Nov 16, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🏈 Happy Saturday! Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,178 words ... 4½ minutes.

1 big thing: First casualty of impeachment war
Marie Yovanovitch arrives to testify yesterday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


An important human dimension gets obscured in the wider impeachment war: Former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch is already a three-time victim of the Ukraine scandal and public hearings.

  • Why it matters: Maybe the only thing House Republicans and Democrats agree on is that Yovanovitch was a widely respected ambassador to Ukraine. Yet, she lost her job, endured a hit job by The Hill newspaper, and had her reputation vilified and sullied publicly by the president of the United States. 

The bigger picture: Yes, she still has a government job. But the toll on her was obvious during her testimony yesterday, which was riveting less for the facts and more because of her reaction to the pummeling from Trump and his allies.

The hearing began at 9:30 a.m. and Trump tweeted his attack on her at 10 a.m., blaming her for the dangerous conditions in Somalia, which has endured 30 years of "turmoil, factional fighting, and anarchy," as the CIA puts it.

  • The staff of House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, who was presiding, distributed printouts of the tweet to Democratic committee members, Axios' Alayna Treene reported from inside the hearing room.
  • Schiff called it "witness intimidation in real time."
  • The tweet was displayed on monitors as Yovanovitch continued testifying:
Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

Republicans said Trump's mid-hearing attack sabotaged their strategy:

  • Republicans recognized going in that she's a highly respected career official, and planned to focus their questions on showing how she had little knowledge of what is being investigated.
  • After the tweet, Republicans went even further out of their way to praise her (even calling her "Your Excellency" at one point) — which just made her abrupt recall to Washington look even more puzzling.

Yovanovitch described what it was like when she learned Trump denigrated her as "bad news" in a conversation with Ukraine's president:

I was shocked and devastated that I would feature in a phone call between two heads of state in such a manner, where President Trump said that I was bad news to another world leader, and that I would be going through some things.
So I was — it was a terrible moment. A person who saw me actually reading the transcript said that the color drained from my face. I think I even had a physical reaction.
I think, you know, even now, words kind of fail me.

Between the lines: The circumstances of Yovanovitch's removal made her a sympathetic witness, even before Trump's tweet, Treene reports.

  • In April, Yovanovitch got a late-night call from the State Department saying she needed to leave for security reasons — on the same night she was honoring her friend, who had died a horrific death after an acid attack for working to root out corruption. The harrowing details highlighted the importance of the ambassador's work in Ukraine.

The bottom line: As the hearing adjourned, Yovanovitch got a standing ovation.

2. Leaked files show how Xi organized mass detentions
A building, believed to house a detention center, in Hotan, in the Xinjiang region of China. Photo: Peter Martin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

More than 400 pages of internal Chinese government documents obtained by The New York Times show new details on the origins and execution of China’s mass detention of as many as 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other predominately Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, per The Times.

  • Why it matters: This is "one of the most significant leaks of government papers from inside China’s ruling Communist Party in decades."

"The 403 pages reveal how the demands of top officials, including President Xi Jinping, led to the creation of the indoctrination camps, which have long been shrouded in secrecy," The Times reports.

  • "The documents also show that the government acknowledged internally that the campaign had torn families apart — even as it explained it as a modest job-training effort — and that the program faced unexpected resistance from officials who feared a backlash and economic damage.

The authors are Austin Ramzy, a Hong Kong correspondent, and Chris Buckley a correspondent covering China, where he has lived for more than 20 years.

3. Roger Stone arrives with Bible, leaves with conviction
Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Above, former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, holds a Bible as he arrives at the federal courthouse in Washington yesterday.

  • Hours later, the self-proclaimed 'dirty trickster" was convicted on all charges — guilty of seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering, Reuters reports.
  • The judge set sentencing for Feb. 6, and rejected a prosecution bid to have Stone jailed until then.

President Trump tweeted:

  • "So they now convict Roger Stone of lying and want to jail him for many years to come. Well, what about Crooked Hillary, Comey, Strzok, Page, McCabe, Brennan, Clapper, Shifty Schiff, Ohr & Nellie, Steele & all of the others, including even Mueller himself? Didn’t they lie?"
4. Pics du jour: Chinese troops in Hong Kong
Chinese soldiers arrive with brooms to clean up the protest area at Hong Kong Baptist University in Hong Kong today. (Television Broadcasts Limited Hong Kong via AP)

In Hong Kong today, the scene above is an eerie reminder that mainland Chinese troops are looming nearby, ready to crush dissent or even take control.

  • Chinese army troops stationed in the semiautonomous territory emerged from nearby barracks to clear streets that protesters clogged with debris to slow down police, AP reports.
  • Dozens of People’s Liberation Army soldiers, dressed in black shorts and olive drab T-shirts, helped street cleaners pick up paving stones, rocks and other obstacles that had stopped traffic.

Why it matters: The soldiers, jogging in formation, carrying brooms and singing in cadence, were a rare sight on the streets of the city.

  • China maintains a garrison of about 10,000 soldiers, but they can’t operationally deploy without a request from the Hong Kong government.

The bottom line: Today, they're picking up bricks. Tomorrow, it could be people.

Chinese soldiers pick up bricks scattered by protesters at Hong Kong Baptist University. (Television Broadcasts Limited Hong Kong via AP)
5. 📈 Blue-chip milestone

The Dow closed above 28,000 for the first time, as fading recession fears extended the decade-long bull run. The Wall Street Journal

6. Big Beer goes flat

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans are starting to lose their taste for beer, Erica Pandey writes in today's issue of our twice-weekly Axios Future newsletter. (Sign up here.)

  • Consumption of wine and spirits is up, says Greg Cohen, of alcohol market research firm. IWSR. But beer consumption is projected to fall 6% by 2023.

What’s happening: Brewers are attempting to diversify their offerings, adding seltzers and cannabis-infused beverages.

  • Anheuser-Busch InBev, one of the two biggest brewers in the world, has invested in energy drinks and non-alcoholic beer, reports The Wall Street Journal.
  • Molson Coors is linking up with the Hydropothecary Corp. to roll out cannabis-infused drinks. Molson Coors is also planning to cut hundreds of jobs as it restructures to move beyond beer, per the Journal.
  • Diageo, the drinks giant behind Smirnoff vodka and Guinness beer, is investing in Seedlip, a European company that makes non-alcoholic drinks that can be mixed with alcohol or consumed as is.

Generational trends are flattening beer consumption:

  • Young people, more health conscious than ever, are seeking out drinks with lower calorie counts and alcohol volumes.
  • The younger generation was raised on sweet, sugary snacks, and those preferences may have followed them into adulthood.
  • They're also rejecting big brands — in food, in clothing and in beer — in favor of smaller, independent sellers.
Mike Allen

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