Nov 30, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

☕️ Good Friday morning ...

1 big thing: POTUS is now "Individual 1"
On Nov. 5, 1996, "American real estate mogul Donald Trump" checks out sites in Moscow for luxury residential towers. (Igor Tabakov/AP)

Until this week, public revelations about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation focused on characters who had been around President Trump.

  • For the first time, the special counsel's narrative has suddenly come alive with pre-presidential actions and entanglements by Trump himself.
  • "Investigators have now publicly cast Trump as a central figure of their probe into whether Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign," the WashPost reports.
  • Why it matters: This week's disclosures show that "Trump was in close contact with his lieutenants as they made outreach to both Russia and WikiLeaks — and that they tried to conceal the extent of their activities."

The WashPost's Devlin Barrett tweeted: "In both of his guilty plea hearings, [former Trump lawyer] Michael Cohen has gone beyond the court filings to make clear his criminal actions were specifically on Trump's behalf."

  • And ABC News reported that Cohen, with years of visibility into Trump's financial and political dealings, "has spent more than 70 hours in interviews with Mueller's team."

The president of the United States was labeled "Individual 1" in yesterday's court filing by Mueller.

  • The filing, which spelled out the facts that led to Cohen to plead guilty to lying to Congress, began to tie together the New York and Washington branches of the investigation.

Cohen made it plain that Trump "was more involved in discussions over a potential Russian business deal during the presidential campaign than previously known," as the N.Y. Times put it.

  • "Trump’s participation in discussions about building a grand skyscraper in Moscow," The Times reports, "showed how the interests of his business empire were enmeshed with his political ambitions as he was closing in on the Republican nomination for president."
  • The backdrop: "Trump for decades dreamed of building a Trump Tower in the heart of Moscow, a plan that flared and fizzled several times over the years." (AP)

Be smart: That suggests a profit motive for Trump's persistent and unexplained affinity for Russia.

  • Trump said as he left the White House yesterday for Argentina: "I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business. And why should I lose lots of opportunities?"

Trump tweets from Argentina this morning:

  • "Oh, I get it! I am a very good developer, happily living my life, when I see our Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly). Against all odds, I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool, talked about it on the campaign trail..."
  • "....Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project. Witch Hunt!"

P.S. ... Statement by Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for Trump:

  • "BREAKING NEWS ALERT:  Michael Cohen is a liar. It's no surprise that Cohen lied to Congress. He's a proven liar who is doing everything he can to get out of a long-term prison sentence for serious crimes of bank and tax fraud that had nothing to do with the Trump Organization."
  • "It is important to understand that documents that the Special Counsel's Office is using to show that Cohen lied to Congress were voluntarily disclosed by the Trump Organization because there was nothing to hide."
  • "It is hardly coincidental that the Special Counsel once again files a charge just as the President is leaving for a meeting with world leaders at the G20 Summit in Argentina. The Special Counsel did the very same thing as the President was leaving for a world summit in Helsinki."
  • "With regard to the hotel proposal in Moscow, the President has been completely open and transparent."
2. Mueller's coming attractions
On Nov. 5, 1996, Trump visits a reception while scouting real estate in Moscow. (Igor Tabakov/AP)

Garrett M. Graff — author of a book focused on Mueller, and one of the investigation's best narrators — writes for Axios that we now have a host of new clues to Mueller coming attractions:

  • Michael Cohen's lies to Congress fit an odd pattern: Multiple people in Trump's orbit have outright lied or "forgotten" about a whole variety of contacts with Russian officials, developers, oligarchs, and emissaries. It's a uniquely consistent problem, across many top aides, that only seems to occur when the subject is Russia.
  • Remember Michael Cohen's two major revelations so far have come in just two, fairly limited, specific episodes, both of which investigative reporters have unearthed ahead of time: Stormy Daniels' hush money payments and the Moscow Trump Tower project. Cohen, though, worked with Trump — on his most sensitive messes — for a decade. What other episodes does he know about that we haven't unearthed yet?
  • Prosecutors ethically can't let a witness testify or plea to things they don't believe are true. So remember that everything Michael Cohen is saying in court, or pleading guilty to doing on paper, has been combed over for corroboration.
  • If Cohen is standing up in court and saying Donald Trump ordered him to do something, prosecutors aren't going just off his word. They have independent corroboration. Remember all those emails and telephones seized in the April raid on Cohen's office? We haven't seen any of that come out yet.

Every twist of the investigation shows that Mueller knows far more than we thought he did:

  • Cohen's plea deal shows he has phone records (hence the 20-minute telephone call to Moscow).
  • The aborted Jerome Corsi plea agreement shows Mueller has a host of emails.
  • The fact that Mueller knows Paul Manafort was lying to him likely indicates heretofore unseen corroborating witnesses, documents, and more

Be smart: There's a lot more behind the curtain.

3. Drip, drip for Sandberg

"Sheryl Sandberg asked Facebook’s communications staff to research George Soros’s financial interests in the wake of his high-profile attacks on tech companies," the N.Y. Times' Nick Confessore and Matt Rosenberg report.

  • "Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, asked for the information in an email to a senior executive in January that was forwarded to other senior communications and policy staff."
  • "The email came within days of a blistering speech Mr. Soros delivered that month at the World Economic Forum, attacking Facebook and Google as a 'menace' to society and calling for the companies to be regulated."

Why it matters: The Soros pushback "set off a public relations debacle for Ms. Sandberg and for Facebook, which was accused of trafficking in anti-Semitic attacks against the billionaire."

