May 21, 2017

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen
1 big thing: "battle between good and evil"

Seeking to reset both his own and his country's relationship with the Muslim world, President Trump will declare today (9:20 a.m. ET) during a major speech in Saudi Arabia that he hopes the United States and Islamic countries can share "a hopeful future" while "stamping out extremism" together.

Trump also plans to sign an agreement among the U.S. and Persian Gulf countries to increase cooperation in tracking and prosecuting financiers of terror.

  • Why it matters: Trump's address, to the Arab-Islamic-American summit, follows an administration push to get the Muslim world to take action in a united front against terrorism. This is part of a White House effort to shape a new Middle East coalition, with the aim an eventual peace agreement.
  • What he'll say: Trump will tell more than 50 leaders from the region: "Our vision is one of peace, security and prosperity in this region, and in the world. Our goal is a coalition of nations who share the aim of stamping out extremism, and providing our children a hopeful future that does honor God."
  • Another newsy passage from Trump's speech, via WashPost's Ashley Parker: "This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations. ... This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people of all regions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil."
  • The backdrop: The speech at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center follows a busy first day of Trump's maiden international trip, with announcements that aides called proof the administration is capable of results, despite the Russia frenzy back home. Deliverables include what Sean Spicer called the largest single arms deal in U.S. history — a sale of military equipment totaling $110 billion.

Also today, Trump will sign a memorandum of cooperation with Gulf Cooperation Council countries to set up a task force to aid prosecutions by tracking funding that fuels terrorism.

  • King Salman of Saudi Arabia is expected to say at the summit: "I speak on behalf of all my brothers, the leaders ... gathered here today, in saying that we will not hesitate to prosecute anyone who supports or finances terrorism, in any shape or form, and will apply justice to its fullest."
  • Later, Trump will attend the inauguration of a Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology.
  • Link to share.
2. Sunday-show lookahead

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, telling ABC's George Stephanopoulos, in an interview from Saudi Arabia for "This Week," that Trump will send a message of hope and tolerance in his speech today:

"[T]his isn't America just on transmit here in the Middle East. ... These enemies of all civilization, what they want to do is to cloak their criminal behavior under this false idea of some kind of a religious war. And what I think the president will point out is ... the vast majority of victims from these people are Muslims." (Video)

Breaking ... AP/Seoul: North Korea today fired a midrange ballistic missile that flew eastward 310 miles from an area near its capital, Pyongyang, according to South Korea's military. The White House says the system has shorter range than missiles in North Korea's three recent tests.

3. 🇸🇦 The trip in 6 sentences
  • Will always be a dance ... "As Trump prepared for Riyadh visit, Saudis blocked U.S. on terrorist sanctions," by WashPost's Joby Warrick: "The plan to add the Islamic State's Saudi affiliate to a U.N. list of terrorist groups was quietly killed two weeks ago in a bureaucratic maneuver at the U.N. Security Council."
  • "Corporate A-Listers Descend on Riyadh for Trump's CEO Summit," by Bloomberg's Anthony Capaccio and Kevin Cirilli: "Defense contractors were the big winners, but ... Trump's first day in Saudi Arabia yielded a slew of high-profile investment deals that showcased the administration's ability to draw support from major corporations."
  • "To Saudis, ... Trump has become 'Abu [father of] Ivanka,'" by L.A. Times' Molly Hennessy-Fiske: "Saudi Arabia's fascination with Ivanka Trump highlights how far women have advanced in the kingdom, and how much further they have to go."
  • NYT's Peter Baker and Mike Shear: "Trump and his team made clear they are willing to publicly overlook repression in places like Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states ... — as long as they are allies in areas the president considers more important, namely security and economics."
  • WSJ's Carol Lee: "Saudi Arabia, U.A.E. Pledge $100 Million to World Bank's Women Entrepreneurs Fund: Donation to be announced at event with Ivanka Trump, an advocate for businesswomen who proposed the fund." (White House notes it's not her fund — she's championing the issue and gave them the idea.)
  • AP: Trump said this morning "he would accept an invitation made by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to visit Egypt. ... Trump was also overheard complimenting el-Sissi's shoes."
4. Article of the day

Gripping read treat yourself to the whole thing ... Two-column lead of the N.Y. Times, "Killing C.I.A. Informants, China Stifled U.S. Spying: One of the Worst Breaches in Decades — Investigators Clash Over the Cause," by Mark Mazzetti, Adam Goldman, Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo:

  • Starting in 2010, "the Chinese killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 of the C.I.A.'s sources in China, ... effectively unraveling a network that had taken years to build."
  • "[O]fficials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades."
  • "[I]investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved."
  • "From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, ... the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.'s sources. ... [O]ne was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A."
5. Tweet du jour
6. Bite of the day

Ev Williams, a Twitter co-founder who's now CEO of Medium, to the N.Y. Times' David Streitfeld, re Trump saying Twitter helped elect him:

"It's a very bad thing, Twitter's role in that ... If it's true that he wouldn't be president if it weren't for Twitter, then yeah, I'm sorry."

7. "Masters of their mediums"

"The Communicators: Kennedy on television, Trump on Twitter," is the WashPost Magazine cover story — by Steve Levingston, WashPost nonfiction editor, and author of "Kennedy and King: The President, the Pastor, and the Battle over Civil Rights," out June 6:

Kennedy had a gift for casual humor, which he called upon sometimes to evade an inquiry or ease a tense moment. ... During the 1960s, crowd sizes at political events were as important — and debatable — as they are today. After one of his campaign rallies, the Kennedy team announced that some 35,000 people had come out to see the candidate, a figure far above what reporters on hand had estimated.

When challenged, Kennedy chose humor as a way to minimize the discrepancy. Ben Bradlee, who was then Newsweek's Washington bureau chief and later The Washington Post's executive editor, recounted the story in his book "Conversations With Kennedy."

In his telling, Kennedy explained to reporters that crowd-counting fell to his press secretary Pierre Salinger, who was known by his nickname Plucky. "Plucky counts the nuns," Kennedy told reporters, "and then multiplies by 100." And with that, reporters — amused and grateful for the attention — dropped their bone about the crowd count and turned to other issues.

8. 1 fun thing

"Saturday Night Live" Season 42 finale, recapped by N.Y. Times Dave Itzkoff:

Was it also a retirement party for Alec Baldwin's impersonation of President Trump? ("Look, I'd love to keep doing this per my availability," Mr. Baldwin told The Hollywood Reporter this week, "but I have other things I'm going to do, so I guess we'll figure it out.") ...

[T]he cold open ... seemed to wonder what would be left of a Trump administration for Mr. Baldwin to come back to in the fall. The show started with an homage to a previous sketch that opened [the show] on Nov. 12, ... in which ... Kate McKinnon donned the guise of ... Hillary Clinton, sat at a piano and played the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah."

See the video, "Hallelujah Cold Open."

Mike Allen