Good Friday morning. An ongoing federal corruption investigation in Tallahassee — one which loomed (maybe unfairly) over former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum’s campaign — keeps spreading. And the question remains: How wide will it get?
Third indictment handed down — As the Tallahassee Democrat’s Jeff Burlew succinctly describes it: “John ‘J.T.’ Burnette, a wealthy entrepreneur and the alleged middle man between City Commissioner Scott Maddox and undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen, was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury in connection with the bureau’s long-running public corruption probe.”
‘Feed a dog’ — The indictment released on Thursday had some choice words from Burnette about Maddox, who once was chairman of the Florida Democratic Party and a rising star himself. Burnette was quoted as saying that Maddox is a “vengeful mother—–. Feed a dog for a year, stop feeding the dog, and it gets hungry, he may bite your f—— hand off.” Tim Jansen, a well-known local attorney who also represented one-time Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston, says Burnette “adamantly denies” all charges.
Why this story is riveting Tallahassee — This remains primarily a local story in the otherwise sleepy state capital. But it bears watching given all the connections. This is the same corruption investigation that Republicans hammered Gillum about during his run for governor. Gillum repeatedly said he was told he was not a FBI target but it also spawned an state ethics probe.
The Tallahassee Democrat (the newspaper) noted that Burnette recently married Kim Rivers, who runs the state’s largest medical marijuana company. That company, Trulieve, has hired some of the best known lobbyists at both the state and federal level. One of the state lobbyists, Nick Iarossi, is close to Gov. Ron DeSantis. Ballard Partners, the successful company run by top GOP fundraiser Brian Ballard and who is close to DeSantis and President Donald Trump, has represented the company in DC since last year. (Trulieve is not under investigation and it has not been mentioned in any documents related to the case.)
FROM THE PLAYBOOK MOTHERSHIP: “NEW … DEBATE DETAILS … The first Democratic primary debate — being aired by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo — will be at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County on Wednesday, June 26, and Thursday, June 27. It will air between 9 and 11 p.m.”
CAN’T WIN WITHOUT IT — “Ground Zero for Trump 2020 campaign: Florida,” by POLITICO’s Marc Caputo: “Florida isn’t just a state to President Trump’s reelection campaign. It’s an entire region. In a sign of Florida’s crucial importance to his winning a second White House term, Trump’s campaign announced that the largest swing state in the nation would be considered its own geographical region when it comes to chain of command and allocation of resources." Read more
Situational awareness — “We can’t win the White House without winning Florida. Period,” said top Trump surrogate Joe Gruters, chairman of the Florida Republican Party who serves in the state Senate. “When you look at Florida, at its size and the demographics, it’s like 5 different states,” Gruters added. “There’s no state like this.”
UNANSWERED QUESTIONS — “Gillum ripped by Florida campaign donor for unspent campaign money,” by POLITICO’s Gary Fineout: “An influential Florida donor took shots on Thursday at Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum for leaving millions of dollars in the bank ahead of his narrow loss last November to eventual winner Ron DeSantis.” Read more
Easier said than done — Trial attorney John Morgan’s broadsides against Gillum started with Morgan suggesting the former Tallahassee mayor should use unspent money in his political committee to pay off any fines or fees owed by former felons seeking to get their voting rights restored. But attorney Mark Herron points out that type of expenditure would subject Gillum’s committee to significant federal taxes because it’s not an allowable expense for political committees.
RISING — “Castor talks weed, guns and politics on National Public Radio,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Charlie Frago: “The national spotlight continues to shine on Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, this time in the form of an interview Thursday on National Public Radio.” Read more
WOULD HE EVER SAY ANYTHING ELSE? — “Sen. Scott: This is the reason Florida will give Trump a ‘big win in 2020’,” by Fox News’ Caleb Parke: “Florida Senator Rick Scott believes President Trump has the Sunshine State in the bag for 2020. Scott, a member of the armed services committee, told ‘America’s Newsroom’ Thursday why he thinks Trump will sweep the critical battleground state.” Read more
STAFFING UP — Samantha Pollara, brother of political consultant Ben Pollara and who recently worked on Jane Castor’s successful mayoral campaign in Tampa, announced on Twitter on Thursday that she has become Florida Investment Director for Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
WHY CAN’T THIS GET DONE? — “Senate Republicans propose more Puerto Rico aid in latest offer to Democrats,” by POLITICO’s Sarah Ferris and John Bresnahan: “Senate Republicans on Thursday floated a new disaster aid proposal to Democrats to break the logjam over Puerto Rico, but it is unlikely to end the bitter, monthslong stalemate that has frustrated both parties, according to multiple aides.” Read more
ART OF THE DEAL — “How Rubio and Gaetz persuaded Trump to shell out more hurricane aid,” by POLITICO Florida’s Arek Sarkissian: “President Donald Trump left Washington on Wednesday for a campaign rally in Panama City Beach with nothing to offer the Panhandle toward its recovery from Hurricane Michael. But by the time Air Force One landed at Tyndall Air Force Base, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio persuaded the president to promise his supporters that he would increase the federal share of costs brought on by the Category 5 storm, according to Gaetz.” Read more
Writing it down — “Gaetz said Trump handed him a pen to take notes so White House policy adviser Stephen Miller could squeeze the funding increase into the president’s speech.”
