May 24, 2018

Axios AM

Good Thursday morning.

Pop into the stream to see what President Trump says this morning on "Fox & Friends."

1 big thing: Trump’s torch-it-all strategy

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

We might be numb to so many attacks on so many groups so often that it
obscures how President Trump has torched virtually every institution
that could one day hold him accountable.

  • Trump's language is getting darker and more ominous, suggesting the FBI's activities during the 2016 elections were "bigger than Watergate," and yesterday claiming a “criminal deep state” conspiracy to get him. 

It’s like a gigantic, presidential whack-a-mole, with Trump pounding
any new threat as it pops up, leaving nothing to chance. Here’s a look at the people and institutions that Trump has set his sights on — all in recent days:

  • The media
  • The Justice Department
  • The FBI
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions
  • Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
  • The intelligence community
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller
  • Mueller’s team of prosecutors
  • New York state investigators and prosecutors
  • Democrats on intel committees
  • Unreliable GOP senators

Be smart ... This adapts a classic Trump technique that he used during the campaign: constant, withering criticism combined with brutal belittling, in an effort to create tectonic shifts in voter attitudes.

  • Trump used this combination to eviscerate the GOP field, then shrink Hillary from a political colossus.
  • Axios' Neal Rothschild points out that Trump targets get accused of the worst possible behavior in the most vicious terms — accusations that are more exaggerated and stinging than from any other official.
  • The reputations of these institutions have been diminished, at least among Republicans, by the president’s use of this tactic.
  • Few of the injured have found a way to fight back, beyond complaints about “unpresidential behavior."
2. Trump 101: lingo

"Trump told one ally this week that he wanted 'to brand' the [FBI's 2016 campaign] informant a 'spy,' believing the more nefarious term would resonate more in the media and with the public," AP reports.

  • Fact check: "F.B.I. Used Informant to Investigate Russia Ties to Campaign, Not to Spy, as Trump Claims," per N.Y. Times.

CNN's Brian Stelter points out: "In many of President Trump's comments about an alleged 'spy' in his presidential campaign, there's a tell. Usually it's the word 'if.' Sometimes it's the word 'maybe.' Or 'possibly.' Or the word 'or!'

  • "The caveats give him some wiggle room while he's promoting a full-fledged conspiracy theory."
3. First look: Former intel officials hit GOP briefing

"Resist efforts to politicize intelligence oversight" ... Five former top U.S. intelligence officials, who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, warn against plans for Justice Department officials to hold a GOP-only briefing about the role of a 2016 informant in the FBI's Russia investigation.

  • The latest plan is a briefing for two Republican House members, with a separate briefing added for the bipartisan "Gang of Eight” lawmakers who are traditionally briefed on intelligence matters.

The letter is to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi:

  • "Congressional oversight of counterintelligence investigations is one of the most important and sensitive functions of the Intelligence Committees in Congress. Traditionally, intelligence and law enforcement agencies are exceedingly careful in briefing the Committees about active counterintelligence investigations, given the sensitivity of the operational activity, the need to protect human sources, and the privacy interests of any Americans who may be involved. In our experience, such Executive Branch briefings have always been bipartisan."
  • "When oversight activity is bipartisan, it can serve as an important check on government activity. When congressional oversight is overly partisan — or focused on undermining important counterintelligence investigations — we worry about inappropriate political influence on the investigators and the erosion of a bipartisan approach to intelligence and national security. Any effort to exclude one party or the other from sensitive counterintelligence oversight briefings threatens to undermine the oversight function and sends the wrong signal about the professional, non-political manner that must govern U.S. intelligence activities."
  • "We urge you to allow congressional oversight activities to proceed in a fully bipartisan manner and to resist efforts to politicize intelligence oversight for the benefit of one party or another. Our national security depends on strong bipartisan congressional oversight."

The letter is signed by:

  • Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense and former CIA director
  • James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence
  • Michael Hayden, former CIA director
  • John Brennan, former CIA director
  • John McLaughlin, former acting CIA director
Bonus: Pic du jour

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosts Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi for a news conference yesterday in the State Department's Benjamin Franklin Room.

