Sep 1, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

☕️ Good Saturday morning, and welcome to September.

1 big thing: Trump’s tight, lonely corner

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

You're president of the United States, running the most powerful nation on earth — stock markets soaring, joblessness sinking, the world in a season of relative peace and prosperity.

But President Trump has never been more isolated from allies he needs most:

  • The public is against him: A new Washington Post/ABC News poll found a record 60% of Americans view him unfavorably.
  • Guess who those same people like a lot better: Robert Mueller (63% support his investigation) and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (64% say he shouldn't be fired; 62% side with him on the Mueller probe). 
  • His legal team is shrinking. Not only is top White House lawyer Don McGahn leaving soon, but McGahn deputy counsel Annie Donaldson is expected to leave soon after. "[T]he White House Counsel’s Office has dwindled to about 25 lawyers, down from roughly 35," per the WashPost.
  • His allies are buckling, with embarrassing admissions in the plea deal by personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
  • Immunity has been granted to his gossip shield, David Pecker, CEO of the National Enquirer's publisher; and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg.
  • Tensions with staff run high as ever. He has never been close to many of his top staffers, and this is more true than ever. 
  • The N.Y. Times' Maggie Haberman tweets: "His aides say he is behaving as if he is cornered."

Be smart ... Everything in Trump's life has been about going big: The buildings got bigger, the deals got bigger, the bankruptcies got bigger —which only made the comebacks bigger, which made winning the presidency all the bigger.

  • The corner feels small, and he keeps being told the one big move he fantasizes about making — staring down Mueller under the bright lights, one on one — could destroy it all. 
2. Split-screen good-byes
President Bill Clinton speaks at the funeral for Aretha Franklin in Detroit, while the flag-draped casket of Sen. John McCain lies in state at the U.S. Capitol. (AP photos)

"Two beloved Americans, two services: one screen wasn't always enough for television news networks following services for Sen. John McCain and Aretha Franklin on Friday," AP's David Bader writes.

  • "CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC each tried to keep viewers caught up on people paying respect to McCain as his body was lying in state in the U.S. Capitol, and the lengthy remembrance for the Queen of Soul in Detroit."
  • "The broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC interrupted their regular programming to show speeches [about McCain] by government leaders, including Vice President Mike Pence."

The services reflected two distinct American cultures, AP Race & Ethnicity Writer Jesse Holland reports:

  • "Franklin’s funeral was unapologetically black: ringing oratory from a rainbow of celebrities, friends, family members and preachers’ amens and hallelujahs caroming off the rafters of Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple ... [plus] a Wakanda 'Black Panther' salute from Rep. Maxine Waters."
  • "The McCain tribute was a more staid, less diverse affair, deeply rooted in military and political traditions ... His journey included military escorts and sorrowful tributes from political colleagues with statues of Washington and Eisenhower [as] the backdrop."
3. Three paragraphs of Trump trouble

"An American political consultant who is cooperating with federal prosecutors [Sam Patten, 47] admitted in court ... that he steered $50,000 from a Ukrainian politician to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee," per the WashPost.

  • Why it matters: It's "the first public confirmation that illegal foreign money was used to help fund" Trump's inauguration.

Shot: "Trump 'nodded with approval' [in March 2016] at the suggestion of a meeting with Putin, according to a court filing [last] night that seeks leniency for [George Papadopoulos] a former campaign aide who lied to the FBI," per AP.

  • Defense lawyers wrote: "While some in the room rebuffed George’s offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to [then-Sen. Jeff] Sessions who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it."

Chaser: "A senior Justice Department lawyer [Bruce Ohr!] says a former British spy [Christopher Steele] told him at a breakfast meeting [in 2016] that Russian intelligence believed it had Donald Trump 'over a barrel.'" (AP)

4. India pushes back on "colonization" by U.S. tech
A cellphone store in Mumbai (Ndranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)

"In India, American companies dominate the internet," N.Y. Times tech and business reporter Vindu Goel writes from New Delhi:

  • "Facebook’s WhatsApp is the most popular app on phones. Virtually every smartphone runs on Google’s Android system. YouTube is the favorite video platform and Amazon is the No. 2 online retailer."
  • "For some Indian political leaders, it is as if their nation — which was ruled by Britain for a century until 1947 — is being conquered by colonial powers all over again."

"And they are determined to stop it":

  • "In recent months, regulators and ministers across India’s government have declared their intention to impose tough new rules on the technology industry. Collectively, the regulations would end the free rein that American tech giants have long enjoyed in this country of 1.3 billion people, which is the world’s fastest-growing market for new internet users."

Go deeper.

5. Music industry's 9-figure war for Taylor Swift
Kyle Gustafson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Taylor Swift's contract with Big Machine Records is set to expire in November, sparking an industry bidding war with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, Axios' Shane Savitsky writes:

  • Why it matters: Swift is one of music's only sure things, and is in position to pull off "the biggest artist deal of the century," per Variety.

Here are the four most likely scenarios, according to Variety's industry experts:

  1. Staying with Big Machine: Swift wants her master recordings; Big Machine doesn't want to give them up.
  2. No to Big Machine, yes to Universal: Universal already distributes and promotes Swift's music for Big Machine.
  3. A non-Universal major: Swift could jump to another one of the big labels, but they'd most likely want to get her masters in the deal as well.
  4. Going it alone: Swift already handles her promotional work with an in-house team, so now that she's reached the music industry's zenith, she's arguably post-label and could set up her own distribution deals.
6. 🍲 1 food thing

Cover of WashPost Outlook ... "I can't control my life. But I can control my burrito bowl ... Essayist Amy Fusselman on the joys of fast-casual lunch ... The mesmerizing theater of the lunchtime assembly line":

  • "My favorite lunch place this summer has been Sweetgreen, the wildly popular salad and bowl emporium started by three Georgetown grads. I find one moment of culinary choreography particularly instructive: when the assembler takes the plastic bottle of dressing, squeezes your desired amount onto your gathered ingredients, and then introduces the dressing to the ingredients by banging tongs against the bowl while twirling it."
  • "This flourish — one that the chain is, alas, abandoning [switching to compostable, hexagonal bowls, and getting rid of the mixing bowls]— is a bit like watching salad and dressing being forcibly introduced like two families at a boozy shotgun wedding."
  • "I see something of our current condition in this routine, where separate foods are carefully mixed under clinical lighting. ... We want to know how it all happens, and we want to see it all ourselves. That is the secret ingredient ... What we are hungry for most, in 2018, is transparency."

Dig in.

Mike Allen

Thanks for reading, and happy holiday weekend. Updates all day on Axios.com from the National Memorial Service for John Sidney McCain III.