Sep 17, 2019

Axios AM

🏛️ Milestone: At 1 p.m. today, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee will hold their first official hearing in what they're calling an impeachment investigation. (AP)

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1 big thing: 2020 misinformation threats extend beyond Russia

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Security officials and social media giants are warning that additional countries — specifically Iran and China — could pose a misinformation threat to U.S. elections in 2020 similar to Russia's interference in 2016, Axios' Sara Fischer writes as part of our series, "Misinformation Age."

  • Why it matters: As President Trump faces off with Iran and China on the international stage, there is growing fear they could try to influence the next U.S. election right under his nose.

Iran: In January, Facebook and Twitter separately took down hundreds of accounts and pages linked to misinformation campaigns originating from Iran.

  • There are potentially billions of dollars at stake in 2020 for Iran, which is suffocating under U.S. sanctions and knows Democrats are keen to re-enter or renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal.

China: While neither platform has uncovered a misinformation campaign originating from China targeting the U.S., experts say we should be prepared for something along those lines.

  • In August, both Facebook and Twitter said that they uncovered hundreds of accounts originating from inside China that were a part of a coordinated effort to undermine political protests in Hong Kong. China is also blatantly intervening in elections in Taiwan.

What to watch: Researchers worry Beijing could leverage the growth of TikTok to spread misinformation in the U.S.

2. 🌍 Bill Gates: One type of inequality hits every country on Earth
Graphic: Gates Foundation, "Examining Inequality"

Bill Gates, in an interview about a Gates Foundation report on global inequality that's out today, told Axios that gender inequality cuts across every single country on earth — a shortfall that unites the U.S. and the developing world.

  • "The developed world hasn't fully solved the problem, and yet we know it's important and we know we need to work on it," Gates said by phone. "The gender issues are much worse as you get down into these poor countries."
  • As the report puts it: "No matter where you are born, your life will be harder if you are born a girl. If you are born in a poor country or district, it will be even harder."

The report's most memorable sentence: "Where you are born is more predictive of your future than any other factor."

  • The paradox: "Even in the worst-off parts of low- and low-middle-income countries, more than 99 percent of communities have seen an improvement in child mortality and schooling. Yet despite this progress, persistent gaps in opportunity mean that nearly half a billion people — about one in 15 — still do not have access to basic health and education."
  • "Inequality between countries has narrowed but remains large."

Released ahead of next week's UN General Assembly in New York, this is the Gates Foundation's third annual Goalkeepers Data Report, tracking progress on the UN Global Goals.

Gates told me he remains concerned about discussion in the U.S. "about turning inward."

  • But he said the data shows that the government's small amount of foreign aid, relative to the budget, is "not just guilt money that ends up not having an impact."
  • "People think, 'Hey, Africa is in tough shape,'" Gates added. "They don't realize that in terms of literacy and child survival, it's in dramatically better shape today than it has ever been."

Go deeper: Read the report, "Examining Inequality."

3. Exclusive: Gates regrets meeting with Epstein

Bill Gates, who donated $2 million to the MIT Media Lab at the request of pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, told Axios yesterday: "I wish I hadn't met with him."

  • The donation was made in 2014, after Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to two state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution.
  • MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito resigned Sept. 7 after the extent of his involvement with Epstein was revealed.

Why it matters: A Gates official told Ito, in an email obtained by Axios' Felix Salmon, that Gates wanted the $2 million unrestricted gift to be anonymous.

  • Axios reported that as far as MIT was concerned, the Gates grant was Epstein money. Epstein met with Ito to determine where it would be spent.

Asked if he feels used by Epstein, Gates told me: "I'd say I didn't have a ... business or personal relationship I wouldn't go that far."

  • "It was a dead end," Gates said in his first comments since his name surfaced among billionaires associated with Epstein.

Gates, at the end of a phone interview about a new Gates Foundation report, "Examining Inequality," said: "I won't say I knew him that well, because he was introduced to me as somebody who could bring more people into philanthropy."

