Jul 28, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good Saturday morning.

Situational awareness: Pope Francis today "accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, one of the U.S. Catholic Church’s most prominent figures who has been at the center of a widening sexual abuse scandal," per Reuters' Philip Pullella.

  • "McCarrick, 88, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., is the first cardinal in living memory to lose his red hat and title."
1 big thing: When wild conspiracies come to life

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Think back to the wild conspiracy theories that once floated through your head, or the minds of friends and critics of President Trump: collusion with Russia ... Hidden hush money to former lovers ... Shady business dealings that only insiders like fixer Michael Cohen knew of — and they'd never tell.

Now, think about July, 2018, as narrated by Axios CEO Jim VandeHei:

  • With millions wondering if Vladimir Putin has damaging info about Trump, and suspecting they have a secret pact, the president does something almost unheard of in history: He meets alone with Putin for two hours. Then, with everyone looking for a public signal of Putin's power over Trump, the president shows so much deference at their press conference you would think he was meeting with the Pope. 
  • Then the tape of Trump talking about pre-election payments to a Playboy model surfaces (on CNN, to boot!). The tape + Trump’s admission that he paid off porn star Stormy Daniels = confirmation of what so many thought pre-election happened just as suspected. There was after all a pre-election scramble to silence women — and now it’s on full display for all to see. 
  • Then Cohen, the Trump boot-licker who had claimed he'd take a bullet for the president, indeed takes a bullet — and aims at his sugar daddy, leaking word he wants Robert Mueller to know he will testify that Trump knew of the infamous Russian meeting to discuss dirt on Hillary Clinton. (Trump denies that.) If true — and given Cohen’s jam and reputation, it remains an if — this is the kind of smoking gun that lives in infamy. 

Be smart: Who the hell knows how this wild saga ends? But it’s striking how much of it was foreseeable — and foreseen.

2. Russian hackers shift focus to U.S. power grid

"State-sponsored Russian hackers appear far more interested this year in demonstrating that they can disrupt the American electric utility grid than the midterm elections, according to United States intelligence officials and technology company executives," the N.Y. Times David E. Sanger writes:

  • "[I]ntelligence officials said they have seen little activity by Russian military hackers aimed at either major American political figures or state voter registration systems."
  • "[T]hat may be because midterm elections are far more difficult to influence than a presidential race. It would require separate interventions in more than 460 contests, many of which would be of little interest to a foreign power."

What's new: "[T]here is surprisingly far more effort directed at implanting malware in the electrical grid."

  • "This week, the Department of Homeland Security reported that over the last year, Russia’s military intelligence agency had infiltrated the control rooms of power plants across the United States."
  • "American intelligence officials said that the department had understated the scope of the threat."
  • "So far the White House has said little about the intrusions other than raise the fear of such breaches to maintain old coal plants in case they are needed to recover from a major attack."
3. Trump victory lap on economy as probes encroach

"The U.S. economy grew at the fastest pace in nearly four years this spring ... [a] seasonally and inflation-adjusted annual rate of 4.1% in the second quarter," The Wall Street Journal's Harriet Torry writes (subscription):

  • Why it matters: That reflects "broad-based momentum that suggests the second-longest expansion on record isn’t yet running out of fuel."
  • "[S]ome of the growth came from a burst of exports that some analysts warned could be a temporary response to looming trade tariffs."
  • But "the details of the report suggest underlying strength that could tee up one of the best years in the current expansion, which began in 2009."

Trump tweets: "We have accomplished an economic turnaround of HISTORIC proportions!"

  • Trump on the South Lawn: "Once again, we are the economic envy of the entire world.  When I meet the leaders of countries, the first thing they say invariably is, 'Mr. President, so nice to meet you. Congratulations on your economy.  You’re leading the entire world.' They say it almost each and every time."

Reality check from AP: "The U.S. economy just entered its 10th year of growth, a recovery that began under President Barack Obama, who inherited the Great Recession."

  • "The data show that the falling unemployment rate and gains in home values reflect the duration of the recovery, rather than any major changes made since 2017 by the Trump administration."