  • "In a statement, Facebook said that the company had already begun researching Mr. Soros when Ms. Sandberg made her request."

Go deeper: "Sheryl Sandberg's shifting story," by Axios' David McCabe.

4. Pic du jour
Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images

After trekking for over a month across Central America and Mexico in the migrant caravan, a girl cries as it pours rain at a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico.

  • "Aid workers and humanitarian organizations [are sounding the alarm on] unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people," AP reports.
  • Lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant, and Mexico's National Human Rights Commission reports four cases of chicken pox.
  • "As a chill rain fell [yesterday], the dust that coated everyone and everything in the open-air stadium turned to mud ... [A] mud pit grew where people took outdoor showers next to a line of foul-smelling portable toilets."
5. New data on midterms
Expand chart
Data: The American Presidency Project, AP. Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

In modern midterms, the trend has been for seats in both the House and Senate to shift in one direction, usually against the president's party.

  • Axios' Harry Stevens reports out that in the 18 midterms since 1950, there have been just five split decisions, where the House shifted towards one party and the Senate towards the other.

And this month's was the most split of all.

  • Why it matters: The split reflects Democratic domination of suburban House districts, paired with Republican victories in Senate states with big rural swaths.

House Democrats have gained 39 seats so far:

  • This graphic reflects the expected outcome in the one remaining uncalled race, in California: Democrat T.J. Cox has taken a narrow lead over GOP Rep. David Valadao, and claimed victory on Wednesday.

See another graphic.

6. Washington's new most important relationship
President-elect Trump greets Nancy Pelosi as he arrives for his inauguration. (Scott Applewhite/AP)

They haven't spoken in days — not since President Donald Trump called to congratulate Nancy Pelosi on Democrats' election night win, AP's Lisa Mascaro, Jonathan Lemire and Catherine Lucey write:

  • "Trump and Pelosi go way back, from the time she first showed up at Trump Tower fundraising for the Democrats long before he would become president or she the House speaker."
  • "Two big-name heirs to big-city honchos — Trump and Pelosi each had fathers who were political power players in their home towns — they've rubbed elbows on the Manhattan social scene for years."

"[S]he's one prominent politician he has not labeled with a derisive nickname."

  • Why it matters: "Not quite friends, nor enemies, theirs is now perhaps the most important relationship in Washington."
  • "If anything is to come of the new era of divided government, with a Republican president and Democratic control of the House, it will happen in the deal-making space between two of the country's most polarizing politicians."
7. The insect apocalypse
Courtesy The New York Times

The decline of bugs, and what that might mean for life on Earth, is the N.Y. Times Magazine cover story by Brooke Jarvis:

  • A study by a small society of insect enthusiasts based in the modest German city of Krefeld has documented "a vast impoverishment of an entire insect universe, even in protected areas where insects ought to be under less stress."
  • "The speed and scale of the drop were shocking even to entomologists who were already anxious about bees or fireflies or the cleanliness of car windshields."

Brad Lister, a tropical ecologist: "Nature’s resilient, but we’re pushing her to such extremes that eventually it will cause a collapse of the system."

8. Michelle Obama is bestselling book of 2018

Michelle Obama's memoir, out Nov. 13, is already the bestselling book of 2018, based on NPD BookScan data, her publisher announced this morning.

"Becoming" is selling at a pace rarely seen for a political memoir, or any nonfiction book, AP reports:

  • "Combined hardcover, e-book and audio sales in the U.S. and Canada topped 2 million copies in the first 15 days, Crown Publishing announced."
  • "Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoir 'Living History' needed a month to sell 1 million copies. Former President George W. Bush's 'Decision Points' took several weeks to reach 2 million. Former President Bill Clinton's 'My Life' quickly sold 1 million copies but took far longer to hit 2 million."

"Becoming" has 3.4 million hardcover copies in print.

9. Black male writers for our time

Creative directed by Boots Riley / Courtesy The New York Times

This weekend's issue of the N.Y. Times' "T" magazine has four different covers, celebrating the work of contemporary black playwrights and novelists, shot by musician and filmmaker Boots Riley.

  • Riley, who directed this year’s film ‘‘Sorry to Bother You,’’ shot the four cover images, and a group portrait of 30 authors, in the library of the Brooklyn Historical Society.
  • The Times says the T feature is aimed at adding to wider conversations about the limited representation of black men in America, and the specific ways that black male bodies are seen in the world.

In her editor's letter, T editor-in-chief Hanya Yanagihara writes:

These writers’ works remind us that the black male is not something apart from America: Rather, he is America itself, and that to read literary works by black men is to read America, too.
Nearly two years ago, when I was interviewing for my job as editor of T, I told Dean Baquet, The Times’s executive editor, that I wanted the magazine to feel urgent: In extreme political climates, art of all kinds responds to the government under which it’s created, and I wanted this publication to document and comment on the artists whose work engaged in some way with the culture around them. 

Worthy of your time.

10. 1 fun thing
Mark Lennihan/AP

Advent calendars go for booze, cheese, per AP's Joseph Pisani:

  • The cardboard calendars, used to count down the days until Christmas, are often filled with chocolates. Now, they're being stuffed with cans of beer and bottles of wine. Others have chunks of cheese behind each door.
  • "Many are available in the United States for the first time this year after gaining popularity during the past few holiday seasons in Europe."

Adult advent calendars fit into an ongoing trend: people who want products and experiences that "let them embrace their inner child," says Caleb Bryant, a senior beverage analyst at trend-tracking firm Mintel.

  • The cheese advent calendar needs to be chilled, so you have to pull it out of the fridge each day.
Mike Allen