Exclusive: Uber shareholder group wants Benchmark off board - Axios
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Exclusive: Uber shareholder group wants Benchmark off board

Sam Jayne / Axios

A group of Uber investors has asked that venture capital firm Benchmark step down from the company's board of directors, Axios has learned. It also wants Benchmark to divest enough shares so as to no longer have board appointment rights, claiming to have enough investor interest to handle more than a $6 billion sale. The move comes one day after Benchmark sued former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick for fraud, in an attempt to have him removed from the board.

Benchmark has not yet responded to a request for comment.

  • Details: The shareholder group communicated its request via a petition-style email sent earlier this morning to other Uber investors and its board of directors, which has a meeting scheduled for today. Its basic argument is that Benchmark's action only complicates the company's already-troubled search for a new CEO, and effectively violates Benchmark's fiduciary duty to the company.
  • Who signed the request? Shervin Pishevar (Sherpa Capital, although signed as an individual), Ron Burkle (Yucaipa Cos) and Adam Leber (Maverick).
  • Why it matters: It was shocking enough for a major venture capital firm to sue the CEO of a highly-valuable portfolio company. For other VC firms to then make this sort of counter-move against a peer is similarly unprecedented. It's a brave new world in Silicon Valley.

Below is full text of the email, which was obtained by Axios:

As a group of shareholders of Uber Technologies, Inc. (the "Company") we were surprised and distressed to learn through the media of the lawsuit brought by your firm against the Company, and its founder and former Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick.

Naturally, we share your concerns about the problems that the Company has
confronted in recent months, but we are greatly concerned about the tactics employed by
Benchmark to address them, which strike us as ethically dubious and, critically, value-destructive
rather than value enhancing.
Specifically, we do not feel it was either prudent or necessary from the standpoint
of shareholder value, to hold the company hostage to a public relations disaster by demanding
Mr. Kalanick's resignation, along with other concessions, on a few hours' notice and within
weeks of a personal tragedy, under threat of public scandal. Even less so your escalation of this
fratricidal course – notwithstanding Mr. Kalanick's resignation – through your recent lawsuit,
which we fear will cost the company public goodwill, interfere with fundraising and impede the
critical search for a new, world-class Chief Executive Officer. Benchmark has used false
allegations from lawsuits like Waymo as a matter of fact and this and many actions has crossed
the fiduciary line.
Benchmark's investment of $27M is worth $8.4 billion today and you are suing
the founder, the company and the employees who worked so hard to create such unprecedented
value. We ask you to please consider the lives of these employees and allow them to continue to
grow this company in peace and make it thrive. These actions do the opposite.
Accordingly, we would request that Benchmark help the Company realize its
full potential by allowing the necessary work to be done in the Board Room rather than the
Courtroom. To this end, at this point, in light of your suit against the Company, we believe it
would be best, and hereby request, that Benchmark remove its representative from the
Company's Board and move promptly to divest itself of enough shares in the Company so as to
cease to have Board appointment rights. We have investors ready to acquire these shares as soon
as we receive communication from Benchmark that they are willing to withdraw their lawsuit
and sell a minimum of 75% of their holdings.
We are also asking for a symbolic Board of Directors vote on this matter at
today's Board meeting to show how the Board of Directors stands on this lawsuit brought against
the company, its founder and the 15,000 employees of Uber who have all worked so hard in
concert to create the fastest growing company in history.
Many other shareholders share our views and will be adding their names in the days ahead. Any shareholders who want to join this letter and petition may email one of our signatories of this letter so that we can submit a final list of shareholders who support this request. Emails can be addressed to Shervin Pishevar at UberShareholderAlliance@gmail.com.

Sincerely,
Shervin Pishevar
Personal Investor, Advisor and Former Uber Board Observer (2011-2015) Coordinator, Uber Shareholder Alliance
Ron Burkle
Chairman
Yucaipa Companies
Adam Leber
Partner, Maverick
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Conservative leaders ready to defend Dina Powell

Molly Riley, Evan Vucci, Nati Harnik / AP

As Steve Bannon plans his outside war against his "globalist" enemies in the administration, some high-profile conservative movement leaders are signaling they'll vouch for one of his targets — deputy national security adviser Dina Powell.