SHINE A LIGHT — “Judge demands unredacted Mueller report in Roger Stone case,” by POLITICO’s Darren Samuelsohn: “Federal prosecutors handling Roger Stone’s case were ordered on Thursday to turn over to a judge any unredacted sections of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report relating to the longtime GOP operative that could help prepare his defense for their upcoming trial.” Read more
‘DANGEROUS’ — During his Panama City Beach political rally a supporter shouted at President Donald Trump that those seeking to enter the country illegally should be shot. Trump responded to the comment by saying “Only in the Panhandle you can get away with that.” On Thursday Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell called the comment “dangerous” on CNN.
GETTING BIGGER — “Feds open foreign-money investigation into Trump donor Cindy Yang,” by Miami Herald’s Jay Weaver, Nicholas Nehamas, Caitlin Ostroff and Sarah Blaskey: “The FBI has opened a public corruption investigation into Republican donor and South Florida massage-parlor entrepreneur Li ‘Cindy’ Yang, focusing on whether she illegally funneled money from China into the president’s re-election effort or committed other potential campaign-finance violations, the Miami Herald has learned.” Read more
ON BOARD — “Trump backs Fla. plan to import lower-cost meds from abroad,” by AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Curt Anderson: “In a move sure to get attention in a 2020 battleground state, President Donald Trump indicated Thursday that his administration may approve a Florida plan to import lower-cost prescription drugs from abroad for use by residents.” Read more
‘UNDERDOGS’ — “Florida is still in the running to be headquarters of Space Command, state leaders say,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Chabeli Herrera: “Space Florida is working to dispel any notions that Florida is no longer in the running for the headquarters of President Donald Trump’s newly established U.S. Space Command.” Read more
MOODY ON THE SIDELINES — “33 state attorneys general urging Congress to solve marijuana banking mess – but not FL AG Ashley Moody,” by Florida Phoenix’s Mitch Perry: “A bipartisan group of 33 state attorneys general sent a letter to congressional leaders on Wednesday, urging them to pass legislation to allow states that legalized marijuana to bring that commerce into the banking system. But Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is not among them.” Read more
BABYPROOFING THE MANSION — “Ron and Casey DeSantis on new life as the first family,” by Tallahassee Magazine’s Pete Reinwald: “In the sunroom of Florida’s First House, 2-year-old Madison DeSantis liked what she saw on a bookshelf and went to grab it. About 15 feet away, from Florida’s First Sofa, her mom sounded a Sunshine State alarm. ‘There goes Florida’s irreplaceable history,’ Casey DeSantis said, prompting laughter in the room.” Read more
Advance notice required — The story does contain this nugget: “The communications teams of the governor and first lady requested and received questions and topics in advance of the interview. Yet the First Couple — pleasant and conversational, with flashes of fun from the first lady — didn’t hesitate to answer questions that veered from those themes, including about how they met, how their lives have changed and how they plan to raise their kids.”
BRING ON THE LAWYERS — “Gov. DeSantis picks religious school in Miami Gardens to sign voucher bill into law,” by Miami Herald’s Samantha J. Gross and Emily L. Mahoney: “Flanked by lawmakers, educators, parents and students who attend private schools, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a far-reaching education bill that creates a new private school voucher.” Read more
ALL I’VE GOT IS A PHOTOGRAPH — “Ag commissioner Nikki Fried warns about gas pump skimmers – and tries to quiet a storm about her picture,” by Sun Sentinel’s Anthony Man: “The Florida official in charge of gasoline pump inspections visited a Miramar gas station Thursday to deliver a consumer warning – and attempt to talk her way out of a minor political tempest involving her office.” Read more
Topspin — While talking to reporters, Fried explained that the controversy over her decision to put her photo on thousands of gas pumps was positive even though state legislators have ordered her to stop it. “The fact that you’re asking this question that we’ve had all this media attention means it’s working, that people are actually recognizing the sticker. They’re seeing that there’s somebody who’s accountable to what is happening at the gas station pumps,” she said.
