Mar 4, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

❄️🗽Good Monday morning!

Situational awareness: Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is jumping into the 2020 race, according to documents filed overnight with the FEC.

  • "At an Iowa house party in January, Hickenlooper described himself as 'having strong progressive values, but also being willing to compromise to make progress,'" per AP.
1 big thing: The pre-impeachment, public Trump trial

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

House Democratic leaders worry impeachment proceedings could backfire if they move too fast.

So they plan to pursue a slow-bleed strategy with lengthy public hearings and scores of witnesses to methodically pick apart President Trump's finances and presidency.

  • What's new: In an investigation being coordinated among six to eight House committees, Trump will essentially be on public trial for months to come, with topics that include abuse of power, obstruction of justice, conflicts of interest (including profit from the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue) and money laundering.
  • Why it matters: Democrats want to create a large, damning public record of testimony, documents and investigative reports. 

Speaker Pelosi and other top Democrats don't want to take up impeachment if it's going to go nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.

  • So with huge energy in the party pushing for impeachment, leaders are using the congressional investigation to buy time.
  • A source close to the House leadership told me: "Many in leadership believe impeachment could help Trump get re-elected," and instead will try to "pivot the anger to defeating him on the campaign side next year. ... The last thing they want to do is help Trump like it eventually helped Clinton."

Top Democrats say an opening area of attention is Trump's attacks on the FBI and intelligence agencies, and the long-term ramifications for national security.

  • House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler told George Stephanopoulos yesterday on ABC's "This Week" that the committee will issue document requests today to more than 60 people, including White House and Justice officials, Don Jr., and Trump Organization CFO Alan Weisselberg.
  • Nadler said the mission is "to present the case to the American people about obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power."
  • Nadler said that "to sabotage a fair election would be an impeachable offense," but added: "Impeachment is a long way down the road."

A key part of the House strategy is to engage the public on all those hot topics.

  • So expect lots of public hearings and aggressive pushes for the release of documents, most especially the Mueller report and all the investigative materials that went into it.

Be smart: Garrett M. Graff of WIRED told me the House strategy reflects the fact that what's most likely to move public opinion isn't any single crime or bombshell, but "when a pattern of behavior is so clear it becomes un-defensible."

2. North Korean tries to hack U.S. during summit
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

"North Korean hackers who have targeted American and European businesses for 18 months kept up their attacks last week even as President Trump was meeting with North Korea’s leader," the N.Y. Times Nicole Perlroth reports.

  • "The attacks, which include efforts to hack into banks, utilities and oil and gas companies, began in 2017," shortly after Trump mocked Kim Jong-un as "rocket man," according to researchers at the cybersecurity company McAfee.
  • "[E]ven though both sides have toned down their fiery threats and begun nuclear disarmament talks, the attacks persist."

"With the help of an unnamed foreign law enforcement agency, the McAfee researchers gained access to one of the main computer servers used by the North Korean hackers to stage their attacks."

  • "The McAfee researchers said they watched, in real time, as the North Koreans attacked the computer networks of more than a hundred companies in the United States and around the globe."
  • "The vast majority were in the United States, with the most frequent marks in Houston, an oil and gas hub, and New York, a finance hub."
3. A huge help to U.S. business if this happens
Legislative session opens in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Du Yang/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)

To placate the U.S., "China's ceremonial legislature is due to endorse a law ... discouraging officials from pressuring foreign companies to hand over technology," AP's Joe McDonald reports from Beijing:

  • The National People's Congress, the country's highest-profile legislative event of the year, brings 3,000-plus delegates to the Great Hall of the People for two weeks.
  • "The technology measure is part of a proposed law on foreign investment that aims to address complaints by Washington, Europe and other trading partners that China's system is rigged against foreign companies."
  • Why it matters: This would make it much more feasible for U.S. electronics companies, among others, to do business in China.

The state of play: Trump and Beijing are close to reaching a trade deal as early as this month to end their costly tariff war, Bloomberg and the WSJ report.

4. Pic du jour

Photo: WKRG-TV via AP

Residents walk amid debris in Lee County, Ala., after tornadoes roared into southeast Alabama and killed at least 23.

  • "Drones flying overhead equipped with heat-seeking devices had scanned the area for survivors but the dangerous conditions halted the search," per AP.

"[T]he twister traveled straight down a county road in the rural community of Beauregard."

