Jul 22, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Dan in a pod ... 🎙️ Axios Pro Rata Podcast launches tomorrow. Subscribe to Dan Primack’s 10-minute podcast here to get smarter, faster on the collision of tech, business, and politics.

Situational awareness ... Trump tweets this morning: "Looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC. Ask her how that worked out - she did better with Crazy Bernie. Republicans must get tough now. An illegal Scam!"

1 big thing: Let's talk about sex

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Not since the Bill Clinton sex scandals of the 1990s has the national conversation focused on a president's personal life on so many fronts so often.

And not since the 1990s has sex been part of a federal investigation stirring calls for impeachment:

  • Kristin Davis, known as the "Manhattan Madam" for the high-end prostitution ring she ran in the 2000s, says Robert Mueller's prosecutors have notified her that he wants to interview her — probably about her close friend, Roger Stone, she tells the WashPost.
  • Karen McDougal, the former Playmate who claims she had an affair with Trump, will stay in the news now that the FBI has a recording Michael Cohen secretly made of Trump, then his client, discussing payments to her.
  • Trump tweeted yesterday that the tape is "perhaps illegal" — which, as the N.Y. Times put it, "signaled open warfare on Mr. Cohen."
  • And there may be a lot more revelations: Jonathan Swan, reporting yesterday that Michael Cohen has begun privately questioning Trump's fitness to be president, points out: "The question of what Cohen knows about Trump is now a far more compelling question than it was in the days when Cohen would tell anybody who'd listen that he'd take a bullet ... for his boss.
  • The porn star Stormy Daniels, in a blitz orchestrated by lawyer Michael Avenatti, has filed suits accusing Trump of defamation and Cohen of collusion after the lawyer paid her $130,000 just before the election in order to keep her quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.
  • A BBC documentary airing in the U.S. this weekend — called "Trump: Is the President a Sex Pest?," a British terms for a harasser — reports a claim that Trump once told a 17-year-old model when he was pursuing her: “Oh, great. So you’re not too old and not too young. That’s just great.”

Be smart: Beyond the morality tale, does any of these sexual transgressions hurt Trump, politically? No evidence they have so far. Truth is, they will only hurt if they lead to legal and impeachment action against Trump. 

2. Trump fumes as Korea talks stall

Since the summit, "U.S. negotiators have faced stiff resistance from a North Korean team practiced in the art of delay and obfuscation," the WashPost's John Hudson, Josh Dawsey and Carol Leonnig report:

  • "Diplomats say the North Koreans have canceled follow-up meetings, demanded more money and failed to maintain basic communications."
  • "[A] missile-engine testing facility that Trump said would be destroyed remains intact, and U.S. intelligence officials say Pyongyang is working to conceal key aspects of its nuclear program."

"The lack of immediate progress, though predicted by many analysts, has frustrated the president, who has fumed at his aides in private even as he publicly hails the success of the negotiations."

  • "Officials say Trump has been captivated by the nuclear talks, asking staffers for daily updates on the status of the negotiations."

P.S. "Intelligence officials are growing concerned that Mr. Trump cherry-picks their findings to reinforce decisions he has already made," per the N.Y. Times' Julian Barnes, Eric Schmitt and Katie Benner:

  • Administration officials "noted that in the case of North Korea, he picked up on evidence last summer of growing nuclear capabilities to bolster his threats of military action; now that he is pursuing a thaw in relations with North Korea, he is ignoring similar evidence."
3. Maggie Haberman pulls back from Twitter: "an anger video game"

"After nearly nine years and 187,000 tweets, I have used Twitter enough to know that it no longer works well for me. I will re-engage eventually, but in a different way," Maggie Haberman writes in the N.Y. Times Sunday Review:

  • "The viciousness, toxic partisan anger, intellectual dishonesty, motive-questioning and sexism are at all-time highs, with no end in sight. It is a place where people who are understandably upset about any number of things go to feed their anger, where the underbelly of free speech is at its most bilious."
  • "Twitter is now an anger video game for many users. It is the only platform on which people feel free to say things they’d never say to someone’s face. For me, it had become an enormous and pointless drain on my time and mental energy."
  • "Twitter is a useful and important platform. It’s a good aggregator for breaking news. I still check my feed to see breaking news developments, and I will continue to."

