Oct 19, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🏈 ⚽ Happy Saturday! Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 942 words ... < 4 minutes.

1 big thing: The power of authoritarian hush money

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The same American CEOs and celebrities who publish bold op-eds and stand up for social issues in the U.S. are playing censor for Beijing and cozying up to the Saudi royals, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.

  • Why it matters: Never before have authoritarian governments' ability to silence America's rich and powerful been so starkly on display.

The latest: China has been twisting the NBA's arm over a single pro-Hong Kong tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

  • The threat of losing access to the massive, lucrative Chinese market has pushed the NBA, Morey and even LeBron James to bend to the Chinese Communist Party.

The big picture: It's not just China. American companies have long ignored attacks against democratic values in authoritarian countries that are willing to shell out for their products or services.

  • The American intelligence community acknowledges that the Kremlin interfered in an American presidential election and committed a nerve agent attack on British soil. But American corporations still maintain strong ties to the regime, even though the U.S. has had sanctions in place against Russia since 2014.

Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by the Saudi royal family, but it's business as usual between U.S. companies and the Saudi government.

  • The Saudis are the biggest customers for American weapons and the biggest source of capital for Silicon Valley startups.
  • Wall Street is still vying for the IPO of Saudi oil giant Aramco — a deal that could be worth up to $2 trillion.

But no country has pushed American people and companies around like China.

  • The list is almost endless. The American companies that have apologized to China or censored themselves to please the Chinese Communist Party include Marriott, the Gap, all three big airlines, shoemaker Vans and gaming company Activision Blizzard.

What to watch: China is only getting richer.

2. ⚖️ Impeachment state of play
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney gives briefing on Thursday. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

WashPost lead print headline: "Republicans' frustration with Trump is rising ... MOVES ON SYRIA, UKRAINE, G-7 DIM SUPPORT ... A growing reluctance to 'defend the indefensible.'"

  • Why it matters: "There’s now a growing sense among a quiet group of Republicans that the president is playing with fire, taking their loyalty for granted."

Milestones ... First House R "thinking about" impeachment ... Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), asked whether he thinks Trump's conduct is impeachable, said: "I'm still thinking about it."

  • Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ran against Trump in the 2016 primary, said for the first time that he supports impeachment — but still not removal.

In a lunch with Republican colleagues on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell portrayed President Trump's impeachment by the House, and therefore trial by the Senate, as all but inevitable. (N.Y. Times)

  • George Kent, a career State Department official overseeing Ukraine policy, testified Tuesday "that he had raised concerns in early 2015 about then-Vice President Joe Biden’s son serving on the board of a Ukrainian energy company but was turned away by a Biden staffer." (WashPost)
Trump supporters hold a "Stop Impeachment" rally Thursday. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
3. Living history
The New York Times
After 1,000 days of the Trump Show, the capacity for surprise has long since diminished and comments or actions that would have set off days of front-page coverage and howls from Capitol Hill now barely register.
The shocker that consumed Twitter three hours ago is so quickly overwhelmed by the next one that it seems impossible to digest any single moment to assess its meaning or consequences.
— Peter Baker of The New York Times, "On Day 1,001, Trump Made It Clear: Being 'Presidential' Is Boring: If he acted 'presidential,' Mr. Trump said Thursday night in Dallas, 'everybody would be out of here so fast.'"
Bonus: Quiet end to convulsive email saga
Hillary Clinton speaks about the FBI inquiry into her emails during a campaign rally in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Oct. 29, 2016. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters

The State Department completed its internal investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of private email and found violations by 38 people, some of whom may face disciplinary action, AP reports.

  • The investigation, launched more than three years ago, determined that those 38 people were "culpable" in 91 cases of sending classified information that ended up in Clinton's personal email.

The letter said investigators had found "no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information."

  • The investigation covered 33,000 emails. The department said it found 588 violations involving information then or now deemed to be classified, but could not assign fault in 497 cases.
4. WeWork value plunges
Graphic: Reuters

"SoftBank Group Corp. is assembling a rescue financing plan for WeWork that may value the office-sharing company below $8 billion," per Bloomberg.

  • Why it matters: "The new figure is a fraction of the $47 billion valuation the startup commanded as recently as January."
5. 💂🏽 Parliament sits on Saturday for first time in 37 years
The prime minister faces opposition lawmakers. Photo: House of Commons via AP

With leaders across Europe tuning in, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said defiantly that he won't negotiate a further delay to leave the European Union, after Parliament voted today to postpone a vote on his Brexit deal. (Reuters)

  • The House of Commons, with the Palace of Westminster fittingly clad in scaffolding, sat on a weekend for the first time since 1982, during the Falklands crisis.
  • The delay turned what was being called "Super Saturday" into "Try Again Tuesday" or "Torture Tuesday," per a commentator on BBC World.

This has gone on three years: Britain voted on June 23, 2016, to leave the EU.

  • 🇬🇧 Go deeper with Axios' Dave Lawler, an alumnus of The Daily Telegraph.
6. 1 giant leap for womankind
NASA via AP

Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir exit the International Space Station yesterday as the world’s first female spacewalking team.

Girl Scouts and parents sent messages of thanks and encouragement via social media.

  • "Go girls go," two young sisters wrote on a sign in crayon.
  • A group of middle schoolers held a long sign: "The sky is not the limit!!" (AP)

Go higher: Women comprise about 34% of NASA's workforce, as Axios' Miriam Kramer told you yesterday in Axios PM. (Don't miss out on PM!)

Mike Allen

📱 Thanks for reading Axios AM. Please invite your friends to sign up here.