Dec 3, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

☕️ Good Monday morning.

D.C. Readers: You're invited! Join managing editor Kim Hart on Wednesday for a breakfast conversation on how AI will impact our economy, jobs, and lives. RSVP here

  • Kim will interview both chairs of the Artificial Intelligence Caucus: Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) and Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy and former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell. 
1 big thing: Mueller's breadcrumbs

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Everyone's waiting for the "Mueller Report." But it turns out that special counsel Robert Mueller is writing a "report" in real time, before our eyes, through his cinematic indictments and plea agreements, Garrett M. Graff reports for Axios:

  • One of the least-noticed elements of the special counsel's approach is that all along, he has been making his case bit by bit, in public, since his very first court filing.
  • With his major court filings so far, Mueller has already written more than 290 pages of the "Mueller Report."
  • And there are still lots of loose ends in those documents — breadcrumbs Mueller is apparently leaving for later.

Perhaps the best example is Mueller's oddly specific reference to the Russian hackers targeting Hillary Clinton "for the first time" after candidate Trump's still-unexplained "Russia, if you're listening" comment on July 27, 2016.

  • Trump said: "I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Clinton] emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press." (He also said: "I have nothing to do with Russia.")
  • A Mueller indictment in July said that the next day, "the Conspirators ... attempted after hours to spear-phish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office."
  • That shows Mueller has access to much more intelligence than is publicly known. Remember, these are Russian government employees. So Mueller has remarkable and thus far unexplained visibility.

By making such detailed filings, Mueller is actually increasing his burden of proof — suggesting a supreme confidence that he has the goods.

  • And by making so much public as he goes along, Mueller is also insuring against his probe being shut down or otherwise curtailed by the White House.

Some of his deeply detailed filings raise questions that suggest more is coming:

  • In a February indictment of officials of the Russian troll factory, he announced that three Internet Research Agency employees traveled to the U.S. in 2014. He indicted two of them, but left unindicted someone from the IRA who evidently traveled to Atlanta as part of the operation for four days in 2014.
  • Mueller makes clear in the indictment that he knows the precise IRA official to whom this unnamed male traveler filed his Atlanta expenses after the trip.
  • The information could have come from U.S. intelligence or another country. But Mueller leaves the impression he may have a cooperator inside the troll factory.

Other hints at coming attractions:

  • Mueller said in last week's Michael Cohen plea agreement that a "Moscow Project" meeting about a Trump-branded building in Russia was called off, by Cohen, on the same day that the DNC hack became public. 
  • Based on a court filing last week, Mueller apparently hopes to quickly issue a "report" on Manafort’s activities to the court.

Be smart: If it’s anything like every other document Mueller has filed thus far, it'll be more informed, more knowledgeable, and more detailed than we can imagine.

2. Thorny U.S.-China talks ahead
World leaders pose for a "family picture" at G20 in Argentina. (Daniel Jayo/Getty Images)

The 90-day U.S.-China ceasefire "over tariffs was greeted with relief by businesses around the world as the two largest economies eased concerns over a possible new Cold War," The Wall Street Journal reports.

  • But enthusiasm is tempered by the fact "that Trump and Xi didn’t bridge major differences."

The Journal's Bob Davis ticks off the issues still on the table: "forced tech­nol­ogy trans­fer by U.S. com­pa­nies do­ing busi­ness in China; in­tel­lec­tual-prop­erty pro­tec­tion that the U.S. wants China to strengthen; non­tar­iff bar­ri­ers that im­pede U.S. ac­cess to Chi­nese mar­kets; and cy­beres­pi­onage."

  • What's next: "If the econ­omy slows down, it’s very un­likely U.S. will ever ratchet up tar­iffs," said David Dol­lar, a Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion China scholar who was the Trea­sury De­part­ment’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Bei­jing under Obama.
  • "But if the U.S. econ­omy is roar­ing and the ne­go­ti­a­tions are especially frustrating, 90 days from now we could be headed into a se­ri­ous trade war."
3. Sanders eyes bigger 2020
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to demonstrators rallying against Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in October. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

"Sen. Bernie Sanders is laying the groundwork to launch a bigger presidential campaign than his first, as advisers predict he would open the 2020 Democratic presidential primary season as a political powerhouse," AP's Steve Peoples reports a meeting of the Sanders brain trust in Burlington, Vt.