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey replies with a thoughtful Twitter thread, acknowledging that she has a "lot of fair critiques":

  • "Fundamentally, we need to focus more on the conversational dynamics within Twitter. We haven’t paid enough consistent attention here. Better organization, more context, helping to identify credibility, ease of use."
Bonus: Pic du jour

How some people are spending their summer ... A man, identified only as Jose, and his son, Wilson,12, are cared for in an Annunciation House facility after they were reunited yesterday in El Paso, Texas.

  • Jose and Wilson, originally from Honduras, were separated two months ago when they tried to cross into the United States.
4. Regulators begin winning battles with tech startups

Illustration: Caresse Haaser / Axios

"Not long ago, swaggering companies such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc. swept through cities like a wrecking ball, establishing billion-dollar businesses and vast constituencies before slow-moving government officials could figure out how to rein them in," Christopher Mims writes in his weekly Wall Street Journal tech column, "Keywords" (subscription).

  • What's new: "Now regulators [are] finding ways to force firms to cooperate earlier in the development of new business models. Even Uber, the famous disrupter, was forced to stop testing its autonomous vehicles in Arizona and California after one of them killed a pedestrian."

"A fresh example of this is the fledgling scooter-sharing industry":

  • "At first, startups such as Bird tried the old 'ask forgiveness' approach, but faced stiff resistance in many cities."
  • "Things got off to a rocky start in Santa Monica, Calif., the first city in which Bird launched ... But instead of blocking them completely, ... the city drew lessons from its experiences with ride-sharing companies and Airbnb, and offered Bird a provisional license."
  • "Lime, Bird and more than a dozen competitors ... are in many cases trying to outdo one another with new ways to appease local regulators."
  • "They’re letting the cities know exactly where scooters are in near real time, redistributing those scooters according to the desires of local governments, including to low-income areas."

Why it matters: "Scooter companies’ appeasement of regulators embodies tech’s broader move toward accountability, following a period of public outrage over the industry’s overreach and mistakes."

5. How Google blew it: Life lesson in perils of dragging your feet

At Axios, we live by the precept that if you're going to do something, just do it now — get it off your plate, show the other person you care and are responsive, and get there ahead of the competition.

Some Google lawyers may wish they had followed that approach, according to an article by Bloomberg's Aoife White and Stephanie Bodoni:

  • "European Union Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager coolly hit Google with a ... $5 billion ... fine last week, the biggest penalty in the history of antitrust enforcement. It didn’t have to be that way."
  • "A year earlier, ... the company ... made quiet attempts to settle ... The Silicon Valley search giant had waited at least a year too long to broach the subject of a settlement, ... Vestager said in an interview."
  • "When a company wants to settle, it needs to 'reach out immediately after' getting the EU’s initial complaint or statement of objections," which happened in 2016, when the EU detailed the antitrust problems with Android.
6. 🚖 1 cab thing

"Hey, You Didn’t Pay! Uber Regulars Have Forgotten How to Behave in Regular Cabs ... Accustomed to cashless apps, taxi passengers forget to give directions — or pay; it’s ‘dining and dashing, but for a cab’" — Wall Street Journal A-hed by Katherine Bindley (subscription):

  • "When Uber regulars get into traditional cabs, they exchange blank stares with taxi drivers, wondering why the car isn’t moving even though they haven’t said where they want to go."

"Adam Murray, 39, said that on the rare occasion he takes a cab home from work in San Francisco instead of an Uber or Lyft ... 'There’s this moment of telepathy where you expect the driver to just know and you pause and you look back at them like, "OK, are we ready to go?" And nothing happens.'"

  • "Worse was last month when Mr. Murray, who is a software executive, was visiting New York City and took a yellow cab from dinner to his hotel. [He saw a water bottle in the back of the cab and started drinking out of it before he thought:] 'Oh wait, this is not something that normally happens in cabs. ... Feeling grossed out, he stopped drinking."
Mike Allen

Thanks for reading. Updates all weekend on Axios.com.