  • "There were meetings along those lines," he continued. "That didn't materialize, and so then I stopped meeting with him."

Go deeper: See the email from Gates' office.

4. Pics du jour: Trump medals
Photos: Getty Images (top left and bottom right); AP's Alex Brandon

President Trump has awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to a quartet of famous former athletes in recent months:

  • Top left: In May, Tiger Woods, 43, was honored in the Rose Garden after his incredible comeback at the Masters.
  • Top right: Bob "Cooz" Cousy, 91, retired Boston Celtics basketball superstar, got his medal in the Oval Office in August.
  • Bottom left: NBA legend Jerry West, 81 (known as "The Logo," because his silhouette and left-handed dribble are on the league logo), was in the Oval two weeks later. ,
  • Bottom right: Yesterday, former New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera, 49, the greatest closer of all time, was in the East Room.
5. N.Y. Times' Kavanaugh mess

Robin Pogrebin — co-author with Kate Kelly of "The Education of Brett Kavanaugh," out today — told MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell why she thinks an exculpatory fact about Kavanaugh was originally omitted in an adaptation of the book by their paper, the N.Y. Times, a widely criticized blunder:

  • "[W]e had her name. And ... The Times doesn't usually include the name of the victim. And so I think in this case, the editors felt like maybe it was probably better to remove it. And in removing her name, they removed the other reference — to the fact that she didn't remember" the new allegation.

A sneak peek at the book, which says Kavanaugh became "a human Rorschach test":

Even Kavanaugh loyalists said his [at times angry] testimony was a serious mistake, though perhaps not of his own making. Many suspected that he was performing for "an audience of one," meaning President Trump, who was widely known to have been disappointed in Kavanaugh's muted demeanor during [a] Fox News interview and who himself adopts more aggressive responses when under attack.
6. GOP splits on punishing Iran

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said President Trump should consider attacking Iranian oil refineries in retaliation for the drone strikes on Saudi oil plants, per Bloomberg.

  • But Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said direct U.S. intervention would be "a grave mistake."

"Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, spoke with congressional staffers from the national security committees about the situation in a call Monday afternoon," the WashPost reports.

  • "When asked about the impact of the strike on the kingdom, Hook responded that the Saudis consider it to be 'their 9/11.'"
  • "The comparison to the terrorist attacks, ... in which 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, rankled several staffers."
7. 🛴 Cities try geofences to slow scooters

"Cities across California have followed Santa Monica’s lead in limiting the type and number of [scooters and other] micro-mobility devices that move inside their borders and how those vehicles are deployed," the L.A. Times' Sonja Sharp reports.

  • "[M]any are testing the limits of ... geofencing [invisible barriers] to remotely enforce speed, parking restrictions and even dead zones."
8. California to warn of vape danger
In L.A., a user puffs on a cannabis vape pen. Photo: Richard Vogel/AP

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California will spend $20 million on a public awareness campaign about the dangers of vaping nicotine and cannabis products, AP reports.

  • "As a father of four, this has been an issue that has been brought to the forefront of my consciousness," he said.

A spokesman for Juul, Ted Kwong, said the company applauds action to crack down on counterfeit and knockoff vaping products.

9. 📚 First look
Cover: Custom House

Look for extensive new information on how Deutsche Bank financially supported President Trump and his family in "Dark Towers," coming Feb. 18 from David Enrich, the finance editor of the New York Times.

  • Enrich, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and editor, wrote "The Spider Network: How a Math Genius and Gang of Scheming Bankers Pulled Off One of the Greatest Scams in History."
  • The Times has published a series of Enrich scoops on Deutsche Bank, which over 20 years loaned billions to the Trump and Kushner families.


10. 1 fun thing
Photo: Walt Disney Television

Sean Spicer debuted last night on the season premiere of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," as part of "a new, well-known and energetic cast of 12 celebrities ready to move out of their comfort zones."

  • He's seen here with his professional dancing partner, Lindsay Arnold.
  • The "First Elimination" episode is next Monday.