Mar 1, 2019

Axios AM

🦁 Happy Friday, and welcome to March.

1 big thing: Democrats' post-Mueller plan

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Even before Robert Mueller has delivered his final communiqué, Democrats have activated a new phase in the Trump-Russia wars that ultimately could prove more damaging to the president than the special counsel's investigation:

  • What's new: Whether or not Mueller is sitting on a grand finale, Democrats are picking up the baton with a vast probe that already involves a half-dozen committees, and will include public hearings starring reluctant witnesses.
  • Why it matters: For Trump, this has been a behind-the-scenes probe, with sensational yet intermittent revelations. Now, it's about to become a persistent and very public process — at best, a nuisance; at worst, a threat to his office.
  • What House Democrats are thinking after the public Cohen hearing, via an email to Axios from MSNBC analyst Matt Miller: "Incredible to start an investigation and have six months' worth of leads on the first day."

What Democrats are planning: 

  • They want to call Trump family members — with subpoenas, if necessary.
  • The Democrats' investigation will touch Trump's businesses, foundation and presidency — and could extend into 2020, top Democrats tell me. 
  • Besides Russia, topics include conflicts of interest, money laundering, and Jared Kushner's security clearance and other White House clearances. (N.Y. Times scoop: "Trump Ordered Officials to Give Kushner a Security Clearance.")
  • Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who's on the House Oversight Committee, tells Axios' Alayna Treene that committees are "zeroing in on the Moscow project, the Russia connection and the influence of other foreign actors like Saudi Arabia."

Democrats expect all that may serve as a Rosetta Stone to arguable "high crimes and misdemeanors," touching off an impeachment process. 

  • Well-wired Democrats tell us that even if the impeachment process doesn't lead to a showdown vote, so much energy in the party is invested in the idea that they see little chance of heading off at least the opening stages. 

Coming attractions: House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said the committee will hear from Felix Sater, a Russia-born executive who worked with Cohen on Trump Tower in Moscow, in an open hearing on March 14, per AP.

  • The committee also plans to bring in longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg.

Be smart ... Kurt Bardella, a Republican former senior adviser for House Oversight, writing in USA Today:

  • "It will only be a matter of time before the Oversight Committee requests that Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner speak to congressional investigators about their meetings, conversations and plans for a Trump Tower project in Moscow."
  • "The Trump Organization will receive requests for all emails, documents, notes and other evidence related to the internal deliberations about the project."
2. Richard Haass' 4 takeaways: The Hanoi summit had a design flaw
Trump and Kim talk at a hotel in Hanoi. SecState Mike Pompeo is at right. Kim Yong-chol, a party official and chief interlocutor with the U.S., is at left. (North Korean government via AP)

Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass — author of "A World in Disarray" — writes this Smart Brevity for Axios on the failed North Korea summit, which ended abruptly, with no joint statement or communiqué:

  • Takeaway 1:  "Sometimes you have to walk," President Trump said, and he is right. This was one of those times. No deal was better than a bad deal. What's more, walking might well strengthen Trump's hand with N.K. down the road and with China now, as the trade talks reach a critical juncture.
  • Takeaway 2: Things never should have reached this point. Summits at most are expected to negotiate the last 10% of a deal. The Hanoi summit appeared to have it backwards, requiring that the leaders negotiate 90% on the spot. The Hanoi summit showed the dangers of a president who over-personalizes diplomacy. Foreign policy is mostly about the details, not the chemistry.
  • Takeaway 3: By overplaying his hand, Kim may have saved the president from himself. If reports were right, the U.S. was prepared to agree to offer a degree of sanctions relief in exchange for N.K. dismantling one of its enrichment facilities. But N.K. could have done this, and still maintained or even expanded its ability to enrich uranium and produce bombs and missiles.
  • Takeaway 4: Although disappointed with the summit outcome and concerned about what comes next, U.S. allies in the region (above all, South Korea and Japan) will be relieved that President Trump did not give away too much in Hanoi — and, in particular, that he did not put the U.S. troop presence in S.K. on the table, or repeat the language used at the Singapore summit, which called for the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. That suggested the U.S. nuclear guarantee might be negotiable.
3. A new totem of inequality: Fancy dog parks

One of the fancy parks in D.C. Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

In a vivid new example of stark income inequality in the U.S., the dogs of wealthier households live better lives than those with lower-income owners, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.

What's new: Dog parks are getting fancier and fancier, with bright green artificial grass to play on and splash pools to cool off in.

