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How some swing voters view the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

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In today's edition …  Cheney, Palin, Murkowski: Voters in Wyoming and Alaska head to the polls for closely watched GOP primaries … Trump's speeches indicate an extreme agenda in potential 2024 run… As Putin prepared to invade, the U.S. struggled to convince Zelensky and allies of the risk… but first …

The campaign

How some swing voters view the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago

When Attorney General Merrick Garland addressed the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago last week, he took pains to emphasize that the Justice Department was “applying the law evenly, without fear or favor.”

Some swing voters aren’t buying it.

Ten White swing voters who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but not in 2020 — or who voted for him in 2020 but regretted it — said Monday evening that they weren’t convinced that politics hadn’t played a role in the search of Trump’s Florida club to reclaim classified documents. 

The voters spoke in two focus groups conducted Monday evening for a set of progressive groups that The Early was allowed to observe on the condition that we not identify the sponsors or the participants. One group included five women from across the country, the other five men.

Asked whether they thought the Justice Department was acting politically in investigating Trump, all five women raised their hands.

“It’s three months before midterms,” one of the women said.

Several of the men were also skeptical.

“I’m looking at this and I’m thinking, here’s another thing that’s politically motivated,” one man said.

Republican lawmakers and Trump himself have alleged without evidence since the search last week that Trump was targeted for political reasons. Garland on Thursday defended the FBI and the Justice Department against “recent unfounded attacks” and noted that “the search warrant was authorized by a federal court upon the required finding of probable cause.” (The department objected on Monday to releasing the affidavit used to secure the search warrant, as some Republicans have urged, saying it would harm its investigation.)

A challenge for Democrats

How to talk about Trump and the Justice Department’s search for classified information at his Florida resort is a pressing question for Democrats. Many Republicans have been quick to defend Trump or at least denounce DOJ.

“With Trump back in the legal spotlight, Democrats are recalculating how they could — or whether they should at all — capitalize on the moment by drawing contrasts with Republicans without appearing out of touch with what voters are concerned about,” our colleague Marianna Sotomayor reports. Top aides at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee met Wednesday to discuss the matter.

  • “The question before aides responsible with crafting messaging for House Democrats at the meeting last week was whether it was worth it for members to highlight stark contrasts between themselves and their Republican opponents by drawing more attention to the questions surrounding former president, according to two Democratic strategists who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.”
  • “The conclusion: Don’t make this election about Trump, but use his latest legal turmoil to draw a sharp contrast with Trumpism.”

Many of the voters in the focus group appeared to be those whom Democrats are trying to reach. Many of them were critical of Trump — “I did vote for him in 2016. I’d never do that again,” one woman said — and most of the women said they were concerned about Republicans’ efforts to roll back abortion rights. But many of them expressed skepticism about the timing and motivations of the FBI raid.

“Maybe there’s money involved,” another woman said. “I don’t believe that anyone’s not getting paid for the things that they’re doing — you know, leaking things to media. I think there’s just a lot of really shady stuff going on.”

Swing voters wonder: What about Clinton?

Some of the voters in the focus group also saw a double standard that Hillary Clinton wasn’t prosecuted for running a private email server while she was secretary of state (even though the FBI reopened its investigation of her shortly before the 2016 election.)

“If he’s guilty, he’s guilty,” one woman said. “OK? He’s guilty. If Clinton was guilty with having a server in her basement and if the laptop was breached, what the hell?” (The State Department submitted a report to Congress in 2019 that concluded there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information involving Clinton's private server.)

“Right,” another woman said. “Thank you.”

“And if Pelosi and her husband, there’s trading magically around legislation’s passed, what are we applying laws to?” the first woman said, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, who is an active stock trader. (Speaker Pelosi has said her husband has “absolutely not” traded using information she’s given him.)

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) echoed the Clinton line in a virtual town hall with constituents on Monday evening, Marianna tells us.

“We didn’t raid Hillary Clinton’s home in Chappaqua, New York,” he said. “We haven’t raided Hunter Biden’s home.”

Many of the voters expressed skepticism suspicion toward both parties. One woman said she wished she could vote for a presidential candidate rather than voting against the one she disliked more. Some voters also seemed a little inured by all the current investigations into Trump and the past scandals involving him, even if they were troubled by Trump's role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“When I think about the Russia thing that they vilified him over, and it ended up being a big nothingburger — I just keep thinking of that,” one man said.

Still, he and other men said they wanted the Justice Department to proceed with the investigation now that it's underway.

“We've opened the can of worms,” the man said. “We've gotta go ahead and see what's in there.”

The biggest little primaries of the year

Primary season isn't over yet! (Even though every campaign aide wishes it was.) 

Today's primaries take place in two of the states with the fewest people: Wyoming, the least populous state, and Alaska, the third-least populous (or the fourth-least if you count the District of Columbia as a state). But both have some of the most closely watched races this primary season with some of the highest-profile candidates. 