  • The influential social conservative leader Ralph Reed tweeted on Friday: "Sloppy reporting falsely claims Dina Powell is a moderate or liberal in the WH. Wrong. She is a a solid conservative & a woman of faith."
  • Ken Mehlman, co-chair of the American Enterprise Institute followed: ".@ralphreed is right. Have known Dina Powell for 22 yrs. Reagan conservative from the beginning & pushing peace through strength on NSC..."

Why this matters: Bannon tells friends that Powell belongs to a group of "globalists" or "West Wing Democrats" that have taken over the West Wing and threaten President Trump's agenda. Breitbart is sure to continue its war against Powell — in fact, it's only going to ramp up — but she's spent years in Republican politics and will have high-profile defenders across the conservative movement.

Other conservative leaders and Trump allies who've previously supported Powell:

  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich: "Worked with Dina Powell on the Contract with America and @Scaramucci is right." (Referring to a similarly supportive tweet from Anthony Scaramucci
  • Senior Trump campaign official David Urban: "I have known/worked with Dina for 20 years - she is a Patriot! on the Hill, at RNC, or in the WH, America is lucky she is willing to serve!"
  • Hawkish Republican Sen. Tom Cotton: "Dina Powell is an outstanding choice for deputy national security adviser. She has years of experience working both in the business world and at many different levels of government, including Congress, the White House, and the State Department. In that time, she has earned the deep respect of her colleagues..."
  • Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: "Congrats to my friend Dina Powell on being appointed Deputy National Security Advisor. Experienced, very smart, and very talented."
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Bannon: "The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over"

Andrew Harnik / AP

After confirming his White House departure, Bannon told The Weekly Standard on Friday, "The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over," noting that now that he is gone, it will be "that much harder" for Trump to achieve wins, like the border wall.

"We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over. It'll be something else. And there'll be all kinds of fights, and there'll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over."

Bannon predicts that moves coming from the White House are about to get much more "conventional" due to what he predicts will be a flood of moderates on the Hill. "They're not populists, they're not nationalists, they had no interest in his program."

Be smart: Axios' Jonathan Swan says Bannon's comments will enrage Trump, who already thinks Bannon took too much credit for his victory and the movement that propelled it.

More highlights...

Zinger: "I'd always planned on spending one year...I want to get back to Breitbart."

Bannon's thoughts on Trump's true nature: "I think you saw it this week on Charlottesville – his actual default position is the position of his base"

Closing quote: "I feel jacked up...Now I'm free. I've got my hands back on my weapons. Someone said, 'it's Bannon the Barbarian.' I am definitely going to crush the opposition. There's no doubt. I built a f***ing machine at Breitbart. And now I'm about to go back, knowing what I know, and we're about to rev that machine up. And rev it up we will do."

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Carl Icahn is done advising Trump

Henny Ray Abrams / AP

Carl Icahn announced over Twitter that he will no longer advise Trump on regulatory issues:

Icahn wrote in his letter to Trump after telling the President he didn't want "partisan bickering" to call into question his role. He reiterated that he "had no duties whatsoever" and didn't profit from his unofficial advisory role. (His second tweet linked to the letter.) That comes after a deluge of critiques from Democrats about conflicts of interest.

Exit recap: This exit comes the same week as Trump's remarks about "both sides" being responsible for violence in Charlottesville, which led to the mass exodus of CEOs from Trump's special councils, Trump's move to shut down the manufacturing and strategy and policy forum, along with the infrastructure council. Plus today the arts and humanities committee resigned over Trump's Charlottesville response.

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Judge shuts down key Uber argument in Waymo lawsuit

AP

A federal judge has denied Uber's attempt to use a key argument to explain why a former employee downloaded files prior to leaving his job at Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving car unit.