Why it matters ... These dream canine playgrounds are only in certain areas:

  • City Lab counted just two dog parks in Chicago's predominantly black and low-income neighborhoods.
  • Compare that to the 22 parks in the city's richer, whiter areas.
4. Pic du jour
Josh Edelson/AP

People boat along River Road in Guerneville, in Sonoma County, Calif., after the Russian River reached its highest level in 20 years, cutting off towns and inundating communities.

  • California is drenched and mountains are piled high with snow amid a winter of storms that was unimaginable just a few months ago. (AP)
5. Hot doc

Michael Cohen testified that during the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump threatened legal action against his colleges and high school if they released his grades or standardized test scores. Cohen provided this artifact:

Provided by Michael Cohen to the House Oversight Committee
6. The big American robot push

U.S. factories are installing record numbers of robots, and elite universities, endowed with huge new contributions, are adding vast centers to study artificial intelligence, report Axios' Steve LeVine and Kaveh Waddell.

  • Robot-makers shipped 35,880 robots to U.S. factories last year, 7% more than in 2017, according to a new report from the Robotics Industry Association.
  • MIT celebrated the creation of a $1 billion College of Computing, anchored with a single, $350 million contribution from Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone, the private equity firm.

Why it matters: The twin trend lines suggest a still-robust competition with China to dominate technologies of the future.

7. Tracking power
Plepler in 2018 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images

HBO CEO and Chairman Richard Plepler and Turner President David Levy are stepping down, writes Axios' Sara Fischer.

  • Why it matters: The move comes amid reports that NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt has been in talks with WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey for a position to oversee all of AT&T's media assets, including HBO, Turner and WarnerMedia’s news streaming service.
  • Be smart: It's likely that Plepler's resignation is tied to pressure coming from AT&T to make more, commoditized content.

Phil Musser is named vice president of government affairs, running the D.C. portfolio for NextEra Energy, the world's largest producer of wind and solar energy.

  • Musser, formerly of Boeing, will be an officer of the company and report directly to CEO Jim Robo.
8. First look: The politics of brands
Courtesy Global Strategy Group

"Doing Business in an Activist World," the annual business and politics study from Global Strategy Group shows that Americans tend to have pre-existing notions about the political leanings of certain brands.

  • Big Tech companies, including Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon, are all seen as leaning more Democratic, along with sports-linked brands like Nike, the NBA, and the NFL.
  • Big banks, like JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citi, are all seen as more Republican — along with some of the biggest corporate names like Walmart, GM, and Delta.

People of both parties — Democrats at 38%, Republicans at 35% — are just about as likely to boycott brands over their social beliefs, but their targets skew similarly partisan.

  • The top boycott targets for Democrats: Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby
  • The top boycott targets for Republicans: Nike and Target
9. Killing "Mockingbird"
Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird," 1962 (Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)

"Dozens of community and nonprofit theaters across the U.S. have been forced to abandon productions of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' under legal threat by Broadway and Hollywood producer Scott Rudin," AP's Mark Kennedy writes:

  • "Rudin is arguing that author Harper Lee signed over to him exclusive worldwide rights to the title of the novel and that Rudin's current adaptation on Broadway — written by Aaron Sorkin — is the only version allowed."
  • "The all-volunteer Curtain Call Theatre in Braintree, Massachusetts, said it received a letter threatening damages of up to $150,000, a staggering amount for a venue where tickets for plays are $20 and $25 for musicals.

"Anger over the move has triggered an online revolt using the rallying cry #BoycottRudinplays."

10. 1 ⚾ thing: Philly wins "The Bryce is Right"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo and Aïda Amer/Axios

Former Nats star Bryce Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies — the richest contract in the history of American team sports, Axios' Kendall Baker writes:

  • Harper's deal includes a no-trade clause and has no opt-outs, indicating that he could be scarfing cheesesteaks and haunting Wawa until the day he retires.
  • "The goal was to get the longest contract possible. That is what I was instructed to do," Harper's agent, Scott Boras, told the N.Y. Post.
  • "He wanted to stay in one city, build a brand and identity and recruit players. He wants to tell players: Come play with me."

By the numbers: In total value, the contract surpasses the deals signed by Giancarlo Stanton ($325 million) and Manny Machado ($300 million).

  • In terms of average annual value (AAV), however, Harper ($25.4 million) doesn't even crack the top 10.

Be smart: The Nats offered him a 10-year, $300 million contract, which would have given him a higher AAV than the one he signed.

  • But the Nats' offer contained $100 million in deferred money, paying Harper until he was 60.
  • Harper's camp reportedly saw the Nats' offer as little more than a publicity stunt to appease fans.

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