Aug 6, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good Monday morning.

Situational awareness: "U.S. Officials Push New Penalties for Hackers of Electrical Grid," The Wall Street Journal's Rebecca Smith reports (subscription).

  • "The push ... is coming from top federal agencies to fight worsening threats to the country’s electricity system and other critical industries, particularly menacing actions from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea."
1 big thing: A historic Trump tell-all

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The President of the United States admitted, on the record, that he misled the American people about the infamous Russia meeting in Trump Tower.

  • It’s one of the most striking public reversals in modern presidential history, even though he made a similar point before, and even though it was done casually via an early morning tweet.
  • It involves Russia, Air Force One, a presidential son, shady operatives, allegations of collusion and a federal probe — all in one. 

Trump tweeted: "Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!"

  • This is the same president who dictated a statement to the media saying the meeting was about primarily about the adoption of Russian children, not campaign dirt offered by shady Russians with connections to Putin.
  • Why it matters: It’s a striking acknowledgment about a central moment in an international debate over international collusion — and a central moment being scrubbed for illegalities by special counsel Bob Mueller.

Trump implicitly made the same acknowledgment over a year ago, during a press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron:

  • "I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting.  It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent."
  • "I’ve had many people — I have only been in politics for two years, but I’ve had many people call up — 'Oh, gee, we have information on this factor or this person, or, frankly, Hillary.' That’s very standard in politics."
  • "Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard where they have information and you take the information."

But the context is new, with Mueller's probe — then just ramping up — clearly focused on that meeting and the statement that followed:

  • Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel to President Obama who's now a law professor at NYU, said the new tweet weakens an argument for Trump's lawyers "that he shouldn’t have to interview with Mueller because he doesn’t know anything."
  • Bauer added: "He said something like this before. But one could read into this tweet ... that the meeting was entirely about opposition research, and that is definitely a change."
  • "That will certainly get the prosecutors’ attention. Why the course of misrepresentations, if he doesn’t have something to hide?"
  • Michael Barbaro, host of the N.Y. Times podcast "The Daily," pointed out on Twitter: "One of the strangest things about our free-wheeling Tweet presidency is that Trump routinely admits/acknowledges things, in writing, that might require hard-fought testimony from other presidents."

Be smart: Trump insiders believe the president will wind up giving an interview to Mueller.

  • Trump wants to, he thinks he can make his own best case, and no one around him can restrain him.
  • Said one associate: "He just can't help himself."

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2. New risk of drone assassins
The wife of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Cilia Flores, winces and looks up after being startled by an explosion while he spoke. (Venezolana de Television via AP)

"Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused political foes of trying to kill him during an open-air speech on Saturday using explosive-laden drones," Reuters' Joseph Ax reports:

  • Why it matters: "Maduro’s allegations raised the specter of unmanned aerial vehicles being used by militant groups or others to launch bombing, chemical or biological attacks, a tactic that has long worried security experts."
  • "[D]rones ... that can be operated from more than a mile away and can fly for more than 20 minutes on one charge cost less than $1,000 to buy online."
  • Keep reading.
3. Bankruptcy booms among older Americans

"The rate of people 65 and older filing for bankruptcy is three times what it was in 1991, ... and the same group accounts for a far greater share of all filers," the N.Y. Times' Tara Siegel Bernard reports:

  • Driving the surge, according to the study from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, "is a three-decade shift of financial risk from government and employers to individuals."
  • Why it matters: Individuals "are bearing an ever-greater responsibility for their own financial well-being as the social safety net shrinks."
  • The reasons: Longer waits "for full Social Security benefits, the replacement of employer-provided pensions with 401(k) savings plans and more out-of-pocket spending on health care. Declining incomes, whether in retirement or leading up to it, compound the challenge."
Bonus: Pic du jour
Rajesh Jantilal/AFP/Getty Images

A monument made of 50 steel columns — entitled "Release," by South African artist Marco Cianfanelli — represents the 27 years spent behind bars by Nelson Mandela, who went from being a political prisoner to president of South Africa.

