Mar 24, 2023 - Podcasts

Democrats fret a possible Trump indictment

Former President Trump could be facing an indictment over an alleged campaign finance violation — but some Democrats worry that this could undermine future prosecution of more serious charges.

  • Plus, TikTok’s CEO faces a tough crowd on Capitol Hill.
  • And, how college basketball stars are cashing in on March Madness.

Guests: Axios' Ashley Gold, Alexi McCammond, Hans Nichols and Jeff Tracy.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Robin Linn, Naomi Shavin, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, March 24th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: Democrats fret about a possible Trump indictment. And - how college basketball stars are cashing in on March Madness. But first: TikTok’s CEO faces a tough crowd on Capitol Hill.

TikTok’s CEO faces a tough crowd on Capitol Hill

NIALA: TikTok CEO Shou Chew, defended the popular app on Capitol Hill yesterday in front of lawmakers who say the video sharing platform should be banned. I asked Axios’ Ashley Gold, who covered the hearing, what we need to know.

ASHLEY GOLD: Hi, Niala. What we need to know is that it doesn't really matter what Shou Chew told House Energy and Commerce lawmakers, they seem to already have their minds made up. They think TikTok is dangerous, not just because its parent company ByteDance is Chinese. They also think that kids are addicted, that they're on them too much, that they're exposed to dangerous content. So it was a pretty tough day for TikTok on the Hill.

At the start of the hearing, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican lawmaker from the state of Washington, who chairs this committee straight up said, ByteDance is beholden to the CCP and bite dance and TikTok are one and the same. That is something that TikTok has vehemently denied for years, and for her to say, this is what me and other lawmakers on the committee believe, no matter what you say. That sort of set the tone for the hearing.

What happens next depends on what Congress decides to do. They could decide to take up one of the few bills that have to do with potentially banning TikTok. Additionally, we're still waiting to see if a national security panel blesses a deal that TikTok has been pushing that would put all of their U.S. consumer data in a server run by the tech company Oracle for a project they're calling Project Texas.

NIALA: That’s Axios’ Tech and Policy Reporter Ashley Gold.

Democrats fret about a possible Trump indictment

NIALA: Former President Trump could be facing an indictment over an alleged campaign finance violation, but some Democrats are worried this could undermine future prosecution of more serious charges.

Axios’ Alexi McCammond and Hans Nichols are joining us for our Friday State of Play. Hi Hans. Hi, Lexi.


ALEXI MCCAMOND: Hi, how are you?

NIALA: Alexi, let's start with the possibility of former President Trump's indictment. First of all, can you just catch us up on what did and didn't happen this week?

ALEXI: Yes. Former President Trump predicted over the weekend that he would be arrested this week because of a case being brought by the Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, for alleged hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.

You'll remember that Michael Cohen, his former fixer, was convicted on campaign finance charges for this same situation. But Trump's Truth Social posts suggest that he's starting to get increasing. animated about what could happen. There are reports that he's been planning his perp walk and his mugshots.

NIALA: What are you hearing from Democrats inside of Washington and the concern they're voicing about this?

ALEXI: Behind the scenes they've been kind of, both sweating and a little annoyed. They've wanted President Trump to be held to account, for a very long time. And they're worried that this first big legal test could, you know, fail with folks because of, some say, the idea that it's more trivial than other crimes he's being investigated for. That includes his role in the January 6th insurrection of the U.S. Capitol.

It also involves his role in trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. There are also investigations into his real estate and financial record keeping among other things that Democrats say show a lot more clearly his wrongdoing and criminal behavior.

HANS: Look, Lexi's being super polite and super judicious, I will be less polite and less judicious. Democrats are somewhere between annoyed and anger that this is the case that could potentially be first. They all think when you talk to Democrats privately, and it's even seeping out in public, that this is the worst case to bring if you wanna put Donald Trump behind bars.

NIALA: Hans, what have we heard from the Biden administration and from the White House about this?

HANS: Zero. Nothing. Right. I mean, first rule of politics, if your opponent is in trouble, you don't necessarily try to get him out of that trouble. So the White House is not weighed in at all on his legal peril. They are obviously watching it very closely, but they have been studiously indifferent to the entire affair.

