Jul 29, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good Wednesday morning! Today's Smart Brevity™ count ... 1,173 words ... 4½ minutes.

1 big thing ... Exclusive: Trump never raised Taliban bounties with Putin

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

President Trump has never confronted Vladimir Putin with intelligence indicating Russia paid the Taliban to kill U.S. troops, he told Jonathan Swan yesterday for "Axios on HBO."

Why it matters: Democrats have seized on the issue, and Trump’s reluctance to discuss it, as evidence he’s unwilling to challenge Putin even when American lives are at stake.

  • Trump spoke with Putin on Thursday, and subsequently deflected a question about whether he’d raised the alleged bounty scheme, saying on Monday: "We don't talk about what we discussed, but we had plenty of discussion."

In our interview, he was definitive: "I have never discussed it with him.”

  • "I would — I have no problem with it. ... [Y]ou know, it's interesting: Nobody ever brings up China. They always bring Russia, Russia, Russia."

Pressed on why he didn’t raise the matter on the call, the president said:

  • "That was a phone call to discuss other things. And, frankly, that’s an issue that many people said was fake news."

Trump has spoken to Putin at least eight times since intelligence about the alleged Russian bounties was reportedly included in the President's Daily Brief — his written intelligence briefing — in late February.

  • Trump’s team says he was not verbally briefed on the matter before a June 26 report from the New York Times brought the controversy out into the open.
  • Trump insisted in the interview that he does read the PDB — "they like to say I don’t read, I read a lot" — but stood by the claim that the matter "never reached my desk" because U.S. intelligence "didn’t think it was real."

Between the lines: There's no clear consensus within the intelligence community about the strength of the evidence that Russia paid the bounties.

  • In 2018, Gen. John Nicholson, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, accused Russia of providing money and arms to the group, saying, "we know that the Russians are involved."
  • Trump told "Axios on HBO" that he was not aware of Nicholson’s comments, and said evidence that Russia was aiding the Taliban "never reached my desk."

Asked about Russia supplying weapons to the Taliban, Trump said: "Well, we supplied weapons when they were fighting Russia, too."

  • Swan pointed out: "That's a different era."

🎬 See a clip.

  • The full interview will air Monday at 11 p.m. ET/PT on all HBO platforms.
2. Tech CEOs' task: Stay cool, wave flag

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When CEOs testify before Congress, as the Big 4 tech leaders will beginning at noon today, they have one job: Demonstrate they're good corporate citizens by enduring questioning without offending or putting their feet in their mouths.

Axios managing editor Scott Rosenberg writes from the Bay Area that many CEOs mess up by making self-serving statements that are transparently untrue, or by letting their contempt for the machinery of democracy show.

What to watch: Of the four CEOs testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg already passed this test with flying colors two years ago.

  • His retort to Sen. Orrin Hatch's question about how Facebook profits without charging users —"Senator, we sell ads" — was disarmingly forthright.

Apple's Tim Cook and Google's Sundar Pichai are both consummate technocrats who are unlikely to flinch, weird out or crack under pressure.

  • Jeff Bezos is the wild card. It's his first time before Congress. For most of the 25 years he's run Amazon, he has avoided hostile questions in public.

What to watch: Because of the pandemic, this high drama won't play out under the hot lights of Capitol Hill, but in the cool squares of Cisco Webex.

3. Reopening schools is lose-lose dilemma for many families of color
Reproduced from KFF Health Tracking Poll. Chart: Axios Visuals

Racial inequality is a defining feature of the pandemic, both in terms of its health impact and its economic effect. This is no less true when it comes to education, Axios' Caitlin Owens writes.

  • Children of color are more likely to fall behind the longer they stay home from school, partially because of limited access to virtual education.

Parents of color are also more worried than white parents about losing the other benefits that schools provide, like social services and food, according to recent polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

  • Only 9% of white parents are worried about their children having enough to eat at home if schools remain closed, compared to 44% of parents of color.

