Jul 10, 2017

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen
1 big thing: "A nothing meeting"

The new story about Trump's inner circle meeting a Russian is damaging because of who was there, when it happened, what they were up to, and the fact that the explanation changed radically over the weekend.

On Saturday, N.Y. Times had disclosed that the Trump Tower meeting last June with "a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin" had been convened by Don Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, and included son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

A day later, the bombshell: The meeting was not primarily about adoption policy, as Trump Jr. had suggested in a statement. Don Jr. had been "promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton."

The NYT's Maggie Haberman pointed out on Twitter: "This meeting took place at a pivotal moment for Trump, winning Indiana but facing delegate slog prospect."

Under the for-history headline of "TRUMP TEAM MET RUSSIAN OFFERING DIRT ON CLINTON," The Times says: "The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help."

  • From Don Jr.'s statement: "[T]he woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information."
  • Just hours before the new story, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on "Fox News Sunday" that it was "a nothing meeting": "[I]t was a meeting apparently about Russian adoption."
  • Intrigue, tweeted by Axios' Jonathan Swan: "Sources close to Trump are discussing which 'advisers to the White House' [how The Times described sources] might want revenge against Don Jr."

Be smart: Intent will be a crucial consideration in whatever special counsel Bob Mueller comes up with. So the reason for this meeting, the changing story, and the foot-dragging on disclosure are all going to matter. It's why veteran Republicans operatives remain mystified that Trump's orbit is going the drip-drip route rather than disclosing all at once what's known about meetings with Russians. Email du jour, from a top Republican: "[T]ranquilize the president so he does not tweet about it."

2. Never mind

Trump tweet, 4:50 a.m. yesterday: "Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded ... and safe."

Following widespread ridicule of the idea (including from Republicans), Trump tweeted at 5:45 p.m.: "The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't-but a ceasefire can,& did!"

3. Signs of trouble ...

... for the Senate health-care bill as Congress returns to town:

  • Sen John McCain (R-Ariz.) on "Face the Nation": "It's probably going to be dead."
  • Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) on "Fox News Sunday": "Is the serious rewrite plan dead? I don't know. I've not seen the serious rewrite plan."
  • Wall Street Journal lead story: "The focus on possible steps to take if Senate Republicans can't unite around a health bill is the strongest sign yet of the growing pessimism ... Some Republicans now say a vote to pass a bill could stretch beyond August, if there is a vote at all."
  • Mitch McConnell has said the vote won't be the week, and the timing keeps slipping. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on "Fox News Sunday": "Whether it'd be before August recess or during August recess, the president expects the Senate to fulfill the promises it made to the American people."

Go deeper (story with the graphic above) ... "This is what Washington has been fighting about," by David Nather and Lazaro Gamio.

4. Defending investment in great journalism

Big newspaper companies band together to request a limited antitrust exemption to go after "duopoly" Facebook and Google, Axios media trends reporter Sara Fischer reports ...

  • The news: The News Media Alliance (NMA), a newspaper trade group that represents over 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada, is asking Congress for an antitrust safe harbor against Google and Facebook.
  • At issue: The group — with support from members including the N.Y. Times, WashPost and Wall Street Journal — argues that existing media competition laws prevent news organizations from working together to negotiate better deals with major internet platforms.
  • Why it matters: With the support of every major print publication, this is the first big step media industry leaders are taking to rally government action against the Google-Facebook duopoly.

Go deeper: Wall Street Journal op-ed by David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, "How Antitrust Undermines Press Freedom: Facebook and Google dominate online ads, and news companies can't join forces to compete."

