Nov 16, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Happy Friday!

⚡Breaking: The Justice Department accidentally revealed in a filing that it "has prepared an indictment against the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, marking a drastic escalation of the government’s years-long battle with him." (N.Y. Times)

  • NBC: "[T]rump’s legal team is nearing completion of written answers to questions posed by ... Mueller that may be submitted as early as this week."
1 big thing: Trump's conservative media comfort trap

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Conservative media pose a surprising risk to the Trump administration, Jonathan Swan reports:

  • While outlets like Fox News' opinion programs provide unstintingly positive coverage of his administration, close presidential advisers and White House officials, as well as the president himself, often lose their inhibitions and make damaging comments when they speak with friendly outlets.

Trump fell into the conservative media trap again this week while speaking with The Daily Caller, a conservative site that generally gives him glowing coverage.

  • A Daily Caller reporter threw Trump a seemingly harmless open-ended question, saying the president seemed happy with his acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. After saying a few nice things about Whitaker, Trump launched into an anti-Mueller diatribe: "I'm concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. ... It’s an illegal investigation."
  • According to the transcript, the Daily Caller had not brought up the special counsel.

Why it matters: The president clearly makes a strong connection between Whitaker's installation at the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation.

  • If Whitaker is ever nominated for a Senate-confirmed post, he should expect Democrats to bring up these comments as evidence the president sees him as a political battering ram.

Between the lines: As the New York Times' Maggie Haberman tweeted, "in days with different staff, aides generally kept Trump from doing conservative media interviews because he gets comfortable and says ... things like he says here."

The backdrop ... Conservative media have caused unexpected problems for Trump since the first days of his administration:

  • Rudy Giuliani opened a legal Pandora's box by telling Fox News' "Judge Jeanine" Pirro that the travel ban grew out of the president's campaign promise to ban Muslims from coming to the United States. (Lawsuits against the travel ban cited Giuliani's comments, and he later issued a court filing walking them back.)
  • Giuliani also made bombshell revelations about Michael Cohen's legal problems to Trump-friendly Fox News host Sean Hannity. Giuliani told Hannity the ins and outs of paying "some Stormy Daniels woman" $130,000.
  • "Funneled it through a law firm and the president repaid it," Giuliani said.
  • Hannity's stunned reply became an instant internet meme: "Oh. I didn't know. He did?"

Trump himself has fallen into the conservative comfort trap:

  • The president breezed into an awkward admission on "Fox & Friends" earlier this year when he said Michael Cohen represented him "with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal." (Trump had previously denied knowing about Cohen’s hush-money payment to the porn star.)
  • And Trump caused a minor international incident after a July interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Carlson pressed Trump on the wisdom of NATO's expanded membership, given NATO's Article 5 requires that NATO members come to the aid of any member country being attacked.
  • Carlson posed a hypothetical question: "Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?" Trump's answer threw into doubt whether the U.S. would defend Montenegro, saying that the Montenegrins were "very aggressive people" and that their membership in NATO could result in "World War III."

Be smart: Conservative outlets often get well-deserved criticism for carrying water for the White House. But from time to time, they also cause headaches.

2. Factors fueling deadliest U.S. wildfires in a century
Expand chart
Data: CAL FIRE and US Forest Service, NOAA. Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Above, the 13-month string of California's deadliest and most destructive blazes has been driven by unusually warm and dry preceding conditions, strong winds that have caused the fires to spread rapidly, and populated areas that are difficult to evacuate on short notice, Axios science editor Andrew Freedman reports.

Below, a neighborhood in Paradise, in Northern California, as the fire's death toll hits 63 and the number unaccounted for soars to 631 (although that may include some who are counted twice, or who may not know they were reported missing):

Josh Edelson AFP/Getty Images
3. Facebook leaders' strategy on consultants: We didn't know

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters on a 90-minute conference call yesterday that he and COO Sheryl Sandberg were unaware of the company's involvement with a D.C.-based opposition research firm that had tried to link an anti-Facebook campaign to George Soros, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

  • Why it matters: Sharp-elbowed political consultants are common in the world of corporate lobbying. But a long series of crises, including the Cambridge Analytica privacy breaches and the election-meddling misinformation campaigns, have eroded Facebook's morale and run down its credibility reserves, giving the company's leaders little room to maneuver.

The details: Definers Public Affairs is a consulting firm founded by former Republican campaign staffers (CEO: Matt Rhoades; president: Joe Pounder) that specializes in opposition research. It represents other tech firms, like Qualcomm, and has lobbied against Apple.

  • Zuckerberg told reporters on the call he learned about the relationship via the N.Y. Times on Wednesday, and quickly decided to end the contract.
  • "As soon as I read it, I looked at whether this was the type of firm that we wanted to work with and we stopped working with them," Zuckerberg said. He said Definers' tactics are "the sort of thing that might be normal in Washington" but that they are "not the kind of thing we want to be involved with here."

Zuckerberg said that COO Sheryl Sandberg "was also not involved" with the Definers relationship, and that "she learned about it at the same time I did."

  • Sandberg later posted: "I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have. I have great respect for George Soros — and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent."

