Nov 28, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🇺🇸 Last Senate race of the midterms: Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) is re-elected, 54% to 46%, giving the Senate a makeup of 53 Rs, 47 Ds (two R pickups).

Nancy Pelosi enters today's House Democratic leadership elections unopposed for speaker. But she still lacks the vote tally she'll need to clinch the post in January. (AP)

  • House makeup is 234 Ds, 200 Rs (39 D pickups), with one California seat undecided (D ahead).
1 big thing: Signs point to Mueller acceleration

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Evidence is mounting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is moving toward further indictments — and perhaps some big ones, with an end-of-year flurry of activity, Garrett M. Graff reports for Axios.

Graff — one of the most astute Mueller-watchers, and author of a book focused on his dozen years as FBI director — sees six signs that a Mueller climax may be accelerating:

  1. Mueller is tightening the screws on Jerome Corsi, a friend of former Trump adviser Roger Stone. A plea deal — or charges — appear imminent.
  2. Ecuador may be moving toward turning over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The government removed its Assange-backing U.K. ambassador last week, and has prohibited his lawyers from meeting with him. The report yesterday by The Guardian that Assange and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort may have met repeatedly — denied by Manafort and Assange — raises the stakes dramatically.
  3. Russian spy and NRA superfan Maria Butina is reported to be in talks for a plea deal.
  4. A number of Mueller’s prosecutors were hard at work on Veterans Day —when Michael Cohen took the train to Washington to talk to Mueller's team.
  5. ABC News reported an "unusually high" number — nearly three dozen, in fact — of sealed indictments filed over the course of the year in D.C. Fourteen of those have been added since August, a period when Mueller’s investigation was publicly quiet.
  6. And this big one: President Trump last week finally turned in long-awaited written answers to Mueller’s investigators. His story — or at least a version of it — is now locked in. By doing so, Trump tacitly acknowledged Mueller's authority, despite tweeting last night: "The Mueller Witch Hunt is a total disgrace."

Since Mueller laid low while waiting for Trump’s responses, the special counsel may have wanted to avoid taking any action that might spook the president.

  • Mueller appears to have been thinking this through carefully — not rocking the boat while he waited out Trump. His team delayed a mid-November hearing, where prosecutors were supposed to discuss Paul Manafort’s "lack of cooperation." They made that accusation Monday, after Trump’s answers were in hand.

So the timeline looks like it's speeding up, after four months of near-silence from Mueller. Manafort's lack of cooperation might be the opening needed to file Mueller's most explosive findings in public shortly.

  • That could include new information about that mysterious 2016 Trump Tower meeting, or details about a possible Assange connection.
  • Based on Monday's court filing, Mueller apparently hopes to quickly issue a "report" on Manafort’s activities to the court, one that — if it’s anything like other documents Mueller has filed thus far — will be more informed, more knowledgeable, and more detailed than we can imagine.

Be smart: We've been surprised at every turn by how much Mueller knows.

  • Go deeper: Garrett M. Graff for WIRED, "Robert Mueller's endgame may be in sight."
2. Mueller has lots of unrevealed email

"Conservative author Jerome Corsi alerted longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone in early August 2016 that WikiLeaks planned to release material damaging to ... Hillary Clinton, including documents related to her campaign chairman John Podesta, according to a draft court filing," the WashPost reports.

  • "Corsi emailed Stone about WikiLeaks’s plans nearly 10 weeks before the group published Podesta’s hacked emails in October, according to the document, which was prepared by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team as part of plea negotiations with Corsi that have collapsed."
  • Why it matters: This shows Mueller has lots of email we don't know about.

What's coming, per WashPost: "Mueller has so far charged 32 people in connection with the probe, extracting guilty pleas from several, delving deeply into Russian influence and hacking operations, and compiling reams of unrevealed evidence through a grand jury."

P.S. The special counsel's office issued a rare public statement, saying Mueller will continue to operate even if there's a government shutdown over Trump's wall:

  • "All employees with the Special Counsel’s Office are considered exempt and will continue their operations in the case of a lapse in appropriations."
  • The Justice Department tells me that's correct: "SCO is funded from a permanent indefinite appropriation and would be unaffected in the event of a shutdown. The appropriation bills before Congress do not touch the SCO."
3. Reality check: Unauthorized immigrants fall to 10-year low
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Reproduced from Pew Research Center. Chart: Axios Visuals

"The number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. fell to its lowest level in more than a decade, according to new Pew Research Center estimates based on 2016 government data," the Pew Research Center's Jeffrey S. Passel and D'Vera Cohn write.

