Nov 21, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🦃 Good Wednesday morning ... Best of luck with Getaway Day.

1 big thing ... Behind the scenes: Trump v. Mueller

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

President Trump delivered to Robert Mueller handwritten answers about pre-election dimensions of the Russia probe but did not answer questions about his behavior as president, including allegations of obstruction of justice — and will resist doing so in the future — his lawyer Rudy Giuliani tells Axios.

  • It is possible that Mueller will subpoena Trump regarding his activities as president. But Rudy said he has reason to suspect he won’t: "I think that he would not win a legal battle if he did that, and I think it would consume months."
  • If Mueller does, the president’s view is clear: He will refuse to cooperate. 

The high-stakes exchange with Mueller included no questions or answers about obstruction of justice. But Giuliani said: "I can't tell you he's given up on obstruction."

  • "I don't think he has any way to compel testimony on obstruction because the argument of executive privilege would be very, very strong. It all relates to a period of time after he was president."
  • "[A]ny question he has on obstruction, ... [t]he president has given [the answers] in interviews, tweets. Other witnesses have given it to him."
  • "And the law definitely requires that if you're going to subpoena a president, you have to show that you can't get the information any place else."

Giuliani expressed breezy confidence about Trump's legal position: "I don't think they have any evidence of collusion of any kind. I think their obstruction case, as a legal matter, doesn't exist."

And Giuliani suggested that he doubts Don Jr. will be indicted in connection with the Trump Tower meeting.

  • "I don't see what for," Giuliani said. "The meeting turned out to be a big bust. ... It's a very unattractive crime [for a prosecutor] when somebody meets with you and then you don't do anything."

If Donald Trump were an "ordinary client," it would've taken "four, five, six hours" and two meetings to answer Mueller's questions, Giuliani told Axios' Jonathan Swan. But the process dragged out for almost a year.

  • The Mueller questionnaire "looked like a law school exam ... one big long group of questions, that were multi-part questions," Giuliani said.
  • Giuliani said that he and fellow Trump lawyers Jay Sekulow and Jane Raskin sat with Trump whenever they could grab him, in the Oval Office and in the president's private dining room adjoining the Oval.
  • They didn't tape — the lawyers took handwritten notes of Trump's answers before having them typed up.

Giuliani wouldn't tell us what questions Mueller asked. But when pressed, he conceded Mueller asked about two subjects:

  1. Mueller asked whether Trump knew at the time about his son, Don Jr., meeting with Russians in Trump Tower.
  2. Mueller asked about the Russian hacks during the campaign that immediately followed Trump's July 27, 2016, press conference in Florida, when Trump said: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] emails that are missing."

Before submitting their answers, Giuliani and the Trump team met "not much" with Mueller himself. Giuliani said they've had "numerous telephone conferences" with the Mueller team.

  • "They're all very circumspect," Giuliani said. He said they've never given him a timeline or a sense of when the investigation would end.
  • Swan asked Giuliani whether his personal interactions with the Mueller team ever got awkward given he's been trashing them, almost daily at times, in the press. Have they ever confronted him about his attacks on their character and motives? "Hasn't come up," Giuliani said.
2. Trump's Southern exposure
President Trump walks to Marine One after talking to reporters yesterday. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Jonathan Swan asked Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani whether he thinks he knows what the Trump Organization's chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg gave federal prosecutors in his immunity deal with the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

  • "Yes. And I'm not worried about it," Giuliani said.

How could he be so sure? Has he spoken to Weisselberg?

  • Giuliani later conceded he hadn't spoken to Weisselberg. "I guess I don't know for sure," he said. "Somebody could've misled me, something new could've come up. Maybe say 'reasonably confident'. That would be a better way of phrasing it."

Why this matters: Trump told the N.Y. Times last year that Mueller would cross a red line if he started prying into his business affairs. But that's what key people in Trump's orbit worry is happening, tangentially, with the Southern District's investigation of Michael Cohen and his illegal activities while working at the Trump Organization.

  • These people have told us they're far more worried about the Cohen investigation in New York than they are about whatever Mueller comes up with.
  • Their concern: When these federal prosecutors struck an immunity deal with Weisselberg — the man who knows more about Trump's business affairs than anyone — it suddenly raised the specter of a deep investigative dive into the financial affairs of Trump's business.
3. Article of the day

"President Trump told the White House counsel in the spring that he wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute two of his political adversaries: ... Hillary Clinton, and ... James B. Comey," the N.Y. Times' Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report.

  • Then-White House Counsel Don McGahn "had White House lawyers write a memo for Mr. Trump warning that if he asked law enforcement to investigate his rivals, he could face a range of consequences, including possible impeachment."

Why it matters: "Perhaps more than any president since Richard M. Nixon, Mr. Trump has been accused of trying to exploit his authority over law enforcement."

