Axios AM

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December 03, 2017

Good Sunday morning. It's College Football Playoff selection day for New Year's bowl matchups. AP's Ralph Russo reports that the three locks for the final four are defending national champion Clemson, Chip and Kathleen's Southeastern Conference champion Georgia, Big 12 champ Oklahoma — plus either Alabama or Ohio State.

Situational awareness:

ABC News


Brian Ross for four weeks without pay for Friday's botched report on Mike Flynn's agreement with Mueller.

1 big thing: Backstory on stunning tweet

John Dowd, President Trump's personal lawyer, tells me that a Trump tweet that caused an eruption yesterday was "my mistake," made in a tweet he had drafted and passed to White House social media director Dan Scavino.

  • "I'm out of the tweeting business," Dowd said with a chuckle. "I did not mean to break news."

Did President Trump admit obstruction of justice? That was the instant question online after he tweeted:

  • "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"
  • Dowd: "The tweet did not admit obstruction. That is an ignorant and arrogant assertion."

Why it matters: If Trump knew, before he fired Flynn, that the aide had lied to the FBI, that would further taint Trump's months-later firing of FBI Director James Comey. It would also make his appeals to Comey to go easy on Flynn all the more problematic.

Here's what Dowd says happened ... When acting attorney general Sally Yates (later fired by Trump) went to the White House on Jan. 26, she told White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had "given the agents the same story he gave the Vice President" about his interactions with Russians.

  • Those statements were clearly incorrect — the point of her warning to the White House.
  • But Dowd says there's a crucial distinction: "For some reason, the [Justice] Department didn't want to make an accusation of lying."
  • McGahn then briefed Trump: "All the president knew was that the department was not accusing him of lying."
  • Dowd added: "The point of that tweet was entirely correct. It's just very sad. I don't know why the guy lied. He didn't need to."

Be smart: The tweet, and this explanation, are just plain suspicious and weird. Flynn was fired for lying to Pence. FBI agents said he told them the same story.

Breaking ... "Trump is attacking his own FBI in a series of tweets and says the law enforcement agency's reputation is 'in Tatters - worst in History!' The president says in a tweet that 'we will bring it back to greatness.'"

  • Trump: "Report [in apparently not-fake WP and NYT]: 'ANTI-TRUMP FBI AGENT LED CLINTON EMAIL PROBE' Now it all starts to make sense! ... Tainted (no, very dishonest?) FBI 'agent's role in Clinton probe under review.'"
  • "I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!"

Article of the day, "Emails Dispute Picture of Flynn As a Rogue Actor," on N.Y. Times front page:

  • "On Dec. 29, a transition adviser to Mr. Trump, K. T. McFarland, wrote in an email to a colleague that sanctions announced hours before by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling were aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump's victory."
  • "Trump advisers feared that a cycle of retaliation between the United States and Russia would keep the spotlight on Moscow's election meddling."
  • "As part of the outreach, Ms. McFarland wrote, [Mike] Flynn would be speaking with the Russian ambassador ... hours after Mr. Obama's sanctions were announced."

2. Won the week: "The Alchemist"

After taking a hit for the loss on health reform, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) restored his reputation as a skilled tactician with the passage of a tax package that few thought would make it out of the Senate before year's end.

McConnell-watchers deconstruct his secret sauce:

  • "Fear, electoral anxiety and anger burn off through the open amendment process. His patience and discipline allowed him to move past the political posturing into positioning on issues. He is the modern day political alchemist — making the chaos into policy gold."
  • "Classic McConnell: tight team, member-by-member lobbying, deploying every possible outside influencer, and — this part is easily overlooked — drawing on a huge reservoir of trust and loyalty from many (though not all, of course) members in his caucus."
  • "He prepared all year for Friday's vote by delegating surrogates, unifying House, Senate and [White House] teams, and learning from the failures of O'Care repeal. He also never let the daily distractions and frustrations of the WH interfere."
  • "McCain, who complained about the lack of regular order in the Obamacare repeal debate, voted with us after a lengthy process [that still landed zero Dems]. ... McConnell brought in small groups of members ... several days a week, several meetings — to update them."

3. Only story that matters: "increasing every day"

White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said yesterday at the Reagan Presidential Library in California that North Korea is "the greatest immediate threat to the United States":

  • "I think it's increasing every day, which means that we are in a race, really. We are in a race to be able to solve this problem." (CNN)
  • "The U.S. agency tasked with protecting the country from missile attacks is scouting the West Coast for places to deploy new anti-missile defenses, two Congressmen said." (Reuters)
  • "North Korea said the U.S. is 'begging' for a nuclear war by planning the 'largest-ever' joint aerial drill with South Korea just after concluding an exercise with nuclear-powered aircraft carriers." (Bloomberg)

Bonus: Pic du jour

2017 Kennedy Center Honorees and officials, following last night's State Department dinner for the Kennedy Center Honors:

  • Front row, from left: Carmen de Lavallade, Norman Lear, Gloria Estefan and Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter.
  • Back row, from left: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, LL Cool J, Lionel Richie and Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein.

4. NRA eyes first big Trump win

The NRA is expected to score its first big legislative win of the year this week, when the House votes on a concealed-carry bill that's likely to pass, Axios' Alayna Treene reports:

  • Why it matters: It's the group's first major legislative priority to see action on the floor since President Trump took office, and it would show that the group still has clout on Capitol Hill after experiencing a series of unusual setbacks in the last few months.