  • "There were 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2016, down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007, according to the new estimates."
  • "[B]etween 2007 and 2016, the unauthorized immigrant population shrank by 13%."
  • "Two-thirds of adult unauthorized immigrants have lived in the country for more than 10 years."
  • Reality check: The data contrasts sharply with President Trump's "invasion" rhetoric.

"The decline is due almost entirely to a sharp decrease in the number of Mexicans entering the country without authorization," Pew writes.

  • Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew’s director of global migration and demography research, tells USA Today that the U.S. government’s ever-expanding security presence along the southwestern border — under Democratic and Republican administrations — deterred more immigrants.
  • The second major factor: "The Great Recession wiped out millions of jobs that attracted undocumented immigrants to the USA, while the Mexican economy steadily improved, giving Mexicans more reasons to stay."

What's growing? "[T]he lawful immigrant population grew 22% during the same period, an increase of more than 6 million people," Pew writes.

  • "In 2016, the U.S. was home to a total of 34.4 million lawful immigrants, both naturalized citizens and noncitizens on permanent and temporary visas."

The caravans: The Mexican border "remains a pathway for entry by growing numbers of unauthorized immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras."

  • "Because of them, Central America was the only birth region accounting for more U.S. unauthorized immigrants in 2016 than in 2007."
  • Go deeper: Read how Pew estimates unauthorized immigrants.
4. Microsoft = 📈

"Wall Street investors are enamored with a newly emergent tech company," per AP Tech Writer Matt O'Brien:

  • "The company is ... making billions of dollars selling cloud-computing and other technical services to offices around the world."
  • "Say hello to Microsoft, the 1990s home-computing powerhouse that is having a renaissance moment — eclipsing Facebook, Google, Amazon and the other tech darlings of the late decade."

"And now it is close to surpassing Apple as the world's most valuable publicly traded company ... and did so briefly a few times this week."

  • "A brief period of trading Monday was the first time in more than eight years that Microsoft was worth more than Apple. Microsoft surpassed Apple again briefly [yesterday], before Apple closed on top with a market value of $827 billion, just 0.5 percent ahead of Microsoft's $822 billion."
  • "Apple has been the world's most prosperous firm since claiming the top spot from Exxon Mobil earlier this decade. Microsoft hasn't been at the top since the height of the dot-com boom in 2000."

Why it matters: "As other tech giants stumble, its steady resilience is paying off."

  • "[U]nder CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has found stability by moving away from its flagship Windows operating system and focusing on cloud-computing services with long-term business contracts."
  • "Just a few years ago, Microsoft's prospects looked bleak."
  • Microsoft's "biggest growth has happened in the cloud, particularly the cloud platform it calls Azure. Cloud computing now accounts for more than a quarter of Microsoft's revenue, and Microsoft rivals Amazon as a leading provider of such services."
  • "Being less reliant on consumer demand helped shield Microsoft from holiday season turbulence and U.S.-China trade war jitters affecting Apple and other tech companies."
5. Astonishing read: "Rage in the royal court ... brutal paranoia"

This is the closest that the great David Ignatius has ever come to fully merging his lives as top foreign-affairs columnist and bestselling spy-thriller writer ... "The Khashoggi killing had roots in a cutthroat Saudi family feud":

  • "Behind the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi lies a power struggle within the Saudi royal family that helped feed the paranoia and recklessness of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Eventually, this rage in the royal court led to the death and dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist."
  • "The brutal paranoia of MBS’s royal court in Riyadh recalls Baghdad in the days of Saddam Hussein."
  • "Members of the royal family [were] spying on one another, as the succession struggle loomed. One of Abdullah’s sons described bugging the phones of many senior princes. The Abdullah camp also purchased a Chinese-made device that could secretly detect the identification numbers of phones within a 100-yard radius without accessing the phones directly. Surveillance devices hidden in ashtrays and other items were scattered around palaces in Riyadh to pick up political plots and gossip."

As Tarek Obaid, a Saudi business executive who advised the Abdullah clan, "left his plane, he was stopped by more than 40 plainclothes Chinese security men. ... [H]is head and body were covered in a bag so tight that he couldn’t see or move unassisted; he was taken to an interrogation facility somewhere in Beijing and handcuffed to a chair."

  • A Chinese official explained: "You are stuck in a power play in your country between two powerful princes."

Obviously worthy of your time.

6. Rise of driverless delivery

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new report suggests autonomous vehicles could deliver goods cheaper and faster — within an hour or two of ordering in some cases — and have a major impact on consumer behavior, Axios' Joann Muller writes.

Why it matters: That access to fast, low-cost delivery could make it irresistible to order even more stuff — and send profound ripples through the economy.