NIALA: Hans, one thing we have heard from the Biden administration this week is about TikTok. We just heard from Ashley Gold about how yesterday's hearing went. What is the White House indicating that it wants from TikTok?

HANS: They just want a sale. That's the easiest solution here. Now, whether or not a sale is actually easy is an entirely different matter. It's a really expensive company. But the Biden administration so clearly just wants this, they want TikTok users to be able to continue to be influencers, but they don't want the data going to China, and they want that to be totally separate.

NIALA: There's also bipartisan support that TikTok should be banned. Alexi, Hans, does that make a difference?

ALEXI: Well, it certainly helps given the dynamics of Congress, right? Obviously having them in agreement on anything is rare and notable. So it definitely, I think, helps when the president is on board as well.

NIALA: Axios is Alexia McCammond and Hans Nichols part of our politics team. Thank you all.

In a moment, the college basketball players making millions off of March Madness.


How college basketball stars are cashing in on March Madness

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

March Madness is in full swing, and it's been almost two years since NCAA athletes were granted the right to earn sponsorship and endorsement money from their name, image, and likeness. This season, college basketball players are taking full advantage of these NIL opportunities. Axios’ Jeff Tracy is here with the big picture. Hey Jeff.

JEFF TRACY: Hey, Niala.

NIALA: So we're right now in the Sweet 16 for both the men's and the women's college basketball tournaments. Some of these athletes have signed deals with major companies like Nike or Pringles. Who are some of these star earners and how much are they making?

JEFF: Caitlin Clark, the Iowa Superstar, she's got a Nike deal, Drew Timme of Gonzaga's men's team, uh, he's signed with Pringles. None bigger probably than Miami's twins, Haley and Hannah Cavinder, who are just massive social media stars. They built up a, you know, four plus million following on TikTok during the pandemic. And, this is their first season in Miami after transferring. And they made a combined $2 million last year alone. And that's just showing the changing, you know, tides of college sports. Making $50 a few years ago was grounds for suspension or, you know, recruiting violations. And now you can very legally make millions of dollars.

NIALA: So Haley and Hannah Cavinder also, though, were at the center of the first ever NIL infraction. What happened there?

JEFF: Yeah, they didn't actually get in trouble themselves, but basically it stemmed from their recruitment to Miami. I mentioned they, uh, you know, were transfers. They had been at Fresno State before. And basically the Miami coach sort of put them in touch with John Ruiz, who is this mega booster at Miami. Ruiz has been giving millions of dollars in NIL money to Miami athletes, which again, that's legal. There was just a little bit of, you know, what the NCAA deemed impermissible contact in terms of setting up that meeting. And so Miami's coach and the program itself were hit with a couple sanctions. So, it could set some sort of precedent going forward.

NIALA: So basketball players have earned nearly a third of all NIL money since this started back in July 2021. What do you think that says in particular about basketball and basketball players?

JEFF: I mean, it's such a popular sport, right? It's trumped only by football, which that's no surprise. Football players have made over half of all NIL money. And it really is just that big three. I think it's 55% of the money has gone to football players, and 20% has gone to men's basketball players and 10% to, uh, women's basketball players. No other sport in college has gotten more than 2% of this money.

But I think really more than anything, it's important to remember that for every, you know, Cavinder twin, there are thousands of athletes out there who are just making a couple hundred bucks here and there on a sponsored Instagram post. That's really sort of what we thought NIL was supposed to be about at its core – these kids who've been playing hard and making money for their schools for years and unable to earn any money off that. Suddenly they can sort of supplement their income or non-income as just a college student.

NIALA: Axios Sports’ Jeff Tracy. Thanks Jeff.

JEFF: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: That’s all for this week. Axios Today is produced by Robin Linn, Fonda Mwangi, Lydia McMullen-Laird - and Naomi Shavin - who we’re saying goodbye to today! Naomi worked on not just Axios Today but our How It Happened podcasts - and we wish her the best!

Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Alexandra Botti is our supervising producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is Axios’ editor in chief. And special thanks this week to Axios’s Executive Editor, Aja Whitaker-Moore.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Stay safe, enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you back here on Monday.

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