Apr 18, 2019

Axios AM

Good Thursday morning. Welcome to Mueller Madness. The 400ish-page report is expected to be released to Congress between 11 a.m. and noon on compact discs!

  • Situational awareness: Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe won't run for president.
  • North Korea demanded SecState Mike Pompeo be replaced with a "more ... mature" negotiator, after Pyongyang's first weapons test since nuclear talks broke down.

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1 big thing: What Mueller witnesses expect
The Justice Department's color-coded redactions will be the talk of today's coverage, and an artifact of this historic time. Screenshot via MSNBC

Mueller witnesses and their lawyers tell Jonathan Swan that they expect the special counsel's report to include a mass of detailed scenes in which President Trump lashed out about Mueller, Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein and the FBI.

  • They say that if Mueller's report presents the material in the same relentlessly detailed way as his prosecutors asked the questions, the accumulation could lead a casual observer to think that the president tried to obstruct justice.
  • These sources expect Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, to star in many of the crucial conversations that the Mueller team considered part of their exploration of whether Trump sought to obstruct justice. 

The bottom line: These sources don't know whether the scenes the Mueller team quizzed them about were included in the report. And, of course, they don't know what Attorney General Bill Barr redacted ahead of today's release.

  • And since Mueller punted on whether Trump obstructed justice, these sources don't expect a revelation that could threaten Trump's presidency.

Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, said: "We're going to respond as quickly as we can to you all during the day, probably multiple times. ... We'll try to get something up very quick."

  • Swan asked Sekulow whether there could be a surprise. "This is a situation where we know what the conclusion is," the lawyer replied.
  • "The aircraft landed safely, there was no damage to the equipment or injury to the passengers, and now two weeks later the NTSB issues a video of the landing."
  • "I'm not concerned," Sekulow added. "The inquiry is concluded."

Another lawyer involved in the Mueller probe said of the 9:30 a.m. Barr press conference that's scheduled to precede the release of the 400-page report:

  • "Gives him a chance to spin the process ... and gives him the opportunity to demonstrate the diligence that went into the redactions, and the law."
  • The greatest potential for surprise is "in the obstruction realm," this lawyer said, because "the collusion stuff is very definitive."
2. What's your first Mueller search?
Screenshot via CNN

Bob Bauer, NYU law professor and former Obama White House counsel, told me this is the No. 1 thing he'll look for in the Mueller report:

  • Whether the extraordinary amount of time that former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn spent with the Mueller team — at least 30 hours — "included any attention to issues in addition to those of collusion and obstruction."

Matthew Miller, an MSNBC analyst and Obama Justice Department spokesman who has been one of the sharpest and most ubiquitous commentators on the investigation, told me he wants to know "how close the call was on obstruction, why Mueller didn't make it, and whether he explicitly left it to Congress."

  • "On collusion, I want to find out what it means that he didn't 'establish' that a criminal conspiracy took place. Was there evidence of collusion that didn't rise to a prosecutable crime? Huge question."
  • "Then there are a bunch of specific Qs: Did Trump know that [former national security adviser Mike] Flynn was going to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador in advance, and if he didn't, when did he find out?"
  • "Who directed the senior campaign official to get in touch with Roger Stone to find out what WikiLeaks was up to, and who was that senior campaign official?"
  • "How did WikiLeaks get the Podesta and DNC emails — was it a blind drop from the Russians, or was Assange working in concert with them?"

The White House speed read, per the N.Y. Times ... Aides "intend to all but skip the sections related to potential criminal conspiracy, and instead zoom in on two outstanding questions that Mr. Trump himself wants to ignore":

  1. Why Mueller "was not able to conclude whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice."
  2. What Barr "meant when he wrote in his letter that 'much' of the president’s conduct was public — meaning some of it was not."
3. "Road map for retaliation"
Drudge Report

A New York Times paragraph that's absolutely true, based on Jonathan Swan's conversations:

A sense of paranoia was taking hold among some of Mr. Trump’s aides, some of whom fear his backlash more than the findings themselves ...
The report might make clear which of Mr. Trump’s current and former advisers spoke to the special counsel, how much they said and how much damage they did to the president — providing a kind of road map for retaliation.
4. Before/after Notre Dame satellite pics
Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies

Maxar Technologies' WorldView-2 satellite images of Notre Dame Cathedral show the aftermath of the Paris fire.

