Dec 17, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good Monday morning.

1 big thing: Russia winning its war

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

U.S. intelligence says Russia sought to disrupt the 2016 and 2018 elections and sow discord. Regardless of what Robert Mueller does, Russia did it — and is still at it:

  • Multiple high-stakes, aggressive federal investigations were spawned by an initial FBI probe of Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
  • Fallout from Russian meddling, including Democratic talk of impeaching President Trump, is likely to remain a dominant political issue as Democrats take over the House 17 days from now.
  • American politics have been further radicalized.
  • The FBI's image, once unassailable, has been tarnished with Trump's base.
  • Facebook and other tech giants were thrown on the defensive.
  • The misinformation campaigns are essentially what created "fake news," driven home by Trump on the campaign trail.
  • Trump's closeness with Putin has helped drive a wedge between the U.S. and Europe.
  • And Russia now is an easy scapegoat for officials to point at when things go wrong: vulnerabilities in technology, election surprises, etc.

Russia is weaponizing technology not just to meddle in our elections, but to increase power on the global stage, Axios' David McCabe and Joe Uchill point out:

  • Russia likes to target vulnerable populations (countries with major elections, referendums, civil wars, political controversies).
  • These campaigns are easier because of the U.S. government's lack of unity in confronting the practice and the platforms. That's a big win for Russia.
  • Russia has gotten so much attention that there's less focus on Iran, where Russia has a big oil alliance — another win for Russia, Axios' Kim Hart and Sara Fischer note.

New evidence that the campaign is ongoing is included in a report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee, and obtained by the WashPost:

  • "Russia’s disinformation campaign around the 2016 election ... used every major social media platform to deliver words, images and videos tailored to voters’ interests to help elect President Trump — and worked even harder to support him while in office."
  • Why it matters: "The report expressed concern about the overall threat social media poses to political discourse, ... warning that [platforms] once viewed as tools for liberation in the Arab world and elsewhere are now threats to democracy."

Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for Trump, told me the resulting investigations are "playing right into the hands of our enemies, particularly Russia."

  • "This makes them much more important than they are," Giuliani said.
  • But it was the Trump campaign’s coziness with so many Russians that made it all possible. 
2. 17 holes, rats everywhere
"Elementary," by Barry Blitt / The New Yorker

For WIRED, Garrett M. Graff compiles the full list of 17 known investigations targeting President Trump’s world from various federal, state, and local prosecutors:

Investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller:

  • Russian government’s election attack (the Internet Research Agency and GRU indictments) 
  • WikiLeaks
  • Middle Eastern influence: Potentially the biggest unseen aspect of Mueller’s investigation is his year-long pursuit of Middle Eastern influence targeting the Trump campaign.
  • Paul Manafort’s activity
  • Trump Tower Moscow project
  • Other campaign and transition contacts with Russia
  • Obstruction of justice

Investigations by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York:

  • Campaign conspiracy and Trump Organization finances
  • Inauguration funding
  • Trump super PAC funding
  • Foreign lobbying

Investigations by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia:

  • Maria Butina and the NRA

Investigations by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia:

  • Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, the alleged chief accountant of the Internet Research Agency who was indicted separately earlier this fall, charged with activity that went above and beyond the 2016 campaign. Why she was prosecuted separately remains a mystery.
  • Turkish influence: Michael Flynn’s plea agreement includes some details of the case, and he is cooperating with investigators.

Investigations by New York City, New York State and other state attorneys general:

  • Tax case: In the wake of an N.Y. Times investigation that found Trump had benefited from more than $400 million in tax schemes, city officials said they were investigating Trump’s tax payments, as did the New York State Tax Department. 
  • The Trump Foundation
  • Emoluments lawsuit: The attorneys general for Maryland and D.C. sent out subpoenas earlier this month for Trump Organization and hotel financial records relating to their lawsuit that the president is in breach of the "Emoluments Clause" of the Constitution, which appears to prohibit the president from accepting payments from foreign powers while in office.

And there's a mystery investigation from an unknown office:

  • Redacted Case #2: A second, redacted Flynn investigation could be one of the other investigations mentioned here. It could also represent another as-yet-unknown unfolding criminal case or could be a counterintelligence investigation that will never become public. 

Be smart: Garrett Graff for Axios readers ... Why the president should be worried after his Sunday tweet about "rats":

  • There are known cooperators in almost every single one of these 17 open cases, from Michael Cohen to National Enquirer chief David Pecker to former Manafort aides Sam Patten and Rick Gates. 
3. Vaping boom
A high school student uses a vaping device near her school in Cambridge, Mass. (Steven Senne/AP)

"Twice as many high school students used nicotine-tinged electronic cigarettes this year compared with last year, an unprecedented jump in a large annual survey of teen smoking, drinking and drug use," AP's Mike Stobbe reports.

  • The federally funded University of Michigan survey of 45,000 students in grades 8, 10 and 12 "found 1 in 5 high school seniors reported having vaped nicotine in the previous month."
  • Why it matters: "It was the largest single-year increase in the survey's 44-year history, far surpassing a mid-1970s surge in marijuana smoking."

"After vaping and alcohol, the most common thing teens use is marijuana."

  • "About 1 in 4 students said they'd used marijuana at least once in the past year."
  • "1 in 17 high school seniors said they use marijuana every day."

"More teens, however, are saying no to lots of other substances."