About Alaska: The remote state is difficult to poll. It has a new open primary system and a new ranked-choice general election system, leaving the outcome a bit uncertain. It could also take until the end of August to determine the winner in the general elections taking place today. 

  • “State elections officials say they won’t start counting second choices and redistributing votes until the deadline for absentee ballots to arrive, and political observers see a race without a runaway candidate,” our colleague Nathaniel Herz reports.

Alaska House at-large special election: Former governor and Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin is running for the open House seat of the late Rep. Don Young, who served in Congress for 49 years. Palin is running to fill Young's term this year against her fellow Republican Nick Begich III and Democrat Mary Peltola.

Alaska House at-large primary: Palin, Begich, Peltola and more than a dozen other candidates are also on the ballot for the open primary for the same House seat for next Congress. The top four candidates will advance to the ranked-choice general election in November. 

Alaska Senate primary: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is expected to easily advance to the November general election along with Trump-endorsed challenger Kelly Tshibaka and Democrat Pat Chesbro. Murkowski drew Trump's ire after voting to impeach him in 2021 and has been outspoken in her criticisms of the former president. 

  • “'There’s no great anticipation about whether or not Lisa Murkowski is going to advance,' Murkowski said in a phone interview Sunday from outside Fairbanks, where she was between a renewable energy fair and a soak in a pool at a local hot springs resort. 'So, it does have a different feel,'” Nat reports.

Wyoming at-large House primary: And of course Rep. Liz Cheney's primary in Wyoming. As we highlighted on Monday, our colleague Paul Kane notes that this might be the end of Cheney's political life in Wyoming but it could also be the beginning of her next act. Cheney faces long odds, but the question is how close her the race against Harriet Hageman will be because Cheney has been encouraging Democrats and independents to cross over and vote for her. Trump won the state in 2020 with 70 percent of the vote compared to 27 percent for Joe Biden

At the White House

President Biden is returning from his vacation to sign into law the climate change, health care and tax bill today. He will make remarks from the State Dining Room where he will likely say the name, the Inflation Reduction Act, many times, as inflation is a top issue for voters. The low-key event, however, will kick off presidential road trips touting the law. 

But the real party is expected on Sept. 6 when the president will host an event to celebrate the law and likely be flanked by Democrats and supporters.

Trump's speeches indicate an extreme agenda in potential 2024 run

Trump’s plan for 2025: “For the first time since leaving office, Trump has started getting specific about what he would do if he wins a second term in the White House,” our colleague Isaac Arnsdorf reports. “He promises a break from American history if elected, with a federal government stacked with loyalists and unleashed to harm his perceived enemies.” Here’s what a second term would look like:

  • His administration: “If Trump does return to the White House in 2025, this time he will be surrounded by fewer advisers interested in moderating or restraining his impulses. Instead, his administration would probably be staffed by dedicated loyalists.”
  • His proposals:
    • Execute drug dealers.
    • Move homeless people to outlying ‘tent cities.’
    • Deploy federal force against crime, unrest and protests.
    • Strip job protections for federal workers.
    • Eliminate the Education Department.
    • Restrict voting to one day using paper ballots.
  • Execute drug dealers.
  • Move homeless people to outlying ‘tent cities.’
  • Deploy federal force against crime, unrest and protests.
  • Strip job protections for federal workers.
  • Eliminate the Education Department.
  • Restrict voting to one day using paper ballots.

Global Power

As Putin prepared to invade, U.S. struggled to convince allies, Zelensky of risks

The road to war, part 1: In previously unreported detail, our colleagues Shane Harris, Karen DeYoung, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Ashley Parker and Liz Sly pull the curtain back on the uphill climb to restore U.S. credibility while attempting to convince their allies of the risk of a Russian invasion in Ukraine. Below is an excerpt from the first in a series of articles examining the military campaign: 

“On a sunny October morning, the nation’s top intelligence, military and diplomatic leaders filed into the Oval Office for an urgent meeting with Biden. They arrived bearing a highly classified intelligence analysis, compiled from newly obtained satellite images, intercepted communications and human sources, that amounted to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war plans for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”

  • “Biden and Vice President Harris took their places in armchairs before the fireplace, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined the directors of national intelligence and the CIA on sofas around the coffee table.”
  • “As he absorbed the briefing, Biden, who had taken office promising to keep the country out of new wars, was determined that Putin must either be deterred or confronted, and that the United States must not act alone.”
  • “Yet NATO was far from unified on how to deal with Moscow, and U.S. credibility was weak. After a disastrous occupation of Iraq, the chaos that followed the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and four years of Trump seeking to undermine the alliance, it was far from certain that Biden could effectively lead a Western response to an expansionist Russia.”

MORE: An interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. By The Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan.

The Data

Companies affected by the corporate minimum tax, visualized: Today, Biden will sign the Inflation Reduction Act into law. It “includes a minimum tax rate of 15 percent on highly profitable companies — a levy that could hit Amazon, Verizon and others,” per our colleague Kevin Schaul.

The Media

Afghanistan: One Year Later

Early reeeads


A year after the fall of Kabul

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