Axios AM

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February 14, 2017

1 big thing: Sally's revenge

At 4:06 p.m. yesterday on MSNBC, Kellyanne Conway -- Counselor to the President, and someone who authentically has his ear and affection -- twice told anchor Steve Kornacki, live from the White House briefing room, that embattled national security adviser Mike Flynn "does enjoy the full confidence of the president -- this is a big week for General Flynn."

Well, at least half that was true. An hour later, press secretary Sean Spicer put out a very different statement, resulting in the all-evening headline on CNN: "WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP IS 'EVALUATING' FLYNN SITUATION." How often does that end well?

We told you Sunday that Flynn "looks gone," and yesterday that he was "toast." It was obvious to our top West Wing sources that he had to go after lying to Vice President Pence, who was mad about it -- his own credibility had been damaged, along with the administration's, after the V.P. went on TV and repeated Flynn's assurance that he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador during a transition conversation. After it was clear that transcripts of the call were leaking, Flynn became less sure.

And yet, President Trump hesitated for 97 hours, from the time The Washington Post posted its devastating revelation Thursday night that Flynn had the discussions "despite denials." Flynn took a last joyride on Air Force One, spent the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, and a "senior administration official" told CNN on Sunday that Flynn had "no plans to resign and no expectations that he will be fired."

Who's running this railroad? Yesterday evening, The Post struck again, revealing that acting attorney general Sally Yates, later fired by Trump for refusing to enforce the migrant travel ban, informed White House Counsel Don McGahn late last month that she believed Flynn had misled officials about his communications with the ambassador -- and was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail!

At 11:12 last night, the White House finally announced: "President Donald J. Trump Names Lt. General Joseph Keith Kellogg, Jr. as Acting National Security Advisor / Accepts Resignation of Lt. General Michael Flynn."

The New Yorker's Evan Osnos tweeted: "The Flynn story is a reminder of a big truth: Journalism lives. And principled public servants who got the story out are hidden heroes."

Alumni of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations are agog: They tell me their bosses never would have tolerated drift in the face of such a revelation. There may well have been something behind the scenes that we don't know about. If so, someone in the White House will no doubt cough it up, pronto.

In the meantime, here are a couple questions to get things rolling at today's 1 p.m. briefing by "Daytime TV's New Star" Sean Spicer:

  • If Sally Yates told the White House last month that Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail, why was he just now fired? How long had you planned to keep a security threat at the top of the NSC?
  • Was Flynn acting on his own when he discussed the Russian sanctions with the ambassador? Was he authorized to have the conversation? Or did he think he had complete license -- truly remarkable for a guy born of and committed to chain of command.

A victory for the conformists ... The favorite to succeed Flynn, per WashPost's Bob Costa: Vice Adm. Robert Harward, a former deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command ... served under Defense Secretary Mattis, and the two remain friends ... had a tour on the NSC during George W. Bush's presidency, where he worked on counterterrorism strategy,

2. The letter

3. Ruh-roh!

Trump told reporters yesterday in the hallway between the Upper and Lower press offices: "Reince is doing a great job. Not a good job. A great job."

"In Trump administration, tumult becoming norm," by WashPost's Ashley Parker and Phil Rucker: "Several candidates have turned [communications director] down, including Brian Jones, ... a former communications director on the 2008 presidential bid of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a senior adviser to Mitt Romney in 2012 ... The administration has also reached out to Ann Marie Hauser, the deputy staff director of the Senate Republican Conference and a Hill veteran."

4. Open-door Situation Room

The Internet lit up with Facebook photos from Mar-a-Lago's club dining room on Saturday night, as narrated by the N.Y. Times' Mike Shear and Maggie Haberman in this front-pager: "Trump and his top aides coordinated their response to North Korea's missile test ... in full view of diners ... a remarkable public display of presidential activity that is almost always conducted in highly secure settings."

"The scene — of aides huddled over their computers and the president on his cellphone at his club's terrace — was captured by a club member dining not far away and published in pictures on his Facebook account. ... 'HOLY MOLY !!! It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity.'"

The White House says that "no classified material was discussed publicly ... Spicer says ... Trump was briefed in a classified room after [the] missile test ... Trump was briefed before and after dinner ... [Spicer] says that during dinner Trump and U.S. and Japanese officials were discussing plans for a press conference later that night. Spicer says the activity at dinner was 'literally a discussion of logistics.'"

Axios' Stef Kight reports that after Trump and Abe made their 10:39 p.m. press statement on the North Korean missile launch, " Trump crashed a wedding taking place at Mar-a-Lago, grabbed the mic and spoke to the guests."

More pics: "Trump and Abe reviewing proposed responses to North Korea's test under the moonlight as staffers used their cell phones to make the intelligence recommendations readable."

5. GOP should fear health-care protests

Axios' Jim VandeHei and David Nather warn: "Republicans are busy debating whether these protest are real or manufactured. It might not matter. Democrats were sure the 2009 protests were manufactured too."