  • "Usage of alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, heroin and opioid pills all declined."

"One leading theory is that kids today are staying home and communicating on smartphones rather than hanging out and smoking, drinking or trying drugs."

4. Word of the year
Mark Lennihan/AP

"Racial justice. Obstruction of justice. Social justice. The Justice Department. Merriam-Webster has chosen 'justice' as its 2018 word of the year, driven by the churning news cycle over months and months," AP's Leanne Italie writes.

  • Competing words of the year: "toxic" (Oxford Dictionaries) and "misinformation" (Dictonary.com).

Other words with lookup spikes this year, per Merriam-Webster:

  • "maverick" (Sen. John McCain)
  • "respect" (Aretha Franklin)
  • "excelsior" (Stan Lee's battle cry)
  • "pissant" (A radio host described Tom Brady's daughter that way.)
  • "pansexual" (Janelle Monáe described herself that way.)
  • "laurel" (vs. yanny)
  • "feckless" (Samantha Bee on Ivanka Trump)
  • "epiphany" (A song by K-pop band BTS)
  • "lodestar" (A reference to McCain in the anonymous N.Y. Times op-ed)
  • "nationalism" (Trump declared himself a nationalist.)
5. ⚡Breaking: Charges against Goldman

"Malaysian authorities filed criminal charges against Goldman Sachs units and a former partner of the bank, Tim Leissner, in connection with the 1MDB financial scandal," per the Wall Street Journal.

  • "Goldman Sachs International and two Asian subsidiaries ... were charged under securities laws for the omission of material information and publishing of untrue statements."
  • Goldman said: "We believe these charges are misdirected, will vigorously defend them and look forward to the opportunity to present our case."
6. Facebook's foot-dragging deepens its trust crisis

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios


This year Facebook made a habit of waiting to disclose privacy issues to the public or, after damaging stories broke, failing to get ahead of questions it would inevitably face, Axios' David McCabe writes.

  • The latest instance came Friday, when the company revealed a bug exposing unposted photos of millions of users — one that it had identified and fixed back in September.

A new sweeping privacy law in Europe has been forcing Facebook to be more forthcoming about privacy-related scandals.

  • The company's critics have highlighted Facebook's tactic of releasing bad news late on Fridays or holidays.
7. Exclusive: Oil giant backs carbon tax

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In the latest sign of a global oil industry shifting on climate change, ConocoPhillips is now helping fund a multi-million dollar political advocacy campaign that's lobbying Congress for a tax on carbon emissions, writes Axios' Amy Harder.

  • Houston-based ConocoPhillips has committed $2 million over two years to a political advocacy group, Americans for Carbon Dividends.
  • Why it matters: The move aligns the world’s largest independent oil and gas producer with ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company, which recently contributed $1 million.

Given the industry’s deep-pocketed influence with Republicans, this backing increases the odds Congress could eventually back the controversial policy.

What’s next: Climate change is sure to be a bigger focus for Congress next year with Democrats controlling the House.

  • Support among progressives on Capitol Hill for another kind of plan, called the Green New Deal, is gaining steam. It lacks details, but is geared more toward a mandate than a tax.
8. Little fact-checking of college applications

"Sally Goebel was working in admissions at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania when an applicant submitted a moving essay about his mother’s death. He was admitted," the N.Y. Times Anemona Hartocollis writes.

  • "Just before school began, someone from the university called his home and a woman answered the phone. She was the student’s mother, alive and well. ... His admission was revoked."

"As college admissions become ever more competitive, with the most elite schools admitting only 4 percent or 5 percent of applicants, the pressure to exaggerate, embellish, lie and cheat on college applications has intensified, admissions officials say."

  • "The high-stakes process remains largely based on trust: Very little is done in the way of fact-checking, and on the few occasions officials do catch outright lies, they often do so by chance."
9. Years-long journey to "yes" on justice reform

This evening, the Senate is scheduled to vote to open debate on criminal justice reform, and it's likely to pass later this week, USA Today's Eliza Collins and Deborah Barfield Berry write in a tick-tock of how we got here after decades of work by some advocates.

  • The measure will "give judges more discretion in sentencing offenders for nonviolent crimes, particularly drug offenses, and strengthen rehabilitation programs for former prisoners."
  • "If the Senate approves the measure it must go back to the House, where it's also expected to pass. Trump has already said he would sign it into law."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the most important change that provoked movement on the stalled effort was "Jared Kushner came to town."

  • "I met him about two years ago and within minutes after our meeting he said, 'You know my father was in prison' and talked about what an impact that had on him."
10. 1 film thing
Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón and actress Yalitza Aparicio on the set of "Roma." (Carlos Somonte/Netflix via AP)

Netflix movie blitz takes aim at Hollywood's heart ... "Until now, moviedom has been relatively protected from the digital forces that have reshaped the rest of media. Most films still arrive in the same way they have for decades: first in theaters, for an exclusive run of about 90 days, and then in homes," the N.Y. Times' Brooks Barnes reports.

  • "With the rapturously reviewed 'Roma,' which arrived on Netflix on Friday, [Netflix movie chief Scott] Stuber has pushed the internet giant into the center of the Oscar race."
  • Alfonso Cuarón’s "subtle film about life in 1970s Mexico City is likely to give Netflix its first best-picture nomination."
  • "To make sure, the company is backing 'Roma' with perhaps the most extravagant Academy Awards campaign ever mounted."
Mike Allen