  • You can also see roads and bridges that span the Seine have been cordoned off, and small crowds of people gathered nearby.

Hat tips: Andrew Freedman and Aïda Amer

5. Cover du jour
Courtesy The New Yorker

"Our Lady," by Bob Staake, is next week's New Yorker cover.

  • "If history teaches us anything, it’s that out of flames can come rebirth," Staake tells the magazine's "Cover Story."
6. Church membership in U.S. plummets

Gallup says the percentage of U.S. adults who belong to a church or other religious institution has plunged by 20 points over the past two decades, hitting a low of 50% last year, AP's David Crary reports.

  • The biggest drops were recorded among Democrats and Hispanics.

Gallup said church membership was 70% in 1999 — and higher than that for most of the 20th century.

  • Since 1999, the figure has fallen steadily, while the percentage of U.S. adults with no religious affiliation has jumped from 8% to 19%.

Church membership among Democrats fell from 71% to 48% over 20 years, compared to a drop from 77% to 69% among Republicans.

7. Stat of the day
Scooters and docked bikes. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

What's new: Electric scooters have overtaken station-based bicycles as America's most popular form of shared transportation outside transit and cars, per AP.

  • Riders took 38.5 million trips on shared electric scooters in 2018, eclipsing the 36.5 million trips on shared, docked bicycles, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Why it matters: Smartphones are powering a "micromobility revolution," where consumers tap shared scooters and bikes for short trips.

8. Women in line to succeed Jamie Dimon

"JPMorgan Chase & Co. put two women with decades of experience at the bank at the top of the list to one day succeed James Dimon as chief executive," The Wall Street Journal's David Benoit writes (subscription).

  • "Marianne Lake, who has served as chief financial officer since 2012, will leave the role to run all of the bank’s consumer-lending businesses, including its growing credit-card operations as well as auto lending and mortgages."
  • "Jennifer Piepszak, who was running JPMorgan’s credit-card business, will take over as finance chief."
9. First look: "Women of Substance"
Courtesy The New Republic

"2020's slate of female presidential candidates is already making history," Liza Mundy writes in the forthcoming issue of The New Republic:

  • There are six: Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris "have a plausible shot, followed by Hawaii’s Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, whose qualifications and motivation remain unclear, and spiritual author Marianne Williamson."

"Americans tend to view women politicians as less corrupt," Mundy writes:

  • "In part, this is because they are: Women’s misbehavior in office pales in comparison to some of the more egregious transgressions of men."
  • Debbie Walsh, president of the Center for American Women and Politics. said that idea "can present a problem; precisely because women are expected to behave better, there’s some research showing they get treated more harshly when they tilt against stereotype."
10. 1 text thing
Bitmojis of leadership coach Stacey Staaterman. Photos via The Wall Street Journal

Texting is moving into the workplace, leading to awkward exchanges, The Wall Street Journal's Te-Ping Chen writes in an A-hed (subscription):

  • "Once seen as too personal for work, the casual medium is now being embraced by companies for its speed and convenience."
  • "Complaints range from oversharing colleagues to texts pinging at all hours of the day and night. While email helps silo work communications, the text inbox is a more blended affair."

"Lauren Dodge ... accidentally texted her boss saying she loved him during her lunch break, thinking she was writing her husband. He replied with a simple 'thumbs-up' emoji."

  • "He keeps it professional," she says.

And now Kathleen Smith's colleagues know she calls her hubby "pumpkinbear."

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