  • "A final decision has not been made, but those closest to the 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist suggest that neither age nor interest from a glut of progressive presidential prospects would dissuade him from undertaking a second shot."
  • "This time, he starts off as a front-runner, or one of the front-runners," Sanders' 2016 campaign manager Jeff Weaver said. "It'll be a much bigger campaign if he runs again, in terms of the size of the operation."

Signs of cracks in his base: "His loyalists are sizing up a prospective 2020 Democratic field likely to feature a collection of ambitious liberal leaders."

  • "Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and California Sen. Kamala Harris ... have embraced Sanders' call for 'Medicare for All' and a $15 minimum wage."

P.S. ... At a "Know Your Value" live event in San Francisco with "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said of a presidential run:

  • "[O]ver the holiday, I will make that decision with my family."
4. Pic du jour: New House Democratic leaders

Julio Obscura via House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

Front row, left to right: Katherine Clark, Caucus Vice Chair; Ben Ray Luján, Assistant Majority Leader; Steny Hoyer, Majority Leader; Nancy Pelosi, Speaker-designate; Jim Clyburn, Majority Whip; Hakeem Jeffries, Caucus Chair; Cheri Bustos, DCCC Chair.

  • Back row, left to right: Joe Neguse, Freshman Leadership Representative; Jamie Raskin, Caucus Leadership Representative; Eric Swalwell, Steering and Policy Committee Co-Chair; Ted Lieu, Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Co-Chair; Debbie Dingell, DPCC Co-Chair; David Cicilline, DPCC Chair; Matt Cartwright, DPCC Co-Chair; Rosa DeLauro, Steering and Policy Committee Co-Chair; Barbara Lee, Steering and Policy Committee Co-Chair; Katie Hill, Freshman Leadership Representative.
5. As climate change worsens, America faces nuclear closures

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

THREE MILE ISLAND, Pa. — Next year will mark 40 years since America’s worst nuclear-energy accident unfolded here in a partial radioactive meltdown. The reactor still operating next to the defunct one is set to close next year, 15 years sooner than planned, Amy Harder reports in her "Harder Line" energy column.

  • Why it matters: As we found in a visit for "Axios on HBO," this power plant represents everything good and bad about America’s nuclear power. With climate change worsening, calls are growing to keep plants like this one open despite financial strains because they emit no heat-trapping gases. Yet fear persists about safety and what to do with the radioactive waste.
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in interview for "Axios on HBO": "I think that the climate change problem is now so dire and so immediate that we can't afford to turn away from any technologies that promise to reduce our dependence on fuels that emit carbon dioxide when burned. And nuclear is a part of that portfolio."

The big picture: Cheap natural gas and increasingly cheap renewables buoyed by government support are financially squeezing this plant and others, which aren’t compensated for their carbon-free profile like wind and solar.

  • Nuclear power provides 20% of America’s electricity, more than half of the carbon-free kind. In Pennsylvania, that share is nearly 94%.

Driving the news: Exelon, owner of Three Mile Island, has been losing money for five years on it. It announced earlier this year it was planning to close the plant in September 2019 unless there's government action, likely through the Pennsylvania legislature, to financially help it remain open.

6. "The Patrician President and the Reporterette: A Screwball Story"

President Bush sent Maureen Dowd this parody of Al and Tipper Gore's kiss at the 2004 Democratic convention. (Left: Courtesy Maureen Dowd. Right: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Maureen Dowd recalls her "decades of correspondence" with President George H.W. Bush after covering/stalking him as a White House correspondent for the N.Y. Times:

  • "[H]e tried to figure out why we stayed in touch, beginning one note 'Darn you Maureen Dowd' and mischievously observing in another, 'Sometimes I found it better around my family to go 'Maureen who?'"
  • "At times, typing on what he called 'my little IBM,' he signed off 'Con afecto, GB,'' or if I was writing critically about his sons, 'Con Afecto, still, just barely though! gb.' Or 'Love' scratched out and replaced with the handwritten rebuke, 'not quite there yet.'"