4. Worthy of your Thanksgiving thoughts

N.Y. Times Quote of the Day ... Thomas D. Allman, the sheriff of Mendocino County, Calif., who said he expected the toll of the Camp Fire, in which nearly 700 people are still missing, to keep growing in the weeks and months to come:

  • "I think we are going to have a lot of elderly people who were wiped off the face of the earth because they were sleeping."
5. Reality check: Driverless cars reduce deaths, but won't end them

Aïda Amer/Axios

Driverless vehicles are expected to save lives — but they're unlikely to prevent as many deaths as we've been led to believe, Axios autonomous vehicles expert Joann Muller writes.

  • Why it matters: Some automakers and politicians have suggested that autonomous vehicles will sharply reduce deaths on the road, if not eliminate them. The reality is that uneven deployment and technological limits mean AVs may save far fewer lives than the hype implies.

By the numbers: 37,133 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2017. Government agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and auto companies ascribe 94% of serious crashes to human error. Thus, the logic goes, take the human out of the equation and most of the crashes disappear.

  • GM even holds out the promise of a "zero crashes" goal.

Reality check:

  • That oft-quoted 94% causation rate is derived from a 2008 government study that was never intended to be applied to autonomous vehicles.
  • Driver miscalculations and misbehavior do, indeed, cause most crashes.
  • But three leading causes of fatalities — drunk-driving, not wearing a seat belt and speeding — won't necessarily go away with the removal of the driver.
  • And AVs aren't yet better than humans at perceiving their environment.

About 51% of crash fatalities occurred on rural roads, where economics — and technological limits — don't support the deployment of AVs anytime soon.

  • Instead, AVs are likely to appear first as part of low-speed, city-centric ride-sharing services.

Factoring all of that in, Philip Koopman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and founder of Edge Case Research, estimates the deaths prevented by AVs would be around 10,000 a year — only about one-fourth of the current total.

6. Trump sides with Saudis
The White House

WashPost lead headline ... "Trump backs prince in Khashoggi case: TAKES AUTOCRAT’S WORD OVER CIA'S."

Why it matters, from N.Y. Times' Mark Landler:

  • "In 633 words, punctuated by eight exclamation points and written in an impolitic style that sounded like Mr. Trump’s off-the-cuff observations, the statement was a stark distillation of the Trump worldview: remorselessly transactional, heedless of the facts, determined to put America’s interests first, and founded on a theory of moral equivalence."

Great pull by the N.Y. Times' Julian E. Barnes:

  • "In 1979, William Safire, the New York Times columnist and former presidential speechwriter, offered readers of this newspaper some sage advice: 'Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!'"
7. Stat du jour
A father gives water to his malnourished daughter at a feeding center in a hospital in Hodeida, Yemen. (Hani Mohammed/AP)

"An estimated 85,000 children under age 5 may have died of hunger and disease since the outbreak of Yemen's civil war in 2015," AP reports.

  • "Save the Children said the 'conservative' estimate is based on average mortality rates for Severe Acute Malnutrition, which the U.N. says has afflicted more than 1.3 million children since a Saudi-led coalition went to war with Yemen's Houthi rebels in March 2015."
  • Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children's Yemen director, says: "For every child killed by bombs and bullets, dozens are starving to death and it's entirely preventable. ... [C]hildren who die in this way suffer immensely."

"The war and a Saudi-led blockade have created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 8 million people at risk of starvation."

8. For Wall Street, "worst day of an awful year"

Headline of the day ... N.Y. Times, after all of 2018's market gains were erased: "The Economy Is Purring, but Stocks Are Growling."

  • Bloomberg's lead: "One of the toughest years for financial markets in half a century got appreciably worse Tuesday, with simmering weakness across assets boiling over to leave investors with virtually nowhere to hide."

The Wall Street Journal's Corrie Driebusch explains (subscription):

  • "What started as a selloff in shares of highflying technology companies bled into other corners of the financial markets, as investors drove down prices for everything from shares of retailers and energy companies to oil and bitcoin."
  • Why it matters: "The latest bout of selling left investors grappling anew with concerns that the nearly 10-year bull market could be running out of steam, even as ongoing growth in U.S. jobs, manufacturing, and corporate earnings signal to many that a recession isn’t imminent."
9. What people will do to get to America
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Migrants in the caravan gather on a truck near Mexicali, Mexico, yesterday while making their way to Tijuana.

10. 1 shop thing

What Black Friday door-busters learned from congressional lobbyists ... "Line sitters" matched through apps make up to $35 an hour to hold your place while you stay warm, MONEY's Julia Glum writes:

  • "One of the nation’s newest side hustles is line sitting, and the concept is genius in its simplicity. People hire professionals to wait in line for them — for Broadway tickets, iPhone drops, hard-to-score restaurant reservations — and then switch spots once the sitter reaches the front."
  • "The gig requires a lot of free time and patience, so it’s perfect for students and retirees."

This is a D.C. tradition: "The Supreme Court website says security starts admitting people to oral argument sessions at 9:30 a.m., but 'visitors may begin lining up on the Front Plaza as early as they feel comfortable' — which sometimes means four days in advance."

Mike Allen