Nov 17, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

☕️ Good Saturday morning.

1 big thing: Trump's moment of truth
Victory lap: CNN's Jim Acosta returns to the White House with CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist yesterday after a federal judge restored the correspondent's credentials. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Responding to questions from Robert Mueller is President Trump’s literal moment of truth, Jonathan Swan writes:

  • Over his decades in public life, Trump has faced scant — if any — serious consequences for saying things that are not true. However, right now, in putting together his answers for the special counsel, that all changes.

Trump told reporters yesterday that he had finished, but not submitted, his answers for Mueller:

  • "My lawyers aren’t working on that. I’m working on that. I write the answers. My lawyers don’t write answers; I write answers."
  • "I was asked a series of questions. I’ve answered them very easily. Very easily. I’m sure they’re tricked up, because, you know, they like to catch people — 'Gee, you know, was the weather sunny or was it rainy?' 'He said it may have been a good day; it was rainy, therefore he told a lie. He perjured himself.'"
  • "OK? So you have to always be careful when you answer questions with people that probably have bad intentions."

It’s evident that Trump is acutely aware of the high price he would pay if he lies to the special counsel. His concern about that is entirely grounded in fact, and that’s why the process has dragged on for many months. 

  • We don't know what Trump has written as answers to these questions. But it’s hard to imagine Trump would tell Mueller anything that would incriminate himself or his family. Without direct knowledge of the contents of his answers, we feel on safe ground saying Trump isn’t handing Mueller any huge bombshells.
  • More than anything, for Trump, answering these questions — even though it’s in written form, and even though it dragged on — appears to be acquiescing to the legitimacy of the special counsel.
  • Once that letter gets sent, Trump will have accepted, in act if not in words, that Mueller is running a serious and important investigation, and that it behooves powerful people to give Mueller what he wants.

Between the lines: Rudy Giuliani told The Washington Post that Trump is only answering questions about events prior to his election. If that’s true, it would indicate a certain level of success for the president’s legal team in evading cooperation with inquiries into potential obstruction of justice.

  • That said, it’s still a concession on the part of the White House to give answers from the president to Mueller.

P.S. Trump also said yesterday — following a federal court victory for CNN's Jim Acosta, who returned in triumph (photo above) with his access restored — that the White House is "writing up rules and regulations" for reporter "decorum."

  • "And if they don’t listen to the rules and regulations, we’ll end up back in court and we’ll win," Trump said. "But more importantly, we’ll just leave, and then you won’t be very happy, because we do get good ratings."
  • "You can’t take three questions and four questions, and just stand up and not sit down. Decorum. You have to practice decorum. ... We want total freedom of the press ... But you have to act with respect. You’re in the White House."
2. Midterms, Day 11
MSNBC's "Morning Joe"

Again?! Below, volunteers look at ballots during a hand recount in Palm Beach, Fla. yesterday.

Saul Martinez/Getty Images
3. CIA puts Trump on spot

"The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month," the WashPost's Shane Harris, Greg Miller and Josh Dawsey report:

  • "[T]he CIA examined multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi."
  • "Khalid told Khashoggi ... that he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul ... and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so."

"Among the intelligence assembled by the CIA is an audio recording from a listening device that the Turks placed inside the Saudi consulate."

  • "A theory the CIA has developed is that Mohammed believed Khashoggi was a dangerous Islamist who was too sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood."

Be smart, from Jonathan Swan: Assuming this is true, this will be another test of whether Trump is willing to accept the politically inconvenient conclusions of his own intelligence community over lies and cover stories from abroad.

Bonus: Pic du jour
Aaref Watad/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian children, who fled civil war with their families, jump rope in the yard of the makeshift school Zuhur al-Mustaqbal (in Arabic: "Flowers of the Future") in a camp for displaced people in Syria's mostly rebel-held northern Idlib province.

4. California pollution now among worst in world
Nov. 8 satellite image (Landsat 8) shows Paradise, Calif. (Jeff Chambers/University of California, Berkeley via AP)

"The wildfires that have laid waste to vast parts of California are presenting residents with a new danger: air so thick with smoke it ranks among the dirtiest in the world," the N.Y. Times' Julie Turkewitz and Matt Richtel report:

  • "Nearly 200 miles [south of Paradise], in San Francisco, the smoke was so thick that health warnings prompted widespread school closings. Even the city’s cable cars were yanked from the streets."
  • Why it matters: "[R]esearchers warned that as large wildfires become more common — spurred by dryness linked to climate change — health risks will almost surely rise."

⚡️ Breaking: "The death toll from the Camp fire has jumped to 71. But, perhaps more alarmingly, authorities also dramatically increased the number of missing or unaccounted for to ... more than 1,000." (L.A. Times)

5. Wise words from the top
An Amazon fulfillment center in Swansea, Wales (Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, at an all-hands meeting in Seattle last week, days before the HQ2 announcement, per CNBC:

"Amazon is not too big to fail. ... In fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail. Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus years."
"If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of focusing on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end. ... We have to try and delay that day for as long as possible."
6. 1 book thing
Michelle Obama with Tracee Ellis Ross at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., on Thursday (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

"First day sales for Michelle Obama’s 'Becoming' topped 725,000 copies, making it one of the year’s biggest debuts," per the AP.

  • "'Becoming' had the biggest opening of any books in 2018 by Crown’s parent company, Penguin Random House. But at least one other book this year, from Simon & Schuster, did start higher: Bob Woodward’s 'Fear: Trump in the White House' sold around 900,000 copies after one day."
  • The book "is well exceeding the pace of previous memoirs by first ladies. In 2003, Hillary Clinton’s 'Living History' had first week sales of around 600,000 copies, at a time when audio sales were tiny and e-book sales nonexistent."
Mike Allen