Ukrainian plan to attack the Nord Stream pipelines months before they were blown up, according to a European intelligence report accessed through the April Discord leaks. The report—sourced from an unidentified individual in Ukraine–was shared with the CIA last June and includes some details on the Ukrainian plan that match European investigators’ conclusions about the identity of the saboteurs.
  • The PGA Tour and LIV Golf—a rival golf league backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund—announced yesterday they have agreed to merge. The news shocked the golf world as critics—including PGA officials and players—have for more than a year been knocking LIV players for their complicity in an effort to “sportswash” Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and role in the 9/11 attacks. The agreement will end litigation between the two tours and combine the PGA Tour, LIV, and the DP World Tour under a single, as-of-yet unnamed non-profit entity.
  • The Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday that arrests along the southern border have dropped by 70 percent since the end of Title 42 last month. Border officials reported record numbers of crossing attempts just before the pandemic-era policy—used to quickly expel most migrants, incentivizing repeat crossing attempts—expired, but the administration replaced it with more restrictions for migrants seeking entry and tougher penalties for illegal border crossings.
  • A group of 11 House Republicans—mostly House Freedom Caucus members—sank a procedural vote to advance several GOP-supported bills on Tuesday, an unusual step designed to express their dissatisfaction with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s handling of the debt ceiling deal. The group—which included Reps. Matt Gaetz, Ken Buck, and Dan Bishop—said McCarthy had violated promises he made to earn his gavel and argued their move demonstrated the power of defectors over the narrow Republican majority.
  • The New York Times first reported Tuesday Mark Meadows, the final chief of staff to former President Donald Trump, has testified before a grand jury hearing evidence in several investigations overseen by special counsel Jack Smith. It was unclear when Meadows testified, and whether he discussed Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election or the former president’s mishandling of classified documents. 

Christie Jumps In

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at an event at Saint Anselm College on June 06, 2023.  (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at an event at Saint Anselm College on June 06, 2023. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Some may liken it to a clown car, others, to an overcrowded hot tub. Whatever your comically jam-packed vessel of choice, there’s no denying the race for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination has ballooned this week.

At a kick-off event in New Hampshire Tuesday night, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced he’s officially jumping in the race. Former Vice President Mike Pence signed the paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission formalizing his run Monday and is set to make an official announcement tonight at an event in Iowa, followed by a town hall on CNN. And GOP North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum teased a “big announcement” and officially declared his intention to throw his (cowboy) hat in the ring in a Wall Street Journal op-ed

By the end of the week, there will likely be nine more-or-less serious contenders—depending on how you define “serious”—and several more longer shots. As the field grows, the calculus for the candidates gets more complicated. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s assertion she doesn’t “play for second” notwithstanding, the game could become about deciding what it is candidates are playing for as their respective paths to the nomination narrow with every new entry. 

As CNN’s Brianna Keilar put it on live television: “At a certain point, aren’t there just too many people in the jacuzzi?”

Comer’s Contempt

It’s been many decades since Congress used its constitutional authority to detain and imprison people ignoring its subpoenas, but every so often lawmakers float the idea.

“We do have a little jail down in the basement of the Capitol,” then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in 2019 as Congress prepared to hold Bill Barr in contempt for withholding an un-redacted version of the Mueller report. “But if we were arresting all of the people in the administration, we would have an overcrowded jail situation. And I’m not for that.”

We can’t confirm Pelosi’s claims of designated dungeons, but the topic might come up again soon, with GOP House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer pledging this week to hold FBI Director Christopher Wray in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over a document Comer says details corruption allegations against President Joe Biden. While lawmakers are far more likely to cut a deal, refer Wray to the Department of Justice, or go to the courts if the FBI chief doesn’t comply, detaining him on their own is—at least theoretically—also an option.

Comer—a Republican from Kentucky tasked with overseeing the GOP’s various investigations into the Biden administration—has spent the last few months hunting for evidence of Biden family corruption, and says a whistleblower alerted him to the existence of a document with “reporting of an alleged bribery scheme related to then-Vice President Joe Biden and a foreign national.” The document in question, dated June 2020, is a FD-1023—used by the FBI to record unverified tips and reports from human sources—and supposedly contains second-hand information from a source who’s proven reliable in the past. Comer wants to know whether the FBI investigated the information and issued a subpoena for the document in May, rejecting the FBI’s claim that it avoids sharing information “that could harm investigations, prejudice prosecutions or judicial proceedings, unfairly violate privacy or reputational interests, or create misimpressions in the public.”

Threatened with being held in contempt of Congress, Wray offered to let Comer view the document at FBI headquarters, then arranged a Monday meeting at the Capitol to let Comer and his Democratic counterpart—Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland—see a partly redacted version of the document and receive an hour-long briefing. That wasn’t enough for Comer, who has insisted Wray must hand over a physical copy. “Given the severity and complexity of the allegations contained within this record, Congress must investigate further,” he said, suggesting the document should be released publicly.