Scoop: A Pennsylvania philanthropist and former hedge fund executive, David Magerman, was the initial donor behind Freedom from Facebook, a high-profile campaign urging regulators to break up Facebook, Axios' David McCabe reports.

4. Pics du jour: Winter is coming
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
N.Y. Post
5. Word driving 2020

"Energized by their success in last week's midterms and courting potential primary voters outraged by the actions of the Trump administration, virtually every Democrat considering a White House run is talking about fighting in one form or another — and trying to prove he or she is prepared for the match," AP's Juana Summers points out.

  • Dan Pfeiffer, co-host of "Pod Save America" and former senior adviser to President Obama, cautions: “If your message is, 'They punch me in the gut, I punch them in the face,' that is not an inspiring message ... We have to make this election about big things, and we have to inspire people."
6. Half of U.S. post-millennial generation is non-white
Expand chart
Data: Pew Research Center. Chart: Axios Visuals

In a significant trend for politics, almost half of 6- to 21-year-olds in the U.S. are Hispanic, African-American, or Asian, according to a study by Pew Research, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

  • Why it matters: Rapidly changing American demographics will have a profound impact on elections, government policies, economic opportunity, and more.
  • "How we deal with this racially diverse generation ... will say a lot about how successful we will be as a nation," says Brookings' William Frey, author of the book "Diversity Explosion."

The political impact of changing U.S. demographics can already be seen in the high turnout of young Americans in the midterm elections, Frey tells Axios — an estimated 31% of people 18 to 29 voted, the most since 1994.

  • For Republicans, the threat is that younger generations — more likely to care about abortion, gay rights, and immigration — will flock largely to Democrats.
  • The most notable change has been the rise in the share of Hispanics. A quarter of the post-millennial generation is Hispanic, according to Pew, a growth of 7 points since millennials were their age.

The youngest generation is also the most highly educated, with 59% of 18- to 20- year-olds enrolled in college, compared with 53% of millennials when they were the same age.

  • More than half of Hispanic and African-American 18- to 20-year-olds are enrolled in college, while 34% of millennial Hispanics and 47% of millennial African Americans were enrolled when they were the same age.
7. New midterm record

"Women's winning streak in this year's elections has extended to statehouses across the country," AP's Geoff Mulvihill reports:

  • "More than 2,000 women will serve in state legislatures when those chambers convene for their upcoming sessions, representing roughly a quarter of all state lawmakers across the country. That mark will eclipse the record of 1,875 who served this year, according to reports ... from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University."
  • "The number could rise as ballot-counting concludes in close contests across the country. [AP] has not yet called 216 state legislative elections, races that include about 185 female candidates."

"In another first, women could end up holding the majority in two state legislative chambers at the same time — the Colorado House and Nevada Assembly, according to tallies by the center and the National Conference of State Legislatures."

  • "The only previous time women comprised the majority in a state legislative chamber was in 2009 and 2010 in New Hampshire's state Senate."
8. Brexit storm could sweep away government
The Sun, Britain's largest-circulation newspaper

With Prime Minister Theresa May's "party in revolt, her colleagues departing — some determined to usher her out of office — we ... don't know yet, if Brexit can happen as planned, perhaps, if at all," BBC political editor Laura Kuenssber writes.

  • "This could be a gale that's weathered in a few days, or a serious storm that sweeps the government away."
9. Tech industry fights D.C.

First look ... After the D.C. City Council this week approved a hotel-industry-backed bill that caps on how often you can rent a property via Airbnb, the local tech industry is beginning an urgent push to get Mayor Muriel Bowser to veto it.

  • Here's a letter being sent by the Consumer Tech Association, the Internet Association, NetChoice and Travel Tech tomorrow.
  • Key line: "[This bill] sends a message that DC is not open to innovative businesses and is not a place for the technology sector to invest in."

The backstory: "The D.C. Council voted unanimously Tuesday to impose some of the tightest limits in the nation on Airbnb and other short-term rental companies," the WashPost's Bob McCartney and Peter Jamison report.

  • "If signed by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), the measure would prevent D.C. property owners from renting out second homes on a short-term basis and bar them from renting spare rooms or basements in their primary residences for more than 90 days per year when the host is away."
  • Why it matters: "Supporters of the crackdown said it was necessary in a city where short-term rentals are making an overheated real estate market even more difficult for would-be home buyers and renters."

See the letter.

10. 1 fun thing

Hangover helper ... Minibars in the back of Ubers:

  • "[A] traveling minibar without the alcohol ... is in about 12,000 ride-share vehicles; passengers who catch a ride in one that’s equipped with the box can buy snacks and energy drinks on their way to a meeting or home from a very late night," per Bloomberg's Kate Krader.
  • "The boxes are stocked with about a dozen products, which vary but could include Korean beauty masks and last-minute electronics such as iPhone chargers."

How it works: "On top of the box of goodies (usually in the console but always within reach of the rider), is a unique code that a passenger enters into a mobile website menu. When that’s entered, it’ll show the driver’s inventory on your phone. And once a product is purchased, through Apple Pay as well as Venmo, ... the driver can open the box and retrieve the item."

Mike Allen