Jan 16, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Happy Thursday!

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,183 words ... 4½ minutes.
1 big thing: Leaders for life
Russian President Vladimir Putin named Tax Service chief Mikhail Mishustin (right) as the new prime minister yesterday. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool via AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin, 67, has given the clearest signal yet of how he plans to navigate term limits and join China’s Xi Jinping, 66, as a possible leader for life.

  • Why it matters: Several of the world’s most powerful leaders have recently shifted the rules in order to keep power past normal transitions, Axios World editor Dave Lawler writes.

That includes Xi, who ended presidential term limits in 2018.

  • Putin is expected to step down as president in 2024, but showed with a surprise shakeup yesterday that he has no intention of fading quietly away.
  • It’s not yet clear whether Putin intends to become prime minister again or carve out another powerful position. But it is clear that even after leaving the presidency, he doesn’t want any rivals for power.
  • "This is not about a succession plan," Brookings' Alina Polyakova said. "This is about consolidating power."

Putin didn't opt for the most straightforward choice: simply removing term limits. 

  • That move is popular among leaders in Africa, where at least 17 heads of state have attempted to tweak their constitutions to stay in power since 2000, per the CFR.
  • Of the 11 non-royal leaders who have been in office longer than Putin’s 20 years, seven are African. 

Zoom out: Several leaders who aren't quite "president for life" have prolonged their tenures through controversial means.

  • Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro rigged an election in 2018 and has defied calls to step aside amid political and economic crises. His predecessor, Hugo Chavez, eliminated term limits.
  • Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking both re-election and parliamentary immunity from three corruption indictments. Now Israel’s longest-serving leader, he’s positioning himself as the indispensable man.

Even Putin has lessons to learn from Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev. He left the presidency last March but continues to wield authority as chairman of the country's security council.

  • He got a nice parting gift: the capital was renamed in his honor.

Worth noting: Nearly all "leaders for life," and in fact all 20 of the world’s longest-serving non-royal leaders, are men.

  • The longest-serving woman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is expected to step aside by 2021.
2. Living history: House marches impeachment articles to Senate
Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

At an engrossment ceremony, Speaker Pelosi gives souvenir pens to top House Democrats after she signed the resolution to transmit two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump — for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — to the Senate for trial.

Photo: Susan Walsh/AP
Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

House Clerk Cheryl Johnson and House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, followed by the seven House impeachment managers, carry the articles of impeachment through the Capitol Rotunda in a procession to the Senate.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
3. Rudy associate claims Trump blessing
In this letter given to Congress by Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani requests a meeting with then-incoming Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky "as personal counsel to President Trump." Image: Axios Visuals from House Intelligence Committee

Lev Parnas, a close Rudy Giuliani associate and central figure in the pressure campaign on Ukraine, told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow last night: "President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all my movements. ... I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president."

  • Why it matters: If true, the claim presents detailed connective tissue between Parnas' activities in Ukraine and Trump.

The most important new claim Parnas made, Axios' Jonathan Swan writes, was that he had Trump's explicit imprimatur for his outreach to Ukrainian officials regarding the Bidens.

  • Parnas said he knew of the president's involvement because of Giuliani's conversations "on speakerphone, where he would like start the conversation on speakerphone and then take it off, and then go somewhere else to talk to" Trump.
  • "I was with Rudy when he would speak to the president, plenty of times," Parnas said, including when Rudy and Parnas were on the golf course.
  • Parnas said Trump speaks "very loudly" on speakerphone.

Between the lines: Parnas is not a particularly reliable narrator; he's been indicted on federal campaign-finance charges (and maintains his innocence). 

  • This is all about credibility. Parnas has shared numerous eye-popping documents with congressional investigators. But is that reason enough for Americans to take him at his word? Will Ukrainian officials confirm Parnas claims that aren't supported by documentary evidence? Or will people have to decide for themselves whether or not to take them at face value? 

What's next, from Axios' Margaret Talev: Parnas seems to want to testify at the Senate trial. But lawmakers may not have the chance to call him, or may choose not to.

  • So speaking out now functions as both a preview of — or substitute for — his participation in the impeachment trial. 

A Parnas lawyer told Axios' Alayna Treene that he hoped providing documents and offering to testify would help Parnas in negotiations over his court case.

4. Hot mic catches Warren vs. Sanders
Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

CNN microphones captured this nasty post-debate exchange between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders:

  • Warren: "I think you called me a liar on national TV."
  • Sanders: "What?"
  • Warren: "I think you called me a liar on national TV."
  • Sanders: "You know, let's not do it right now. You want to have that discussion, we'll have that discussion.
  • Warren: "Any time."
  • Sanders: "You called me a liar. You told me — all right, let's not do it now."

Tom Steyer to Sanders as he walks away: "I don't want to get in the middle of it. I just want to say hi, Bernie."

  • Sanders: "Yeah — good. OK."


5. "An increasingly confident operator"
Photo: Stefan Ruiz for TIME

Jared Kushner to TIME's Brian Bennett:

One thing you have to remember when you work for President Trump is that you don't make the waves. He makes the waves.
Your job is to surf the wave as best as you can every day. And you have to always smile and have a sense of humor with it, because he's the one who's got the instinct.

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale: "Nobody has more influence in the White House than Jared. Nobody has more influence outside the White House than Jared. He’s No. 2 after Trump."

6. Trump's twin trade wins
President Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He hold the signed trade deal in the East Room yesterday. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

The day after signing a new trade deal with China, President Trump is expected to get more good news on his trade agenda as the Senate considers a new North American pact, AP's Kevin Freking writes.

  • The House has overwhelmingly approved the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Before turning to the impeachment trial, the Senate is expected to do the same today and send the measure to Trump's desk for his signature.
7. Opportunity zones probed

The Treasury Department's inspector general is investigating opportunity zones, a provision in President Trump's tax cut "meant to help poor communities that became a windfall for wealthy investors," the N.Y. Times reports.

  • "The inquiry is being conducted at the request of three Democratic lawmakers, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Representative Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri and Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin."
8. BlackBerry is still here

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

John Chen is CEO of BlackBerry, but even he has to sometimes remind people the company is still in business, Ina Fried will report in today's Axios Login.

  • Why it matters: BlackBerry no longer manufactures phones. But it makes more than $1 billion in revenue per year selling things like security software, an operating system widely used in cars, and patent licenses.

The company is generating positive cash flow and eking out a small profit, but Chen said in an interview: "We could definitely do better."

9. NFL's lack of non-white coaches
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Data: Pro Football Reference. Photos: Getty Images. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

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10. 1 beast thing
Photo from video by Chris Bruetsch, via AP

In what wildlife biologists call a rare gathering, five California mountain lions — notoriously solitary cats — are seen together Monday on home surveillance video at Chris Breutsch's rural home in Pioneer, Calif., east of Sacramento. (AP)

Mike Allen

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