Comer and Raskin came away from Monday’s briefing with differing accounts of what they’d learned. They agreed on the basics—the document outlined allegations of Biden’s involvement in a bribery scheme, which Raskin said involved Ukrainians. But Comer said FBI officials affirmed the document’s allegation “has not been disproven” and is being used in an ongoing investigation, while Raskin said the FBI had already checked out the allegations as part of an investigation of similar accusations made by former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Then-Attorney General Barr, Raskin said, signed off on the decision not to pursue the allegations any further. “My understanding is there is an ongoing investigation into Hunter Biden relating to gun charges and one or two other things taking place in Delaware,” Raskin added. “But I don’t know of any connection between that criminal investigation and the document that we saw today.”

The FBI argues it’s done enough to inform the committee—and should be allowed to protect its human source and the integrity of investigations. “The FBI has continually demonstrated its commitment to accommodate the committee’s request, including by producing the document in a reading room at the U.S. Capitol,” the Bureau said in a statement. “This commonsense safeguard is often employed in response to congressional requests and in court proceedings to protect important concerns, such as the physical safety of sources and the integrity of investigations. The escalation to a contempt vote under these circumstances is unwarranted.”

The White House also dismissed Comer’s efforts. “This is yet another fact-free stunt staged by Chairman Comer not to conduct legitimate oversight, but to spread thin innuendo to try to damage the President politically and get himself media attention,” said Ian Sams, White House spokesman for oversight and investigations.

With the Durham report’s account of dodgy FBI behavior top of mind, Republicans are primed not to take the law enforcement agency at its word, and Comer isn’t backing down. He’s scheduled a Thursday committee vote to hold Wray in contempt of Congress, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has pledged to follow up with a full House vote. The measure could stall after that if the Department of Justice declines to prosecute Congress’ referral—as seems likely. “One category of information over which the executive branch claims absolute control is law enforcement information, and so documents about particularly ongoing criminal investigations are the kinds of things that are routinely denied to Congress,” said Emily Berman, an associate professor at the University of Houston Law Center who studies oversight of law enforcement operations. “The executive branch’s position is if someone has been held in contempt for legitimately withholding information that Congress is not entitled to, we’re not going to prosecute that person.” Lawmakers can instead file suit and ask a court to enforce their subpoenas, but that process can take years.

And as we mentioned up top, Congress could order the House or Senate sergeant-at-arms to detain Wray until he complies—but a compromise seems more likely. Wray’s own agency, after all, depends on being able to enforce subpoenas, so he’s got some motive to avoid publicly defying one himself. There’s plenty of precedent for working things out: Sen. Michael McCaul recently threatened to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt for refusing to allow lawmakers to see a dissent cable about the withdrawal from Afghanistan—and Blinken gave in. “That kind of thing tends to be more about how stubborn do you want to be,” Berman said. “I don’t think it likely that Congress would want to escalate things to the point where they, you know, go arrest the FBI director.”

Worth Your Time

  • Yesterday marked the 79th anniversary of D-Day—the largest seaborne invasion in history and turning point of the war in the European theater. While most of us read about the day in history books or watch old film reel clips of the landings, Peter Orlando, a U.S. Navy radio man who served on a rescue tug boat during the operation, watched it all unfold before his eyes. “Now 101, Orlando has a clear memory of those harrowing moments of June 6, 1944, as American soldiers waded ashore in France to liberate Europe from the Nazis,” Dave Kindy writes for the Washington Post. “Orlando’s strongest memory from D-Day came as he watched the landings, wondering what might happen to the men heading into harm’s way. He recalls a dreary day painted by the intense gray of ships, sea and clouds, before he looked up and saw a flash of color: red, white and blue, straight out in a strong wind. He says he has never felt prouder of his country.”

Presented Without Comment

SEC Complaint: “Zhao and Binance understood that they were operating the Platform in violation of numerous U.S. laws, including the federal securities laws, and that these ongoing violations presented existential risks to their business. As Binance’s CCO bluntly admitted to another Binance compliance officer in December 2018, ‘we are operating as a f—- unlicensed securities exchange in the USA bro.’”

Also Presented Without Comment

Associated Press: ‘Very Last Warning’ for 82-year-old German Convicted of Dealing Drugs

Toeing the Company Line

  • Why are Asian and European migrants showing up at the United States’ southern border? Will the White House’s efforts to “thaw” relations with China go anywhere? And what has the Dispatch Politics team been up to in Iowa? Declan was joined by Harvest, Grayson, Andrew, and Drucker to discuss all that and more on last night’s Dispatch Live (🔒). Members who missed the conversation can catch a rerun—either video or audio-only—by clicking here.
  • In the newsletters: Haley reports on McCarthy’s brief moment of calm after the debt ceiling deal, and Nick wonders (🔒) who’s responsible for the destruction of Ukraine’s Nova Kakhovka dam.
  • On the podcasts: Jonah welcomes American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Philip Wallach to the Remnant for a discussion about the importance of the legislative branch.
  • On the site: Jonah reflects on the “Trumpian captivity” of the GOP primary race, and Charlotte covers a coordinated campaign by Russia and Iran to target U.S. troops in Syria. 

Let Us Know

Do you think Christie or DeSantis’ attacks on Trump will prove more effective in the Republican primary? Do you expect the field to winnow significantly before voting starts early next year?

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