Feb 27, 2019

Axios AM

Mike Allen

🇻🇳 Good Wednesday morning.

Situational awareness: Pakistan says it shot down two Indian warplanes — and captured two pilots — in a major escalation of the Kashmir conflict. (BBC)

1 big thing: The politics of embarrassment
President Trump waves the flag of Vietnam as he meets Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi. (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Trump's advisers say one of his more frequent gripes about the scandals and investigations — both by Mueller and the Hill — is that they weaken his standing with foreign leaders, Jonathan Swan reports.

  • One of Trump's former advisers said the president would tell stories of a foreign leader asking him about the special counsel's investigation.
  • The adviser interpreted that as Trump feeling humiliated by having to discuss it.

Trump wants to claim a victory from his North Korean summit. And he also wants to, as he always does, produce good television.

  • Today's explosive testimony by Michael Cohen (10 a.m., overshadowing the Hanoi statecraft and stagecraft for the day) makes the second less likely.
  • And the first — a meaningful commitment from North Korea — doesn’t look achievable.

As if the situation wasn't charged enough, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), is trying to embarrass Cohen:

  • Gaetz tweeted threateningly at Cohen last night: "Hey @MichaelCohen212 - Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison.  She’s about to learn a lot."
  • White-collar lawyers immediately condemned Gaetz's tweet as witness intimidation.
  • Gaetz deleted the tweet after Speaker Pelosi warned of ethics implications for members who "adversely affect" the work of House committees.

Why it matters: Gaetz has been among a small group of House Republicans who've won favor with Trump by relentlessly attacking the Mueller probe as a politically-biased "witch hunt."

  • Gaetz has attacked the FBI and done Trump’s bidding in the president’s favorite arena: cable news.
  • Trump laps it up. Sources familiar with the relationship say he loves Gaetz, talks to him on his cell phone, and has even praised Gaetz for being "handsome."

Swan called Gaetz shortly after he sent his incendiary tweet. Swan asked Gaetz what the purpose of the tweet was. "To test the truthfulness and character of a witness that's coming before the Congress," Gaetz replied.

  • So why spread rumors about a witness? "I just asked questions," Gaetz replied.
  • Come on, Swan said: By putting it out there as a member of Congress, a lot of people might believe it.
  • "I reject the premise of your question that people always believe what they see from members of Congress," Gaetz replied. "I'm just a man asking questions. ... You should watch the hearing. ... You'll get a far clearer understanding as to my factual basis if the Democrats allow me to ask questions at the hearing."

But you're not a member of the Oversight Committee and so you won't be asking questions of Cohen, Swan said. 

  • "I'm not. But I'd sure like to participate," Gaetz replied. He wouldn't say whether another member would be asking these questions on his behalf.

Swan asked Gaetz whether anybody in the White House put him up to this threat, or whether he'd discussed his tweet with Trump before or after the tweet.

  • "Nope," he said, adding that he hadn't heard from Cohen or the White House since his tweet. (Swan spoke to Gaetz at around 6 p.m.)

Lanny Davis, an attorney for Cohen, said in a statement: "We will not respond to Mr. Gaetz’s despicable lies and personal smears, except to say we trust that his colleagues in the House, both Republicans and Democrats, will repudiate his words and his conduct."

  • "I also trust that his constituents will not appreciate that their congressman has set a new low — which in today’s political culture is hard to imagine as possible."
2. Scoop: Check signed by Trump to be displayed at hearing
Lanny Davis speaks after his client, Michael Cohen, gave closed testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

⚡ Breaking: A $35,000 check signed by Donald Trump on Aug. 1, 2017 (after he became president) will be displayed during Michael Cohen's testimony to the House Oversight Committee today, a source close to Cohen tells Axios.

  • "It was another installment in the illegal hush money 'reimbursed' to Cohen ... for [the Stormy Daniels] hush money payoff," the source said.

Excerpts from Cohen's opening statement, provided to the N.Y. Times and others, and confirmed for Axios:

  • "I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience. I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is."
  • "He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat. He was a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee emails."
  • "He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a 'shithole.' This was when Barack Obama was President."
  • "While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way."
  • "And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid."

Cohen then narrates documents he gave the committee:

  • "Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes."
  • "Mr. Trump directed me to find a straw bidder to purchase a portrait of him that was being auctioned at an Art Hamptons Event. The objective was to ensure that his portrait, which was going to be auctioned last, would go for the highest price of any portrait that afternoon."
  • "The portrait was purchased by the fake bidder for $60,000. Mr. Trump directed the Trump Foundation, which is supposed to be a charitable organization, to repay the fake bidder, despite keeping the art for himself."
  • "He asked me to pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair, and to lie to his wife about it, which I did. Lying to the First Lady is one of my biggest regrets."
  • "I am giving the Committee today a copy of the $130,000 wire transfer from me to [Stormy Daniels'] attorney."
3. First look: Heat on the Hill
Rolling Stone

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.) headline Rolling Stone's cover for March, Women's History Month.