  • Truth bomb: "Once Democrats see coverage of protests elsewhere getting media attention, it's natural to plunge in and pile on. Truth is, these things are usually a mix of contrived and organic."

6. All politics is local

"The White House still isn't open for tours — and Congress is getting annoyed," from WashPost Reliable Source column, by Emily Heil: "At least two dozen lawmakers have signed a letter circulating on Capitol Hill urging the swift reopening of the office that handles tours."

"[T]he Trump White House has been unusually closed off. ... In contrast to the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations — which all hosted hundreds of well-wishers in the days after an inauguration — the Trumps have so far limited invitees to close family and supporters.

"On the White House website, a warning notes that 'White House Tours will be temporarily unavailable until the Trump Administration is ready to begin processing Public Tour requests.'"

7. Tops in media trends

Jake Tapper debut novel ... "Little, Brown ... announced ... THE HELLFIRE CLUB, ... by Jake Tapper, CNN anchor and Chief Washington Correspondent. ...Tapper was represented ... by Robert B. Barnett ... [T]he book is slated for publication in the summer of 2018. THE HELLFIRE CLUB is a thriller set in 1954 in Washington, DC, where Charlie Marder is a newly appointed young New York congressman navigating the dangerous waters of the era and the capital with his wife, Margaret, a zoologist with ambitions of her own."

"Amid the swirl of glamorous and powerful political leaders and deal makers, a mysterious fatal car accident thrusts Charlie and Margaret into an underworld of secret deals, secret societies, and a plot that could change the course of history."

Wall Street Journal closing loophole ... Digiday's Lucia Moses: "[I]t's turning off Google's first-click free feature that let people skirt the Journal's paywall ... [T]he Journal turned it for off four sections for two weeks, resulting in a dramatic 86 percent jump in subscriptions."

"Wall Street Journal Editor Defends Coverage of Trump," by N.Y. Times' Sydney Ember, on p. B2: "Facing tough questioning at a town-hall-style meeting with the staff, [Editor in Chief Gerry Baker] suggested that other papers had discarded objectivity, and that anyone who wanted to work at an organization with a more oppositional stance toward the administration could find a job elsewhere."

"Disney Cuts Ties With YouTube Star" -- Wall Street Journal front page: "Felix Kjellberg, a top star with 53 million subscribers to his 'PewDiePie' YouTube channel, ... has posted nine videos that include anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery [since August] ...

"On Monday after the Journal contacted Disney about the videos, the entertainment giant said it was severing ties ... Kjellberg is a top earner on YouTube, making roughly $14.5 million last year."

8. Hot in tech

"Bill Gates' latest challenge: Trump -- The billionaire philanthropist says 'America First' may hurt funding of global initiatives" -- USA Today banner, by Marco della Cava in Sunnyvale, Calif.: "'With this new crowd, and with some of things they want to do fiscally, it just means we're going to have to tell the story of how amazing this work is,' he said. [Bill and Melinda Gates] worry a new nationalist view in [the U.S. and Britain] could jeopardize foreign aid."

Jeff Bezos, in an interview with Fast Company magazine, which named Amazon the World's Most Innovative Company of 2017: "I have the best job in the world because I get to work in the future."

Asked about divides in the country, his answer is "almost laughably narrow.": "I'll tell you one way that I don't think anybody is divided ... Everybody wants fast delivery. Low prices. I'm serious about this. Our job is to provide a great customer experience, and that is something that is universally desired all over the world."

9. World Press Photo of the Year

Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, at an art gallery in Ankara, Turkey ... "As an off-duty policeman who had just assassinated Russia's ambassador to Turkey stood in front of Burhan Ozbilici waving a gun, the veteran Associated Press photographer summoned the composure to stand his ground and keep taking pictures."

"'I immediately decided to do my job because I could be wounded, maybe die, but at least I have to represent good journalism,' Ozbilici said Monday as his image of gunman Mevlut Mert Altintas looming over the body of Ambassador Andrei Karlov was named World Press Photo of the Year."

"The digital award winners covered issues that included modern relationships, the rise of walls and fences around the world, and the story of an American boxer from Flint, Michigan." See the winners.

10. 1 fun thing

HBO's John Oliver joked on "Last Week Tonight" that Trump took office "around 412 years ago." Oliver's big finish: "There is one small way we wanted to try and sneak some useful facts into his media diet. As we now know, he watches morning cable news for information. So we've actually created a series of commercials in an attempt to bring him up to speed on information he may lack."

"We're going to run them on shows that we know he watches every day." The spoof spots began airing in the D.C. area yesterday between 8:30 and 9 a.m. on the three cable news stations.

The ads include primers on: the nuclear triad ("in case you're the kinda person who might really need to know that"), the Geneva Convention, the location of Gabon, the unemployment rate, inner-city demographics ... and table manners.