P.S. CNN's Kevin Liptak calls it "another agony-and-ecstasy week":

  • "Trump's mood, people inside the White House say, has grown dark as his longtime fixer Michael Cohen executes a very public breakup."
Bonus: Pic du jour
The moon over Regensburg, Germany (Isa Foltin/Getty Images)

"Curiosity and awe ... greeted a complete lunar eclipse, the longest one of this century and visible in much of the world," AP reports from Johannesburg:

  • "The so-called 'blood moon,' when it turns a deep red, was visible at different times in Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe and South America when the sun, Earth and moon lined up perfectly, casting Earth's shadow on the moon."
  • "The total eclipse lasted 1 hour and 43 minutes, with the entire event lasting closer to four hours."
Gregorio Borgia/AP

The blood moon rises next to the Colosseum in Rome.

4. New Ronan Farrow exposé
Courtesy N.Y. Post

New Yorker contributing writer Ronan Farrow, who reported harrowing accounting by victims of Harvey Weinstein, rocks the entertainment world with vivid, on-the-record accusations by women who say CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves sexually harassed them "between the nineteen-eighties and the late aughts":

  • "Thirty current and former employees of CBS told me that such behavior extended from Moonves to important parts of the corporation, including CBS News and '60 Minutes' ... [M]en at CBS News who were accused of sexual misconduct were promoted, even as the company paid settlements to women."
  • "CBS, one former associate producer said, 'is an old network. Everything in there feels old: the people, the furniture, the culture, the mores.'"

Sophie Gayter, a former “60 Minutes” employee, "and another junior female employee told me that their bosses asked them to complete the company’s mandatory online sexual-harassment training programs for them."

  • Gayter: "'Many assistants did it for their bosses ... We’d book their travel, do their expenses, and then do their sexual-harassment training.”
  • Keep reading.

Moonves told The New Yorker: “Throughout my time at CBS, we have promoted a culture of respect and opportunity for all employees ... I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely."

  • TV host Julie Chen, Moonves' wife, said on Twitter: "I have known my husband, Leslie Moonves, since the late '90s, and I have been married to him for almost 14 years. Leslie is a good man and a loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement.”
5. Trump has repeatedly sought to punish press
CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins (Alex Brandon/AP)

"President Trump has sought repeatedly to punish journalists for the way they ask him questions, directing White House staff to ban those reporters from covering official events or to revoke their press credentials," the WashPost's Phil Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker report:

  • "At various moments throughout his presidency, Trump has vented angrily to aides about what he considers disrespectful behavior and impertinent questions from reporters."
  • Trump has said, according to a current official: “These people shouting questions are the worst ... Why do we have them in here?”

"Until this week, ... Trump’s senior aides have resisted ... They convinced him that moves to restrict media access could backfire and further strain the White House’s fraught relationship with the press corps."

  • "On Wednesday, ... newly installed Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Shine and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took action against CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins, telling her she could not attend Trump’s open-media event in the Rose Garden because they objected to her questioning of the president [when she was the TV pool reporter in the Oval Office] earlier in the day."

Why it matters: "The move revealed a fresh willingness inside the West Wing to execute the president’s wishes to punish reporters."

6. 1 fun thing

"The Bachelorette Party’s Over: Venues Snub Bridezillas and Their Entourages ... [S]ome wineries, tour operators and hotels want a divorce from rowdy bachelorette partyers — forbidding veils, tiaras, crowns and inflatable objects" — Wall Street Journal A-hed by Jennifer Levitz (subscription):

  • "Former bachelorette Rebecca Neal, 28, says she 'was super surprised' at the antipathy when trying to book tickets for a March party with sightseeing company NashTrash Tours in Nashville, a popular bachelorette-party destination."
  • NashTrash’s website: “NO bachelorette parties. ... [A]nd please don’t promise us your group is different from all the rest. ... [T]hings quickly get out of hand on the bus. The 'I'm the wildest' attitude seems to come out when competing for the bride’s attention ... [I]f the guides or any other customers get any hint of a bachelorette celebration, you will be charged an additional $20 per person."
Mike Allen

Thanks for reading. Updates all weekend on Axios.com.