From Pelosi's interview:

  • On President Trump: "I pray for him and I pray for the United States of America."
  • On impeachment: "It’s a very disruptive process to put the country through, and it’s an opportunity cost in terms of time and resources. You don’t want to go down that path unless it is unavoidable."
  • Trump's first words to her as president: "I'm thinking, 'How will he begin this historic meeting? Will he quote the Bible? Will he quote the Constitution?' ... [Hunches over, scowls, glances sideways.] 'You know I won the popular vote?'"

From Ocasio-Cortez's interview:

  • When she last experienced sexism: "Um, 10 a.m."
  • Would she would vote to impeach Trump? "Yeah. No question. No question."

From Omar's interview:

  • "I believe that impeachment is inevitable."
4. Chicago to elect first African-American woman mayor
Chicago Tribune

"Chicago will elect its first African-American female mayor after former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle" moved to an April 2 runoff, the Chicago Tribune's Bill Ruthhart reports.

  • "Lightfoot, a first-time candidate[,] ... has railed against Chicago’s history of machine politics and vowed to usher in a new era of reform."
  • "Preckwinkle, a former long-time alderman and chair of the Cook County Democratic Party ... rose from Hyde Park’s bastion of liberal politics."

If "Lightfoot is elected, she would become the city’s first openly gay mayor."

5. Biggest threats to U.S.

"[T]he top U.S. general for homeland defense said ... he sees no military threat coming from the southern border with Mexico, but his focus is on 'very real' threats from China and Russia," AP's Lolita Baldor reports.

  • Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, commander, U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia's advancements in training and capabilities ... present an urgent threat to America.

P.S. ... The House voted 245-to-182, including 13 Republicans, to nullify President Trump's declaration of a national emergency, per the WashPost.

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "said the Senate would take up the disapproval resolution before the next congressional recess, which is scheduled to begin March 18."
6. 2020 vision: Biden teases
The former vice president speaks at the University of Pennsylvania on Feb. 19. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Joe Biden disclosed at the University of Delaware yesterday that he had a family meeting this month, including his grandchildren, to discuss a 2020 run, the N.Y. Times' Jonathan Martin writes:

  • "There's a consensus," Biden said. "The most important people in my life want me to run."
  • But he said he hasn't decided: "I have to make sure I could run a first-rate effort to do this."
7. 11 million likely to pay higher taxes

"About 10.9 million people are losing out on one of their most prized tax breaks — the deduction for state and local taxes," per Bloomberg's Laura Davison.

  • "That’s the number of people the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration estimates had tax bills above the $10,000 deduction cap included in the 2017 tax overhaul."
8. Stat du jour: Billionaires

Beijing was the city with the most billionaires in 2018, at 103, followed by New York at 92 and Hong Kong with 69, according to wealth compiler Hurun Report, China's version of the Forbes rich list.

  • China had 658 billionaires; the U.S. had 584; the world had 2,470. (AP)
9. ⚾ Baseball learns to manage millennials

"Millennials make up the vast majority of [baseball's major leagues] today, and their influence is felt all over the sport," AP's Jay Cohen writes from spring training in Mesa, Ariz.:

  • "They were the earliest adopters of the advanced statistics that have become commonplace throughout baseball, and they inform much of what they do on the mound or at the plate."

"I've learned this generation is nothing like the generation I grew up in,” said Royals manager Ned Yost, 63.

  • "Nothing like it. You have to learn and have an open mind to find out what makes these kids tick, how they grew up. They’re so diverse and their way of communicating is different in Southern California, kids in the South, kids in the East. It's just taking the time to get to know them and how to communicate."

"They want to know the reasoning behind what their coaches want them to do":

  • Kate Turkcan, head of youth insights for Kantar Consulting: "They’re not asking why to be difficult. ... [T]hey’ve grown up in a generation or in a world where you need proof for everything, you need back up. ... They’re taught critical thinking skills ... You want to get really to the root of the issue."
10. 1 game thing

Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Tetris is going battle royale. Nintendo this month launched Tetris 99 to challenge Fortnite: Players "compete online against each other until there is only one survivor left," The Verge reports.

"Tetris has sold hundreds of millions of copies," The Wall Street Journal's Don Steinberg writes in an A-hed (subscription):

  • "Las Vegas-based Tetris Co. ... plans 35th-anniversary activities throughout 2019 including contests and Tetris-themed Puma sneakers."

"In the late '80s, ... many people played the game at work, and early versions included a 'boss button' that replaced the screen with a fake spreadsheet."

  • "Some said it sapped so much capitalist productivity, it amounted to an early Soviet cyberattack on America."
Mike Allen