  • "[T]he path of damage and destruction appeared at least a half mile wide."
5. ⚡️ Breaking: 2020's homegrown fake news crisis

An investigation by fact-checking company Snopes finds that a series of seemingly innocuous local websites, which have popped up all over the country, are being run by GOP consultants whose businesses are funded in part by candidates the websites cover, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

  • Why it matters: The consultants setting up these websites, first reported last year by Politico, are expanding their efforts to more battleground states in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.
  • They claim that the sites are funded by ads. But the Snopes investigation found that the websites are often supported by wealthy benefactors.

Details: Michael Patrick Leahy, a Tea Party-connected conservative activist that is tied to one of the sites, Tennessee Star, wrote in an email to Snopes: "We are in business to make a profit, and have a number of advertisers to prove it."

  • But Snopes found that Tennessee Star runs ads from political groups such as the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity and local GOP fundraisers.

The big picture: It's difficult to draw a line between political activism and journalism in the digital era, in part because activists have gotten so good at using technology to blur lines by creating news outlets that look impartial. 

  • Earlier reports have uncovered many of these efforts, and there isn't much framework in place to stop them from spreading.
  • While Congress has invested countless hours grilling tech companies about foreign meddling, far less attention has been paid to these types of misinformation efforts. 

Go deeper.

6. 2020 vision
Demonstrators supporting voting rights lie on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma yesterday. (Julie Bennett/AP)

A trio of 2020 hopefuls — Sens. Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown — plus Hillary Clinton were in Selma, Ala., to mark "Bloody Sunday" of 1965, which galvanized support for passage of the Voting Rights Act that year.

Marchers set out from Brown Chapel AME Church, and sang freedom songs under a stormy sky on the way to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, "that sacred spot over the Alabama River," to commemorate the peaceful protesters who were met with state troopers' tear gas and clubs, AP's Errin Haines Whack reports.

  • Why it matters: "This year's commemoration came in the early days of a Democratic presidential primary campaign that has focused heavily on issues of race."
  • "Sanders attended the 1963 March on Washington, which featured the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have A Dream' speech."
7. Briefings shift for a president bored by spies

"In an effort to accommodate President Trump ... the nation’s intelligence agencies have revamped their presentations to focus on subjects their No. 1 customer wants to hear about — economics and trade," write the N.Y. Times' Julian Barnes and Michael Schmidt.

  • They "now work to answer his repeated question: Who is winning?"
  • Trump's briefings "from Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, now feature far more charts and visual aids to appeal" to the president.
8. Sydney dispatch: Australia's climate election

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Australia's federal election this spring offers voters a stark contrast on climate change and energy, and will give the world a window into two very different futures, Axios' Amy Harder reports from Sydney in her "Harder Line" column.

  • The big picture ... Australia is at a crossroads with its energy future: one that aggressively moves toward cleaner resources in response to climate change, versus one that holds onto fossil fuels far longer.

Australia’s last five changes of prime minister, including one late last year, can be at least partially attributed to fights over climate and energy policies.

  • The current leadership, whose views generally align with that of President Trump and U.S. Republicans, in the past week proposed a series of policies that Prime Minister Scott Morrison says will help address climate change.

Go down under.

9. Netflix for podcasts

A podcast company called Luminary "has emerged from stealth mode to unveil nearly $100 million in funding and a subscription-based business model that it hopes will push the medium into a new phase of growth," reports the N.Y. Times' Brooks Barnes.

  • Details on some of its exclusive podcasts: "Patti LuPone as a bebop-singing junkie nun in John Cameron Mitchell’s musical follow-up to 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch.' A new show from Lena Dunham called 'The C-Word.' Series from Conan O’Brien, Malcolm Gladwell and Trevor Noah."
  • Why it matters: "We want to become synonymous with podcasting in the same way Netflix has become synonymous with streaming. I know how ambitious that sounds. We think it can be done, and some of the top creators in the space agree," the company's co-founder and CEO, Matt Sacks, told the Times.

Flashback: Spotify purchased two major podcasting companies, Gimlet and Anchor, last month. Terms weren't reported, but the Gimlet acquisition alone was worth a reported $230 million.

10. 🏀 1 fun thing

Pregame introductions prior to a Michigan game last November. (Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

"College basketball teams are trying to get fans to keep coming to games in the age of smartphones by making those phones ... part of the experience," AP's Steve Megargee reports:

  • "[C]ellphones in the stands light up arenas across the country during pregame lineup introductions."
  • "Over 20 schools subscribe to a service enabling fans to have their phones light up in sync with music playing during pregame festivities."

The program, from CUE Audio, a startup launched in 2017, "adds glitz to lineup introductions at various arenas from Oregon to Georgia."

  • The big picture: "The success of the Cue Audio project shows the variety of ways colleges are trying to assure fans keep coming to games when HD television makes it tempting to stay home instead."
Mike Allen