What's next: Uber still has to show that it didn't know about Levandowski's alleged downloading of Waymo files (at least until this meeting in March), and that it was not as part of a plan to steal Waymo's technology. The case is set to go to jury trial in October.

"We had hoped that the jury and the public could hear the reasons Levandowski gave for his downloading files, which had nothing to do with Uber," Uber said in a statement. "The fact remains, and will be demonstrated at trial, that none of those files came to Uber."

The details: Recently, Uber's lawyers told the court that the former employee, Anthony Levandowski, told its then-CEO and in-house counsel in March that he downloaded the files as insurance that Waymo pay him a $120 million bonus. However, Uber also attempted to argue that while this particular meeting shouldn't be confidential (and could therefore use this defense), others that took place that same evening are confidential because lawyers were present to give advice. The judge ruled Friday that Uber can't separate the meetings out.

"Anthony Levandowski's supposed excuse for downloading more than 14,000 confidential Waymo files was self-serving and more than just suspicious – it was entirely made-up," said Waymo in a statement. "The extreme measures he took to try to erase the digital fingerprints of his actions completely belie any benign motive."

The story has been updated with statements from the companies.

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Trump elevates Cyber Command

Andrew Harnik / AP

Trump approved an Obama-era plan Friday to elevate Cyber Command, currently housed at the National Security Agency (NSA), to be a Unified Combatant Command.

Why it matters: This shows the U.S. is getting serious about dealing with cyber warfare. The move will also help the U.S. bolster its cyber weapons so it can match Russia's capabilities, three U.S. officials told Reuters, and improve America's ability to interfere in foreign adversaries' military programs when necessary.

Effect: This moves shakes Cyber Command up a bit and gives it some operational independence, although it's not entirely separate from the NSA — yet. Trump's announcement raised the possibility that it could eventually be entirely split off, which would grant it new powers as a standalone unit reporting directly to Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Then it would be the 10th unified command in the U.S. military. Commands are organized by region (for example, Pacific Command) and by responsibility (for example, Transportation Command) and report directly to the defense secretary, per Military.com.

What's next: Cyber Command now needs a nomination for a new leader, which will likely be recommended by Mattis.

Go deeper with Axios' breakdown of the top cyber powers in the world and see where the U.S. stands.

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Trump signs FDA funding bill into law

AP

President Trump has signed into law a bill reauthorizing the user fees that help fund the Food and Drug Administration.

  • It was one of the last bills the Senate passed before leaving for the August recess, and it could have easily turned into a battle, since the Trump administration wanted to restructure the medical product user fees to make the industry pay the full cost of product reviews.
  • But congressional Republicans and Democrats ignored the request, and the administration didn't push the issue.
  • Notable: It's one of the rare health care bills that's significant and yet passed easily, with bipartisan support and without a fight — and it could be one of the last for a while.
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Dell Tech CEO sends Charlottesville email denouncing violence

AP Photo/John Locher

Despite initially deciding to stay on President Trump's American Manufacturing Council (though it was ultimately disbanded), Dell Technologies founder and CEO Michael Dell has now sent an email to employees, denouncing the events last weekend in Charlottesville.

About face: Dell's email is notable because he was one of the few members on the council not to resign following Trump's press conference on Tuesday where he addressed the weekend's events in Charlottesville, saying there was violence on "both sides." This email comes after Trump abruptly dissolved the council on Thursday (and another decided to disband).

Read the whole email:

At the most basic level human emotion can be divided into into love or hate. Hate is evil and we've seen far too much hate lately whether in Charlottesville, Barcelona or elsewhere.
Our company is a place where everyone is welcome. Our team members come from all backgrounds, religions, nationalities, genders and races. This is one of our greatest strengths and we thrive in this culture. Hatred, violence, racism and terrorism like the kind we have seen last weekend in Virginia and more recently in Barcelona are driven only by evil and seek to divide us. These actions and any who support them have no place in our global society.
Our culture code (dell.com/learn/ly/en/ly…) is at the heart of our commitment and it details the expectations we have for our team members and our company. These recent events only strengthen our resolve to make an even greater positive difference in the world.
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What you missed while following Charlottesville

AP

All eyes were on Charlottesville this week as far-right hate groups clashed with counter protesters over the weekend and President Trump gave a shocking press conference dividing blame between white supremacists and the "alt-left."

