Feb 23, 2019

Axios AM

⚡ Bulletin: A top cardinal admitted today at the abuse summit in Vatican City "that the global Catholic Church destroyed files to prevent documentation of decades of sexual abuse of children," per National Catholic Reporter.

⚾ "Baseball is back," AP's Jimmy Golen writes from Fort Myers. ""Baseball returned to the ballparks of Florida and Arizona [yesterday] with the first spring training games."

1 big thing: Final Mueller suspense
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

For 21 months, Robert Mueller has been an omnipresent but unseen lead in D.C. drama.

  • As soon as he delivers his farewell letter or report, the protagonists become Attorney General William Barr, who'll decide what the public should see, and House Democrats, who are cranking up their own months-long Russia probe.

Keeping Washington in suspense once again, Mueller doesn't plan to deliver his conclusion to the Justice Department next week, a department official tells AP.

  • Mueller appears to be wrapping up. CNN had said the Justice Department was preparing to receive the report as soon as next week, when Trump will be in Vietnam for his North Korea summit.

The Barr Report: Barr said at his confirmation hearing last month that he'll write his own report summarizing Mueller’s findings for Congress and the public.

  • He didn't commit to how much he'll make public, but said he wants to disclose what he can "consistent with the law."

"The task of wresting [underlying investigative documents] away from the Justice Department is likely to fall to the House," the WashPost reports.

  • Six House chairs said in a letter yesterday to Barr: "We write ... to express, in the strongest possible terms, our expectation that the Department of Justice will release to the public the report Special Counsel Mueller submits to you—without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law."

And regardless of Mueller's findings, there could be some eye-opening reading ahead.

Matt Miller, an MSNBC analyst and former Justice Department official under Obama, tells me that it's "not just the Mueller report, whatever that is, that's relevant. It’s also all the underlying evidence he collected."

  • "FBI set a precedent in the Clinton case by turning over nearly the entire case file to Congress within three months of the investigation closing."
  • "Now that that precedent has been set, no good argument for not doing so here."
  • 🚨 "All the FBI 302s (interview records) ... Just imagine how many news cycles are in there."
2. Cohen testifies on Trump insurance claims

"Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, met last month with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, offering information about possible irregularities within the president’s family business," the N.Y. Times' Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Maggie Haberman report:

  • "Cohen, who worked at the Trump Organization for a decade, spoke with the prosecutors about insurance claims the company had filed over the years."
  • Why it matters: The meeting suggests New York prosecutors "are interested in broader aspects of the Trump Organization, beyond their investigation into the company’s role in ... hush money payments ... to women."
3. Apps send pregnancy, diet, money secrets to Facebook

"[S]martphone users confess their most intimate secrets to apps, including when they want to work on their belly fat or the price of the house they checked out ... [A]pps know users’ body weight, blood pressure, menstrual cycles," The Wall Street Journal's Sam Schechner and Mark Secada write (subscription).

  • WSJ testing shows that data often is being shared with Facebook, "seconds after users enter it, even if the user has no connection to Facebook."
  • "The apps often send the data without any prominent or specific disclosure."

"In the Journal’s testing, Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor, the most popular heart-rate app on Apple’s iOS, ... sent a user’s heart rate to Facebook immediately."

  • "Flo Health Inc.’s Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, which claims 25 million active users, told Facebook when a user was having her period or informed the app of an intention to get pregnant."
  • "Real-estate app Realtor.com, owned by Move Inc., a subsidiary of Wall Street Journal parent News Corp, sent the social network the location and price of listings that a user viewed, noting which ones were marked as favorites."

Why it matters: "None of those apps provided users any apparent way to stop that information from being sent to Facebook."

  • "Facebook said some of the data sharing ... appeared to violate its business terms, which instruct app developers not to send it 'health, financial information or other categories of sensitive information.'"
  • "Facebook said it is telling apps flagged by the Journal to stop sending information its users might regard as sensitive."
4. How Chicago police cracked their case
Surveillance cameras near the spot where Jussie Smollett allegedly staged the attack (Teresa Crawford/AP)

"Police tapped into Chicago's vast network of surveillance cameras — and even some homeowners' doorbell cameras — to track down two brothers who later claimed they were paid by 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett to stage an attack on him," AP's Tammy Webber reports:

  • "Officers said they reviewed video from more than four dozen cameras to trace the brothers' movements."
  • "Detectives also reviewed in-car taxi videos, telephone logs, ride-share records and credit card records."

"Chicago has the most extensive video surveillance network in the U.S., with ... more than 32,000 cameras ... on buildings, poles ... and buses — and even in businesses and private residences whose owners agree to opt into the system."

  • "Using 35 police cameras and more than 20 private-sector cameras, investigators were able to trace the men's movements after the attack, including footage of them getting into a cab."
  • "Detectives interviewed the cab driver, got video from inside the vehicle and followed it along a trail of cameras to the city's North Side."
  • "The private footage offered by residents included video from cameras embedded in doorbells that showed the men walking."
5. Data du jour

President Trump had a job approval rating of 50% or higher in 17 states last year, while 16 states rated him below 40%, Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones reports.

  • Highest states: West Virginia (62%), Wyoming (61%)
  • Lowest states: Hawaii (26%), Vermont (28%)
6. 1 fun thing: Why zebras have stripes
University of Bristol and University of California at Davis via AP

Zebras apparently have stripes to repel flies, AP's Danica Kirka writes from London:

  • That's the conclusion of scientists who dressed horses in black-and-white striped coats.
  • "The researchers found that fewer horseflies landed on the cloaked horses than on the ones without striped coats, suggesting that zebra stripes may offer protection from blood-sucking insects that can spread disease."

"The insights have ... implications for technology such as driverless cars ... If stripes disrupt a fly, they might also disrupt a driverless car's systems."