5. The conversation
  • Larry Summers column in WashPost: "A corporate chief executive whose public behavior was as erratic as Trump's would already have been replaced."
  • A "senior French diplomat" to the N.Y. Times, on the U.S. as lone holdout on G20 statement reaffirming Paris climate accord: "Whatever leadership is ... it is not being outvoted, 19 to 1."
  • White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on "Fox News Sunday": "[O]ther than our small disagreement on trade and the Paris agreement, we have unification with our allies. ... The president set the stage in Europe, the leaders of the G20 came to the president, he was a star in Hamburg, and no one can take that away."
6. "Attack, Attack, Attack"

A New York magazine excerpt of Josh Green's book on Trump and Bannon — "Devil's Bargain," out a week from tomorrow — argues that the White House chief strategist (and CEO of Trump's campaign for the fall) is the reason for Trump's "double-down every time it seems like he should retreat":

"Trump loved the dropped-jaw reaction Bannon's ideas produced on cable news. ... Bannon's distinctive vocabulary was another point of his appeal. Bannon gloried in the slights and scorn directed at Trump supporters, proudly insisting that elitist Clintonites looked down on them as 'hobbits,' 'Grunions,' and — co-opting Clinton's own ill-advised term — 'deplorable.'

"Anyone who thought otherwise was a 'mook' or a 'schmendrick.' And Clinton herself was the subject of a steady stream of derision, carefully pitched to Trump's own biases and insecurities and delivered with the passion of a cornerman firing up a boxer for one last grueling round in the ring.

"Clinton, Bannon would insist, was 'a résumé,' 'a total phony,' 'terrible on the stage,' 'a grinder, but not smart,' 'a joke who hides behind a complacent media,' 'an apple-polisher who couldn't pass the D.C. bar exam,' 'thinks it's her turn' but 'has never accomplished anything in her life.'"

7. Pic du jour

As Iraq declares Mosul "liberated" from Isis, families emerge from the ruins, exhausted and mourning.

The BBC witnesses rescue teams searching for survivors in the wreckage of Mosul.

Bonus

Firefighters remove a U.S. flag from a house as major wildfires rage across California.

L.A. Times: "Raging wildfires across California force nearly 8,000 to evacuate."

8. The talk of tech: Hidden hands

"Self-driving cars prove to be labour-intensive for humans: Building the road to autonomous vehicles requires a lot of costly manual input," by Financial Times' Tim Bradshaw in S.F. (subscription):

  • "Most companies working on this technology employ hundreds or even thousands of people, often in offshore outsourcing centres in India or China, whose job it is to teach the robo-cars to recognise pedestrians, cyclists and other obstacles."
  • "The workers do this by manually marking up or 'labelling' thousands of hours of video footage, often frame by frame, taken from prototype vehicles driving around testbeds such as Silicon Valley, Pittsburgh and Phoenix."
  • "[H]umans will still be needed behind the scenes for many years to come, drawing boxes around trees and highlighting road signs, in order to keep these systems fresh."
9. "I’m like a kid in a candy store"

WashPost Style front, "CNN's Jim Acosta airs the news — and his irritation," by Paul Farhi:

  • CNN's senior White House correspondent "has said on the air that White House press secretary Sean Spicer's unresponsive answers were rendering him 'just kind of useless' as a credible source; that the ever-briefer briefings have become 'basically pointless'; that covering this White House has at times been like 'covering bad reality television.'"
  • "Spicer effectively blames Acosta ... when he suggests that live audio and video coverage of the briefings was curtailed because of 'grandstanding' by some reporters."
  • "In an interview, Spicer denounced Acosta in some of the harshest terms a press secretary has used ... 'If Jim Acosta reported on Jim Acosta the way he reports on us, he'd say he hasn't been very honest ... He's the prime example of a [reporter in a] competitive, YouTube, click-driven industry.'"
10. 1 fun thing: Arianna will love

"Under the covers: Sleep technology explodes," by AP's Anne D'Innocenzio:

"Pillows that track your snoozing patterns ... A bed that adjusts based on how much you twist and turn ... One of the more expensive products is Sleep Number's 360 Smart Bed, which runs from $3,449 to $4,999. It makes adjustments based on how restless people are while they're sleeping.

"The Zeeq pillow, which sells for $299 and is from bedding brand REM-Fit, monitors snoring and can gently vibrate to nudge someone into a different sleep position."

Mike Allen