May 12, 2018

Axios AM

Good Saturday morning. Tomorrow is Mother's Day. 31 days until the North Korea summit.

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1 big thing: The public case against Trump

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

One thing is true of all major political scandals: What we know in the moment is but a tiny, obscured, partial view of the full story later revealed by investigators.

  • That’s what makes the Trump-Russia drama all the more remarkable.
  • Forget all we don’t know. The known facts that even Trump’s closest friends don’t deny tell a damning tale that would sink most leaders. 

Here's a guide that Jim VandeHei and I put together to the known knowns of Russia:

  • We know Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chair, has been indicted on 32 counts, including conspiracy and money laundering. We know he made millions off shady Russians and changed the Republican platform to the benefit of Russia. 
  • We know that the U.S. intelligence community concluded, in a report released in January 2017, that Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” to “denigrate” Hillary Clinton and with “a clear preference for ... Trump.”
  • We know that in May 2016, Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat Russia had political dirt on Hillary. "About three weeks earlier," according to the N.Y. Times, "Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton."
  • We know that in June 2016, Trump’s closest aides and family members met at Trump Tower with a shady group of Russians who claimed to have dirt on Hillary. The meeting was billed as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
  • We know the Russian lawyer who helped set it up concealed her close ties to Putin government.
  • We know that in July 2016, Trump said: "Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary] emails that are missing,” and urged their publication.
  • We know that on Air Force One a year later, Trump helped his son, Don Jr., prepare a misleading statement about the meeting. We know top aides freaked out about this. 
  • We know Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting.
  • We know Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and close campaign aide, lied to Vice President Pence and the FBI about his Russia-related chats. We know he’s now cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller. We know Trump initially tried to protect Flynn with loyalty and fervency rarely shown by Trump to others. 
  • We know that during the transition, Jared Kushner spoke with the Russian ambassador "about establishing a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow." We know Kushner omitted previous contacts with Russians on his disclosure forms. 
  • We know Trump initially lied about why he fired James Comey, later admitting he was canned because of the “Russia thing.” 
  • We know Michael Cohen was a close adviser and lawyer, the fixer and secret-keeper. We know Trump seethed when the FBI raided Cohen's office.
  • We know that in January 2016, just before Republicans began voting, Michael Cohen tried to restart a Trump Tower project in Moscow.
  • We know Mueller questioned a Russian oligarch tied to a firm that made payments to Cohen, who paid off a porn star who allegedly had an affair with Trump. [Updated]
  • We know that oligarch was a bad enough dude that the Trump administration sanctioned him.

Be smart: The undisputed known knowns about Trump, Russia and his associates are damning and possibly actionable. But the known unknowns of how much more Robert Mueller knows that is publicly unknown is what spooks Trump allies most. 

  • Remember: No one in the media saw Mueller’s indictments of Russian oligarchs coming until the second they were announced, and no one knew until this week that Mueller’s team questioned AT&T five months ago about its payments to Cohen.
  • Mueller has every incentive to keep the public and Trump himself in suspense. 
2. Russian ads focused overwhelmingly on race
George Petras/USA Today (Used by permission)

"We read every one of the 3,517 Facebook ads bought by Russians. Their dominant strategy: Sowing racial discord" — USA Today's Nick Penzenstadler, Brad Heath and Jessica Guynn:

  • "Of the roughly 3,500 ads published this week [by the House Intelligence Committee], more than half — about 1,950 — made express references to race. Those accounted for 25 million ad impressions — a measure of how many times the spot was pulled from a server for transmission to a device."
  • "At least 25% of the ads centered on issues involving crime and policing, often with a racial connotation. Separate ads, launched simultaneously, would stoke suspicion about how police treat black people in one ad, while another encouraged support for pro-police groups."
  • "Divisive racial ad buys averaged about 44 per month from 2015 through the summer of 2016 before seeing a significant increase in the run-up to Election Day."
  • This is interesting: "An additional 900 [race-related spots] were posted after the November election through May 2017."
  • "Only about 100 of the ads overtly mentioned support for Donald Trump or opposition to Hillary Clinton."
  • Go deeper.
3. The collision: D.C. and business
President Trump meets with auto execs in the Roosevelt Room yesterday. (Alex Edelman/Pool/Getty Images)
  • Drug industry relieve by Trump price proposal: "[T]he announcement ... represented a shift and arguably a reversal for Mr. Trump, who ... said he would embrace more far-reaching ideas." (Wall Street Journal)
  • AT&T’s top Washington official out over hiring of Trump’s lawyer: "Robert Quinn, a veteran lobbyist and attorney who’d led the office, was forced out and AT&T’s Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson ... called the hiring of [Michael] Cohen a 'big mistake.'" (Bloomberg)
  • "Michael Cohen ... made an overture to provide consulting services to Ford ... in January 2017 but was quickly rebuffed ... Mueller’s team has ... requested information about the outreach, including emails and records." (WSJ)
  • Open Skies: "The United States and United Arab Emirates signed a deal ... to resolve U.S. claims that Gulf carriers have received unfair government subsidies. ... UAE said it agreed to ensure financial transparency." (Reuters)
Bonus: Pic du jour
AP's Jae C. Hong

Hannique Ruder — a 65-year-old resident of the Leilani Estates subdivision, near Pahoa, Hawaii, hard hit by the eruption — stands on the mound of hardened lava.

  • Below, smoke and volcanic gas rise as lava cools yesterday in Leilani Estates.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
4. Eye-opening California stat
Gov. Jerry Brown said yesterday that as few as 15,000 tax filers in the state provide one-quarter of all income taxes.
Los Angeles Times
5. The downside of D.C. being suddenly hip

Tomorrow's WashPost Magazine cover story, "The downside of cool: How Washington's emergence as a hip city threatens American democracy," by David Fontana of George Washington University Law School, who's writing a book on the lost history and current merits of placing federal officials outside of D.C.:

  • Why it matters: "The fear is not just that cool Washington will increasingly struggle to relate to America, but also that America will struggle to relate to it."
  • "Ben’s Chili Bowl defined the Washington of old, but the new Washington was rated by Zagat as the nation’s hottest dining city in 2016. The capital received its first stars from Michelin that same year."
  • "Cool Washington has so far survived the Trump siege. Washington has neither featured an exodus of govsters nor the closure of places that govsters frequent. The progressive cool are out of government but still in Washington, and are spearheading the resistance."
  • Worthy of your time.
6. 1 film thing: Gary Hart movie coming this fall
Sony Pictures

"Sony Pictures has secured worldwide distribution rights to Jason Reitman’s political drama The Front Runner and is planning a fall release to coincide with film awards season as well as the fall election cycle," per Deadline:

  • "Starring Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart as well as Vera Farmiga, and J.K. Simmons, the film details the rise and fall of Hart, considered the frontrunner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination."
  • "The film is based on veteran political journalist Matt Bai’s book All the Truth Is Out, which was adapted for the screen by Bai, former Hillary Clinton press secretary Jay Carson, and Reitman." (hat tip: Howard Wolfson)

Thanks for reading, and happy Mother's Day weekend.