Jan 19, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

☕ Happy Saturday!

Situational awareness ... Trump tweets: "Will be leaving for Dover [Air Force Base] to be with the families of 4 very special people who lost their lives [in Syria this week] in service to our Country!"

1 big thing: The reckoning
Screengrab from CNN

Last night's rare on-the-record statement from the Mueller team is a reckoning that journalism had coming: Amid some of the most impressive reporting of our lifetimes, there's plenty of questionable coverage in this shock-a-minute era.

Jonathan Swan points out that BuzzFeed's report that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, if true, would put this presidency at existential risk.

  • The story, as written, as as clean as it gets: Trump directed Cohen to lie about the Trump Tower in Moscow project, and there’s tons of evidence to support that.
  • Very rarely has a story been so unequivocal — usually there are more hedges and acknowledgments of what isn't known.
  • And unlike most other reportage in this saga, this accused the president of a felony — a very different bar.

Democrats read the story and began immediately dreaming up articles of impeachment.

  • Even some conservatives joined the "If true" chorus. Erick Erickson covered his bases: "If this is true, President Trump has committed an impeachable offense. ... [B]ut I would tread cautiously."
  • The two BuzzFeed reporters —Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier — have broken important news previously on the Russia beat, which is why major outlets took this report seriously.

BuzzFeed asserted that the accusation was supported by copious documentary evidence that would’ve cleanly fit attorney general nominee Bill Barr’s on-the-record definition of obstruction: internal Trump Organization "emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents."

  • The WashPost reports: "Mueller’s denial, according to people familiar with the matter, aims to make clear that none of those statements in the story are accurate."
  • The N.Y. Times got similar guidance: "One person familiar with Mr. Cohen’s testimony to the special counsel’s prosecutors said that Mr. Cohen did not state that the president had pressured him to lie to Congress."

Garrett M. Graff of WIRED, in an email to Axios, pointed out the new political context for journalistic bombshells:

  • "You have to think that the special counsel's office is thinking through how to respond to press reports in the era of a Democratic House — they need to now set reasonable (and timely) expectations in order to ensure that Congress doesn't [go] off the rails."
  • Graff told me the statement appears to be very careful, disputing specific — although unspecified — allegations.

Some of the coverage suggested end times for Trump:

  • But now the "fake news" accusers are dunking on the press. Sean Hannity used a red "BuzzFeed Busted" graphic at the top of his Fox News show.
  • Trump tweeted last night: "A very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!"
  • And this morning: "Many people are saying that the Mainstream Media will have a very hard time restoring credibility because of the way they have treated me over the past 3 years (including the election lead-up)"
  • Ultimately, Buzzfeed is reporting, based on two anonymous sources, that the president committed a felony. That’s an enormous claim to hang on two anonymous sources.

Be cautious: This story is moving so fast.

  • In the next 24 hours, BuzzFeed’s sources could retract their claims or corroborate them.
  • Relevant emails could become public, other outlets could find more on this — who knows.
  • Some pundits and lawmakers rushed to call this story the death knell of Trump’s presidency. Don't make the same mistake about BuzzFeed — or journalism.

P.S. My email exchange with BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith:

  • How can you stand fully behind your reporting when Mueller says it's at least partly wrong?
    • We literally don't know what the special counsel is referring to. 
  • Should someone lose their job if you or the reporters were wrong in accusing the president of a felony? 
    • And I'm not going to speculate.

Smith said in a phoner with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow: "This is a line of reporting that has been repeatedly vindicated."

Screenshot from Fox News
2. Shutdown, Day 29: Trump speaks at 3 p.m. ET
Kellyanne Conway prepares for a Fox News interview at the White House yesterday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

We expect, based on Jonathan Swan's conversations with sources familiar with the speech, that President Trump will use 3 p.m. ET remarks from the Diplomatic Reception Room to propose some form of broad immigration compromise.