  • Quick, low-cost delivery options could mean people cut their shopping trips in half and buy stuff online 1.5 to 3 times more frequently, the authors estimate by applying population projections to government data on today's shopping trips per household.
7. "Can Laurene Powell Jobs save storytelling?"

Laurene Powell Jobs talks to Andrew Ross Sorkin. (Michael Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times)

Kara Swisher writes for the N.Y. Times that Laurene Powell Jobs, "an activist, investor and entrepreneur, has been investing in media companies [including Axios and The Atlantic] through her social impact firm, Emerson Collective."

  • "Buying up a range of unusual properties, she seems to be making an effort to turbocharge storytelling in this fractured digital age."

"[T]he investments include a panoply of the cool, hip and fresh in a mostly glum content industry."

  • "That includes an undisclosed sum to pick up a majority chunk of The Atlantic magazine, along with funding to add 100 employees, including the New Yorker writer George Packer and a former Facebook executive, Alex Hardiman; starting a documentary production company, Concordia Studio, with the Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim; buying a large stake in the production, content and talent management powerhouse Anonymous Content, the maker of 'Spotlight'; purchasing another in Macro, which finances media focusing on stories of people of color, like 'Fences'; and making investments in the online magazine Ozy, the news site Axios and the podcast-making phenom Gimlet Media."

"Most interesting, [Emerson] has also been supporting dramatic art projects like 'Carne y Arena (Virtually present, Physically Invisible),' a stunning virtual reality piece by the Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu that depicted the lives of refugees and also the border patrol agents who try to hold them back."

  • "I went to an installation in Washington to see it, and found myself plunged into both a chilly immigrant holding cell and a rocky border desert without shoes."
  • "A lightweight VR headset and backpack allowed me to move throughout the space, which included real-world touches like wind and heat. It was jarring and disturbing and made a deeper impression about the vicissitudes of immigration than any news story could ever provide."
  • Worthy of your time.
8. Exclusive poll: We want to live longer, but not to 100
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Data: SurveyMonkey online poll conducted Nov. 13-15 among 3,222 U.S. adults. Total margin of error is ±2.5 percentage points. Poll methodology. Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Science may make it possible for people to live past 100, but a new Axios poll finds that Americans aren't exactly jazzed about living that long, Axios managing editor David Nather writes.

  • Why it matters: Most Americans do want to live longer than their average life expectancy now, but they're not thrilled about living a life of "Oy, my back."
  • The poll, conducted by SurveyMonkey for "Axios on HBO," shows people want to be sure they can live independently and won't be in constant pain.

By the numbers:

  • Almost seven out of 10 men want to live past age 77, the average life expectancy for men.
  • 57% of women would like to live past age 81, the average life expectancy for women.
  • But nearly half of Americans, when asked if they'd like to live past 100, said it depends how much pain they're in or whether they'd be able to live independently.
  • Nearly three out of 10 say they're not interested in living past 100, while 22% say they're open to it.
9. Vanity Fair Hall of Fame
Photo: Annie Leibovitz, exclusively for Vanity Fair (By kind permission of Vanity Fair)

Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones revives a tradition with the Vanity Fair 2018 Hall of Fame, highlighting unconventional heroes — including Stormy Daniels, Stephen Hawking, Bob Woodward, Naomi Wadler (the youngest speaker at the March for Our Lives rally) and Gloria Steinem — who dominated the year's headlines.

  • "Oh, what a stormy year. While many of the nation’s leaders went low, these unconventional heroes went high, taking risks — and taking a stand."
  • Annie Leibovitz shot the portfolio, with accompanying text that includes Christopher Buckley on Stormy Daniels ... Mariska Hargitay on Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who sentenced Larry Nassar for abusing Olympic gymnasts ... and Monica Lewinsky on Hannah Gadsby.

See the Hall of Fame at Vanity Fair, posting shortly.

10. 1 grandpa thing

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is a first-time grandfather:

  • His daughter, Jessica Schumer, and her husband, Michael Shapiro, welcome Noah Melvin Schumer-Shapiro, delivered at more than 7 pounds, and 21 inches long, at NYU Langone Tisch Hospital.
  • We're told he's a happy Brooklyn baby.
  • Noah's middle name is "Melvin," in honor of his great grandfather, Melvin Weinshall, an NYC cab driver.

P.S. 1 food thing ... José Andrés nominated for Nobel Peace Prize: "Ever since José Andrés and his small nonprofit group took it upon themselves to feed hungry Puerto Ricans following the near-knockout punch of Hurricane Maria last year, the celebrity chef’s name has been whispered," the WashPost reports.

  • "Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) confirmed that he has nominated the restaurateur and humanitarian for the 2019 award."
Mike Allen