5. Trump mulls key tax change

"Hours after the pre-dawn passage of a $1.5 trillion tax cut, President Trump suggested for the first time ... that he would consider a higher corporate rate than the one Senate Republicans had just endorsed," the WashPost's David Lynch and Damian Paletta report in the paper's lead story:

  • "On his way to New York for three fundraisers, Trump told reporters that the corporate tax rate in the GOP plan might end up rising to 22 percent from 20 percent."
  • Why it matters: "Moving the corporate tax rate up by 2 percentage points could raise $200 billion, money Trump might need to try to satisfy the concerns of Republicans frustrated that the plan does not reduce top individuals' tax rates enough or of others such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who argued that the bill should do more for low-income families."
  • Rubio tweeted: "For days heard that anything more than 20% corp rate would be anti-growth & catastrophic. Less than 12 hours later 22% is now an option?"

6. A pit bull in a changing Hollywood

Century City lawyer Marty Singer is the man celebrities call when a career is skidding toward scandal — Hollywood's favorite legal hit man, L.A. Times arts and film writer Jeffrey Fleishman reports on A1:

  • "His mission is to keep dirt out of the rarefied air cushioning his A-list clients — a group that has included Bill Cosby, John Travolta, Scarlett Johansson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and, currently, producer-director Brett Ratner."
  • "Singer spends much of his time trying to kill unflattering stories, scrub unseemly headlines and prevent his celebrities from stepping into a courtroom. His 'cease and desist' and proceed 'at your peril' letters to media outlets and accusers on behalf of clients are legendary."
  • "Recently, as [the L.A. Times] prepared stories in which more than 10 women accused Ratner of sexual misconduct, the lawyer sent the paper multiple letters filled with florid language and threats of litigation. The missives, which would not have seemed out of place in the Hollywood novels of Michael Tolkin and Elmore Leonard, were the pummeling prose of a legal pugilist looking for an early knock-out."
  • Why it matters: It doesn't work any longer!
  • "Singer's hard-edged style is colliding with a sudden cultural shift toward empowering women (and men) to speak out about abuse. Strategies like Singer's of pointedly challenging an alleged victim's account, history and possible motivations are being questioned."

7. A new worry: "revictimized"

For some women who have been raped, abused and harassed, each day since the Weinstein bombshell "is a fresh hell, as unnerving headlines and stories seep into daily life," AP's Tamara Lush writes from St. Petersburg, Fla.:

  • "Memories of past abuse, previous encounters with inappropriate co-workers, even lingering doubts as to how long-ago personal situations were handled have left women feeling raw, vulnerable and on edge."
  • Shari Botwin, a licensed clinical social worker in Cherry Hill, N.J.: "People are very triggered, whether in a good way or in a negative way ... People are having more flashbacks, getting more depressed, they end up reliving it. For some, it's a good thing, it motivates them to get help. For others, they're staying quiet."
  • This is a great point: "Botwin said that some victims — especially those who have been harassed at work — feel it's unfair that privileged women are able to speak out against their harassers and have the media's ear, while women in regular jobs are forced to endure more of the same."

8. Keeper quips ...

... from last night's black-tie Gridiron Club Winter Dinner:

  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) "Look at us all here, dressed like we're getting a big tax cut!"
  • House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), on "the great questions of the day in Congress": "Will Mitch McConnell ever make his way back to the sea to lay his eggs?"
  • Rodgers, about a free press: "As Amazon says, 'Democracy dies in darkness.'"
  • Outgoing Gridiron President Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times: "I'm told there is a breaking story. Rex Tillerson just got some devastating news: He's still working at the State Department."

9. An epic year: 1 of 30

Our children's children's children will debate the events of this epic year. Countless books will be written about particular moments. So as we head for 2018, Axios AM captures 2017 in smart brevity: 1 picture and 1 sentence a day, for 30 days, climaxing on New Year's Day. We begin with an ending ...

Jan. 10 ... President Barack Obama wipes away tears as he speaks at McCormick Place in Chicago, giving his farewell address:

"[W]hether you're young or young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your president — the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.

"I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written: Yes we can. Yes we did. Yes we can."

10. One fat thing 🍔🍟

A book about the Trump campaign that will be out Tuesday — "Let Trump Be Trump," by top campaign officials Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie — includes a typical Trump order from McDonald's (via WashPost): "two Big Macs, two Fillet-O-Fish, and a chocolate malted."

Axios AM did a little math, using the Nutrition Calculator on the McDonald's website:

  • Big Mac 540 calories, 28 grams of fat, times 2 = 1,080 calories, 56 grams of fat
  • Filet-O-Fish: 410 calories, 20 grams of fat, times 2 = 820 calories, 40 grams of fat
  • McCafé chocolate shake: 530 calories, 15 grams of fat

For one meal, that's a whopper 2,430 calories and 111 grams of fat.

  • Assuming Trump was "moderately active" during the campaign, U.S. nutrition guidelines estimates the daily calorie need for a man of his age is 2,200 (2,600 if you give him "active," the highest category, which includes walking more than 3 miles a day).
  • The upper limit for a big diet — 2,800 calories — is 93 total fat grams a day.