But the other defining stories of Trump's presidency — the Russia probe, the North Korean threat and the opioid crisis — haven't slowed down. Here's what you might have missed:

Mueller's investigation

  • A top FBI investigator left Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation team, per ABC's sources. "The recent departure of FBI veteran Peter Strzok is the first known hitch in a secretive probe that by all public accounts is charging full-steam ahead," Mike Levine of ABC reports.
  • Strzok, who was part of the team that investigated Hillary Clinton's private email servers, is now working for the FBI's human resources division. His reason for leaving the Russia probe is unclear.

The opioid emergency

  • "The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I'm saying officially, right now, it is an emergency ... It's a national emergency. We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis," Trump said last week. But, in the week following his announcement, the president has not taken the legal steps necessary to implement national emergency protocol.
  • The steps: Trump first needs to give official notice to Congress that he is declaring a national emergency. Then the declaration is published in the Federal Register.
  • The unknowns: Without an official declaration, it is unclear how the Trump administration plans to respond to the opioid crisis. It could be a mobilization of medical resources or a mobilization of law enforcement — two very different things, Rachel Sachs, a law professor at the Washington University in St. Louis, told Axios.

The North Korean threat

  • North Korea backed off of Guam on Monday after threatening to launch missiles at the U.S. territory.
  • Trump's "fire and fury" comment may have helped, Rand political analyst Andrew Scobell told CNBC. "I think the rhetoric from the president does register in Pyongyang, and it has been noted in Beijing," Scobell says.
  • Trump tweeted: "Kim Jong Un of North Korea made a very wise and well reasoned decision. The alternative would have been both catastrophic and unacceptable!"

NAFTA renegotiations

  • The U.S. perspective: In the renegotiation of the 23-year-old trade deal, the United States' goals are to reform "problems perceived by Trump, such as trade deficits, rules of origin, currency manipulation and market-distorting practices," CNBC reports. "I want to be clear, [the president] is not interested in a mere tweaking of a few provisions," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said.
  • The Mexican perspective: "While Mexican government negotiators fought tooth and nail to save the North American Free Trade Agreement during talks in Washington, thousands of Mexican farmers and workers took to the streets on Wednesday demanding the deal be scrapped," per Reuters.
  • The Canadian perspective: One White House goal is "scrapping NAFTA's dispute-resolution panels, which have sometimes ruled in Canada's favor on softwood lumber and other trade issues," according to Canada's Globe and Mail. Canadian officials will inevitably challenge this, as they have done in the past.
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Civil rights commission condemns ban on transgender troops

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

The U.S. Commission of Civil Rights voted to condemn the ban on transgender troops, which President Trump announced on Twitter last month. The commission has urged Trump to reverse his position. There has not been any formal implementation of the ban since the president's announcement.

Key quote: "The President's mere announcement of a ban on transgender military service harms all Americans by sending a message that fosters and encourages prejudice, inconsistent with our core national values. If implemented, the ban would further harm Americans, and weaken our defense, by enshrining unequal treatment of Americans based on rank stereotype."

One more thing: The commission noted that Trump's ban announcement came 69 years, to the day, after President Truman desegregated the military.

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Bannon's billionaire meeting to plot a path forward

Evan Vucci / AP

Bob Mercer and Steve Bannon had a five hour meeting Wednesday to plot out next steps, said a source with knowledge of the meeting.

They plotted strategy going forward — both political and media strategy. The meeting was at Mercer's estate on Long Island. Mercer had dinner the next night at Bedminster with President Trump and a small group of donors. The source said Mercer and Bannon "remain strong supporters of President Trump's and his agenda."