4. NFL players must rise for national anthem, or stay in locker room
Courtesy N.Y. Post

"NFL anthem policy will hardly silence players" — USA Today columnist Mike Jones, on the front page, from Atlanta:

  • "The NFL's 2018 season will feature a national anthem policy that virtually ends player protests, at least on the field."
  • "Under a new rule approved by the league’s owners [yesterday] at the conclusion of the spring meetings, players will now have the option of remaining in the locker room during the pre-game playing of The Star-Spangled Banner."
  • "[A]ny players opting to take the sideline for the anthem must stand or otherwise subject themselves to a fine."
  • "Owners no longer will have to deal with President Trump using this issue to further divide Americans while hammering away at the league."
  • "This is about one thing: Protecting the brand (which means protect the pocketbook). The majority of owners would have opted to just let things proceed as they had been. But a few among their ranks speak more loudly than others and wouldn’t let this slide."
  • "[D]o you really think that reporters and/or fans won’t keep tabs of who opts not to be present during the anthem?"
5. Summit looking shakier
A coin for the planned U.S.-North Korea summit, by the White House Communications Agency, depicts Trump and Kim, described as North Korea's "Supreme Leader," with "Peace Talks" emblazoned at top. (AFP/Getty Images)

Choe Son-hui, North Korea vice minister of foreign affairs, is quoted by the state-run news agency as slamming Vice President Pence as a "political dummy" for comments he made in a Fox interview comparing her country with Libya:

"We will neither beg the U.S. for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us ... Whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States."
6. Thought for the day

House Speaker Paul Ryan, in remarks prepared for this morning's 14th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast:

"We see moral relativism becoming more and more pervasive in our culture. Identity politics and tribalism have grown on top of this. All of it has been made more prevalent by 21st century technology. And there is plenty of money to be made on making it worse."
7. Early AI adopters may have edge

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A pecking order is evolving in the newest stage of the digital era: aggressive early adopters of artificial intelligence are reporting elevated earnings and may be forming "an insurmountable advantage" over rivals, writes Axios' Steve LeVine.

  • How it's happening: A new report from the McKinsey Global Institute says that companies failing to quickly embrace AI risk falling behind, paring their ability to attract top talent and leading to more concentration of market power within a few "superstar" firms.
  • At the top: Nine companies — all in the U.S. and China — are believed to tower over peers with among the best talent and little chance for anyone else to catch up. They include Google, Microsoft, Baidu and Tencent.
  • One downside: Already, researchers believe that the increasing dominance of big tech companies is partly to blame for wage stagnation in the U.S. and elsewhere, because companies left behind can't afford to pay the higher rates earned at dominant rivals.
8. Bite of the day

Toronto Councilor Joe Cressy, 33, to the N.Y. Times, on the opioid crisis:

“It’s like the AIDS crisis; we’ve had people dying for a decade and nobody cared."
9. Sneak peek: The Clintons tout "life-changing work"
Clinton Foundation

Ahead of a gala tonight in New York featuring Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, the Clinton Foundation is releasing a 2017 Impact Report with the theme “Changing Lives, Together.”

  • Why it matters: The foundation, with roots dating back 21 years, is working to stay relevant in the Trump era, with a three-part mission of "creating economic opportunity, improving public health, and inspiring civic engagement and service."
  • President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton write in a letter: “It has been a productive time for the Clinton Foundation. ... Every day, we build upon the simple belief that everyone deserves a chance to succeed, everyone has a responsibility to act, and that we all do better when we work together.”
  • See the report.

The foundation drops a 30-second video on social media, "to help broader audiences understand and share its continued mission, work, and impact."

10. 1 puck thing: The 1 thing that can bring D.C. together

"Finals, finally": With last night's 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the deciding game of the NHL's Eastern Conference finals, the Washington Capitals will play the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup, starting Monday in Nevada.

  • Why it matters, from WashPost's Dan Steinberg: "The win was a landmark moment not just for the hockey franchise, but for all of Washington sports. The Caps made their only appearance in the Stanley Cup finals 20 years ago; since then Washington’s well-chronicled playoff struggles have given the city a reputation for sporting misery."
  • "Aside from D.C. United, the city’s pro sports teams haven’t won a title since the 1992 Super Bowl, one of the longest droughts of any major U.S. city. The Caps can now end that drought with one more series win."

#RockTheRed ... #ALLCAPS ... #CapsLock