  • The offer is expected to include Trump’s $5.7 billion demand for wall money in exchange for the BRIDGE Act — which would extend protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — and also legislation to extend the legal status of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, according to a source with direct knowledge.
  • Jared Kushner and Mike Pence have led the crafting of this deal and the negotiations with members, according to White House officials.

P.S. "House Democrats have added more than $1 billion in border-related spending to a package of funding bills that would reopen most of the government." (N.Y. Times)

"Former President George W. Bush treated his Secret Service detail to pizza to show his appreciation for their service without paychecks during the partial government shutdown," per AP.

  • "Bush spokesman Freddy Ford says the photo was taken [yesterday] in Florida."
3. Pope's call could keep some Catholics off juries
Pope Francis welcomes accredited ambassadors to the Holy See in the Sistine Chapel on Jan. 7. (Vatican Pool/Getty Images)

"In August, Pope Francis declared the death penalty morally unacceptable in all circumstances and committed the church to its global abolition," Aliza Plener Cover of the University of Idaho College of Law writes in a piece in tomorrow's WashPost Outlook, adapted from the Yale Law Journal Forum:

  • "But because of the anomalous way we select juries in capital cases, greater opposition to the death penalty among Catholics could, counterintuitively, increase the number of death sentences imposed in this country. "
  • "This paradox is possible because of a process called 'death qualification,' in which a judge can disqualify certain prospective jurors who are opposed to executions."
Bonus pic
Andrew Cabellero Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Students and activists thronged the Mall yesterday during the annual March for Life.

  • The Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal: "Rep. Katrina Jackson, a Democrat state lawmaker from Louisiana, addressed the bipartisan efforts of pro-life legislation and said Louisiana was the top pro-life state in the country."
4. 2020 vision: Howard Schultz may go independent

"Advisers to former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz have been exploring the possibility of launching an independent bid for the White House in 2020," the WashPost's Michael Scherer reports.

  • Why it matters: "Trump’s opponents, including many Democratic strategists, have expressed concerns that a serious three-way race in November would divide the Democratic vote in a way that helps Trump win reelection."
5. Coming tomorrow night: "Super blood wolf moon"
The Earth starts to cast its shadow on the moon on Aug. 28, during a complete lunar eclipse seen from Jakarta, Indonesia. (Tatan Syuflana/AP)

Starting tomorrow night, North and South America will see a total lunar eclipse and supermoon wrapped into one, AP's Marcia Dunn writes:

  • "The moon, Earth and sun will line up ... for the only total lunar eclipse this year and next. At the same time, the moon will be ever so closer to Earth and appear slightly bigger and brighter than usual — a supermoon."

The eclipse starts Sunday night or early Monday, depending on where you are, and will last about three hours.

  • "It begins with the partial phase around 10:34 p.m. EST Sunday."
  • "Totality — when Earth's shadow completely blankets the moon — will last 62 minutes, beginning at 11:41 p.m. EST Sunday."
  • "If the skies are clear, the entire eclipse will be visible in North and South America, as well as Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, Portugal and the French and Spanish coasts.

"During totality, the moon will look red because of sunlight scattering off Earth's atmosphere."

  • "That's why an eclipsed moon is sometimes known as a blood moon. In January, the full moon is also sometimes known as the wolf moon or great spirit moon."
  • "So informally speaking, the upcoming lunar eclipse will be a super blood wolf — or great spirit — moon."

Watch a livestream from the Griffith Observatory in L.A., beginning just after 10:30 p.m. ET.

6. 1 life lesson
Andy Brownbill/AP

At the Australian Open in Melbourne today, preeminent champion Serena Williams, 37, consoled Dayana Yastremska, an 18-year-old from Ukraine, after defeating her 6-2, 6-1, AP's Howard Fendrich reports.

  • Williams put her right hand on Yastremska's shoulder and said: "You're so young. You did amazing. Don't cry."

Then they embraced, and Williams patted Yastremska on the back.

  • Williams later said: "I could tell she was quite upset. I kind of liked that. It shows she wasn't just there to play a good match — she was there to win."
  • "That really broke my heart ... I think she's a good talent. It's good to see that attitude."
Mike Allen