See another graphic.

4. Pic du jour: "Do not hold grudges"
Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

An AP photographer snapped these notes about Sen. Kamala Harris, a vice presidential possibility, that Joe Biden had with him when he took press questions yesterday in Wilmington.

Biden summoned the spirit of John Lewis as he unveiled his own economic plan to address structural inequalities in America, Hans Nichols reports.

  • In the fourth and final installment of his economic program, Biden spelled out how to allocate for communities of color some of the money that he's previously announced.

Keep reading.

5. New memo: Administration saw immediate threat from Floyd protests

Attorney General William Barr watches a rioting video that was a Republican exhibit during yesterday's hearing. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"From the earliest days of the recent protests against police brutality and racism, some top federal law enforcement officials viewed the demonstrators with alarm and called for an aggressive federal response that two months later continues to escalate," the N.Y. Times reports.

  • A June 2 memo from Deputy FBI Director David Bodwich "demanded an immediate mobilization as protests gathered after George Floyd’s death while he was in police custody a week earlier."
  • Bodwich called "the situation 'a national crisis,' and wrote that in addition to investigating 'violent protesters, instigators' and 'inciters,' bureau leaders should collect information with 'robust social media exploitation teams' and examine what appeared to be 'highly organized behavior.'"

Go deeper with our lead from Axios PM, "Barr's time in the barrel," by Zachary Basu, with highlights from Barr's appearance before the House Judiciary Committee.

6. Dems plan John Lewis film for convention

Spotted outside Lincoln Center in Manhattan. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

Democrats plan a tribute to John Lewis as part of their convention, which begins Aug. 17 in Milwaukee, Axios has learned.

  • The film will air during one of the four nights of the convention (9 to 11 p.m. ET each night).

The tribute is produced by Dawn Porter, the filmmaker behind the new documentary, "John Lewis: Good Trouble."

7. Exclusive: Lincoln Project gets jump start on fall

Screenshot: Lincoln Project

The Lincoln Project, a group founded by "never Trump" Republicans that has produced some of the cycle's most memorable ads, today begins spending $4 million to blitz Senate races in Alaska, Maine and Montana.

  • "We’re moving into the active phase of the fall campaign as voters, stuck at home because of COVID-19, tune in earlier than ever," communications director Keith Edwards told me.

Why it matters: This is the Lincoln Project's biggest buy to date.

  • The Senate ads will air for seven to 10 days in key markets.

Two of the ads — "Real" in Alaska and "Strong" in Montana — support challengers to incumbent Republicans.

  • "Trump Stooge," airing in Maine, criticizes Sen. Susan Collins for not standing up to President Trump.
  • "Maine deserves a leader, not a Trump stooge," the ad says.

See the ads:

8. Word o' the day: "splinternet"
Graphic: Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas

In connection with today's CEO hearing, which he's calling D.C.'s "Summer Super Bowl," lobbyist Bruce Mehlman is out with an emergency deck on tech, including this look at how the internet varies around the world.

9. A community that fought back
Photograph by Hannah Price for The New York Times

"Though Black communities bear disproportionate hardships of the environmental crisis, they historically have been left out of the environmental movement," Linda Villarosa writes from Philadelphia in the forthcoming N.Y. Times Magazine:

Protests and movement conferences are filled with a sea of mostly young white people and generally not Black people whose families have lived near polluting facilities for generations, their bodies ravaged by the effects of toxic emissions.

Keep reading (subscription).

10. Ken Burns' next epics

Photo: PBS

Ernest Hemingway, Muhammad Ali, Ben Franklin and Leonardo da Vinci are all are getting the Ken Burns treatment in the next few years, AP's David Bauder reports.

  • The PBS documentarian said he has eight projects in the works, half of them in-depth looks at the four personalities. The da Vinci project is the first one he has done on a non-American subject.
Mike Allen

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