41 occasionally referred to 43 in his notes as "my boy, Quincy."

  • "He sometimes signed off sardonically, 'Sincerely, My Excellency, GHWB, Eastern Elitist.'"

Bush gave her "a quirky, raffish, 11-page typed parody of my Bush parodies portraying W. as a Boy Emperor being controlled by his malevolent regents, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. His satire was laced with 'forsooths,' 'lyres,' 'nobles and peasants,' 'courtiers,' 'verilys' and other Old English touches."

  • "It was funny, bringing alive the fantasy court of Bushland with Poppy as 'the old warrior king'; 'Queen Bar'; 'King Prescott of Greenwich, now in heaven'; 'Princess Doro'; 'Earl Jeb of Tallahassee'; 'Lady Dowd, charming princess of Op-ed land'; 'Queen Hillary of Chappaqua'; 'Sir Algore'; 'Maid Monica' frolicking with 'King Bill' in the Oval Office, ushering in 'a new permissiveness, a new standard that confuses the old man.' And there was George of Crawford, 'the new King' who took the throne after 'the Battle of Chads in November.'"

Treat yourself.

7. Drone delivery looks to be a ways off

"Jeff Bezos boldly predicted five years ago that drones would be carrying Amazon packages to people's doorsteps by now. Amazon customers are still waiting," AP's David Koenig and Joseph Pisani report.

  • "[O]vercoming the regulatory hurdles and safety issues posed by drones" has been a bigger challenge than expected.
  • "The day may not be far off when drones will carry medicine to people in rural or remote areas, but the marketing hype around instant delivery of consumer goods looks more and more like ... hype. Drones have a short battery life, and privacy concerns can be a hindrance, too."

"The government estimates that about 110,000 commercial drones are operating in U.S. airspace, and the number is expected to soar to about 450,000 in 2022. They are being used in rural areas for mining and agriculture, for inspecting power lines and pipelines, and for surveying."

  • "Amazon says it is still pushing ahead with plans to use drones for quick deliveries, though the company is staying away from fixed timelines."
8. Stat du jour

"Destructive wildfires are regular events in Malibu, but last month’s Woolsey fire could prove to be the worst ever to strike the upscale coastal community," the L.A. Times reports.

  • "At least 670 structures were destroyed inside the Malibu city limits, including more than 400 single-family homes with an estimated market value of at least $1.6 billion, according to an analysis of aerial imagery and property records."
9. "Hamilton" steals show at Kennedy Center Honors
Kevin Wolf/AP

"The Kennedy Center Honors stepped out of its comfort zone, ... conferring recognition for the first time on a living, breathing work of art, along with four seasoned — and also living and breathing — American artists," the WashPost's Peter Marks writes.

  • "By adding a popular musical, the universally celebrated 'Hamilton,' to a historic list of honorees that has run alphabetically over the past 41 years from George Abbott to Joanne Woodward, the Kennedy Center radically revised the rules."

Photo above ... Front row from left, David Rubenstein, chairman of the board for the Kennedy Center; 2018 Kennedy Center honorees Wayne Shorter, Philip Glass, Reba McEntire, Cher, Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter.

  • Back row from left, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, Grace Rodriguez, and the 2018 Kennedy Center honorees, the co-creators of "Hamilton," Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Andy Blankenbuehler and Alex Lacamoire.
10. 1 toy thing

"Skip the costly electronic games and flashy digital gizmos. Pediatricians say the best toys for tots are old-fashioned hands-on playthings that young children can enjoy with parents — things like blocks, puzzles — even throwaway cardboard boxes — that spark imagination and creativity," AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner reports:

  • "Many parents feel pressured by ads promoting tablet-based toys and games as educational and brain-stimulating but there's not much science to back up those claims."
  • "The report published [today] by the American Academy of Pediatrics cites studies suggesting that heavy use of electronic media may interfere with children's speech and language development, replace important playtime with parents and lead to obesity."

"The pediatricians' group recommends no screen time for children up to age 2, and says total screen time including TV and computer use should be less than one hour daily for ages 2 and older."

  • "The academy's website offers suggestions on ideal toys for young children, including balls, puzzles, coloring books and card games."
Mike Allen