‘COULD HAVE BEEN FROM NAPLES’ — “No hometown handicap for Miami in powerful House speaker’s first legislative session,” by Miami Herald’s David Smiley and Elizabeth Koh: “When Miami lawmakers and lobbyists trekked to Tallahassee this year for the annual legislative scramble, they arrived with a lengthy list of long-standing issues to address, including inequitable support for schools, a need for sustained hospital funding, rock blasting, and cancer coverage for firefighters.” Read more
WHAT I DID ON MY SPRING VACATION — “Gruters, horses brag on session; Eskamani gets angry,” by News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner and Dara Kam: “Subtlety apparently wasn’t the goal in videos featuring lawmakers from opposite sides of the aisle, pushed out after the 2019 legislative session wrapped.” Read more
— WHERE’S RON? — Gov. DeSantis will be in Tallahassee where he is scheduled to give the keynote address at a Florida Highway Patrol class graduation, and speak at the investiture ceremony for Supreme Court Justice Barbara Lagoa.
WORTH THE READ — “Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is now the star cop in Florida politics. Who is he, and how did he get there?” by Tampa Bay Times Kathryn Varn: “The immigrant advocate pressed Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri as he stood with his empty cup of coffee. He quickly told her why she was wrong. ‘That’s not true,’ he said. “That’s just not true.” They spoke outside a committee room in Tallahassee, Gualtieri in town that morning in part to support a sanctuary city ban that he had helped craft.” Read more
Why this matters — Gualtieri, who was first appointed to the job by Gov. Rick Scott and has held onto it, has been involved in a controversy over Florida’s stand-your-ground law, pushed to allow teachers to carry guns in classrooms, and was an advocate for the recently enacted ban on "sanctuary cities." The story attempts to show all sides of Gualtieri, whose profile continues to get bigger while he continues to have plenty of critics.
EAT ALL YOU WANT — “Citing free speech, prosecutor won’t pursue crude-sticker case,” by Gainesville Sun’s Daniel Smithson: “The Lake City man who was arrested Sunday after refusing to take a crude sticker off his truck won’t be prosecuted. Assistant State Attorney John Durrett filed a court document Thursday that said the Third Judicial Circuit will not prosecute Dillon Shane Webb, 23, on the obscenity possession and resisting an officer charges levied against him after he refused a Columbia County deputy sheriff’s orders to alter or remove a sticker that read ‘I EAT A**’ from his Chevy truck.” Read more
BUGGIN’ OUT — “Florida drivers struggle with blinding smears of lovebug guts,” by Palm Beach Post’s Kimberly Miller: “Chris DeMoro made it across Florida’s State Road 60 before the washer fluid ran dry and he knew he was defeated. The lovebugs had won, coating his windshield like a hard candy shell of insect goo.” Read more
MUST MEME TV— “‘Florida Man’ TV show in the works,” by Sun Sentinel’s Johnny Diaz: “The infamous ‘Florida Man’ is getting his own TV show. The Oxygen cable network is developing a new series that will focus on ‘America’s most notorious, outrageous, craftiest killers from the Sunshine State,’ according to the NBCUniversal-owned network.” Read more
FLORIDA MAN INSPIRES — “Florida makes Top 10 for economic growth in arts, culture,” by Herald-Tribune’s Thomas Becnel: “A National Endowment for the Arts study found Florida ranked ninth in the nation for the fastest-growing states in economic value added by arts and culture industries. In 2016, Florida arts and culture meant $35 billion for the state economy, with an annual growth rate of 7.1 percent.” Read more
HOW ABOUT MAKE IT FREE? — “E-PASS vs. SunPass: Which is better for drivers on Florida toll roads?” by Orlando Sentinel’s Kevin Spear: “Drivers on Florida toll roads have the option of using either E-PASS or SunPass transponders — but which one is better?” Read more
SENSELESS — “GPD: Gainesville man threw ‘chicken residue’ on pregnant woman, punched her,” by Gainesville Sun’s Daniel Smithson: “A Gainesville man was arrested early Thursday morning after police said he took chicken residue from the bottom of a trash can and threw it on a pregnant woman before punching her.” Read more
— “South Tampa home of late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and wife Joan on the market,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Susan Taylor Martin: Read more
— “Controversial Grove Playhouse revival plan will go forward. Unless the mayor vetoes it,” by Miami Herald’s Andres Viglucci: Read more
— “Jacksonville City Councilman calls for decriminalizing marijuana,” by Times-Union’s Christopher Hong: Read more
— “Martin County sees first new confirmed case of hepatitis A since April 12,” by TCPalm’s Sara Marino: Read more
— “Instagram gun posts got Miami teen in legal trouble. This time, it’s pictures from Ultra,” by Miami Herald’s David Ovalle: Read more
— “DOE revokes Manatee principal’s certificate,” by Herald-Tribune’s Ryan McKinnon: Read more
SPOTTED: Actor Anthony Rapp (“Rent” and “Star Trek: Discovery”) joining his brother, Jeffrey Rapp, a staffer for Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), as they advocated together for the arts on Thursday as part of Creative Coalition’s advocacy day in D.C.
BIRTHDAY: Binita Devkota, a staff assistant for former Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
Editor’s note: Playbook has been updated to clarify the description of Trulieve.
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