  • The monument, unveiled in 2012, is at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site in Howick, South Africa, 55 miles outside of Durban.
  • A ceremony was held yesterday, marking 56 years since his arrest by the apartheid regime.
4. In 7 hours in Chicago, 40 are shot

A bystander watches yesterday as Chicago officers and detectives work a crime scene where multiple people were shot. (Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

"Starting about midnight Saturday, at least 40 people were shot citywide, four fatally, in a period of less than seven hours as gunmen targeted groups at a block party, after a funeral, on a front porch and in other gatherings," the Chicago Tribune reports under the banner, "City’s gun violence flares":

  • "The bloody toll comes as tens of thousands of concertgoers converged downtown for Lollapalooza, which drew heightened security and a large police presence following the country’s deadliest mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival last year."
  • "The largest shooting, which injured eight people, happened in the South Side’s Gresham neighborhood as a group, including a 14-year-old girl, was standing in a courtyard just before 12:40 a.m." after a funeral reception.

Fred Waller, Chicago police chief of patrol, "voiced frustration at gang members whom he blamed for taking advantage of large summer crowds to use as cover to take revenge."

  • One man watching police work the scene: "If they shoot you, they don’t even run ... They just walk away, they ain’t trying to run."
5. 10 years since crash
Courtesy New York Magazine

Frank Rich in New York Magazine, "When America Stopped Believing in the American Dream ... The Great Recession has proved to be a more lasting existential threat to the country than 9/11":

  • Shot: Since 9/11, there "has been no subsequent major terrorist attack on America ... American troops are not committed en masse to any ground war. American workers are enjoying a blissful 4 percent unemployment rate. The investment class and humble 401(k) holders alike are beneficiaries of a rising GDP and booming stock market that ... is up some 250 percent since its September 10, 2001, close. The most admired person in America, according to Gallup, is the nation’s first African-American president."
  • Chaser: "The mood in America is arguably as dark as it has ever been in the modern era. The birthrate is at a record low, and the suicide rate is at a 30-year high; mass shootings and opioid overdoses are ubiquitous."

Worthy of your time.

6. Profits surge

"America’s biggest companies are reporting some of the strongest earnings growth since the recession," The Wall Street Journal's Thomas Gryta reports (subscription):

  • "Profits at S&P 500 companies jumped an estimated 23.5% in the three months through June, according to data from Thomson Reuters, more than [twice the] revenue growth in the same period."
  • Why it matters: "The profit gains, which stretched across all S&P sectors, from energy to health care, have helped sustain a stock-market rally that sent major indexes to near records."
  • "Savings from a cut in the U.S. corporate tax rate to 21% from 35% are driving a big piece of the profit gains, the direct impact of which will fade after four quarters under the new law. Any lasting tax-related benefits will depend on how companies use the savings."
7. Tomorrow's special House election in Ohio

First look: Pre-spin from Dems ... Memo from Navin Nayak, executive director of Center for American Progress Action Fund:

  • "Irrespective of the final result in tomorrow’s special election in OH-12, it will only serve as a reminder of how difficult the political climate is for Republicans heading into November. If Democratic candidate Danny O’Connor prevails, it will be yet another seat that President Donald Trump won by double digits that Republicans in Congress will have lost. But even if O’Connor comes up short, it simply reinforces how expansive the playing field has become heading into November."
  • "O’Connor has run the kind of campaign that has served Democrats well and will likely do so in November. He is focused aggressively on health care, defending the Affordable Care Act against Republican efforts to take away protections from people with pre-existing conditions — such as his mother, who is a breast cancer survivor."
  • "He has also put the issue of corruption in Washington front and center, refusing to take any money from corporate PACs and hitting his opponent for contributions from drug, insurance, and oil companies."
8. Fired-up liberals give $1 billion

"The online fundraising platform ActBlue last week surged past the $1 billion mark in contributions to Democratic candidates and causes in this election cycle," USA Today's Fredreka Schouten reports:

  • "The group predicts donations will top $1.5 billion by year’s end, double the amount the fundraising clearinghouse processed in the 2016 election cycle."
  • "[It] took ActBlue nearly 12 years — from its founding in June 2004 until March 2016 — to raise its first $1 billion."
  • "The average donation this cycle: $34."
  • "About 13,000 candidates and groups raise money through the platform, up from about 5,400 in the 2016 election cycle. They range from ... Sen. Elizabeth Warren to groups helping migrant families."
9. 2020 watch
The good old days of the Iowa State Fair (Paul Sancya/AP)

The Iowa State Fair opens Thursday, but top-tier 2020 prospects are largely steering clear of the leadoff presidential state, AP's Tom Beaumont reports:

  • "Top party stars are largely focused on midterm elections ... Still, their absence surprises veteran Iowa activists and stokes ... perennial worries about the future of the small rural state’s early influence."
  • Why it matters: "For aspiring politicians, the place to make an impact this cycle is Georgia, which has a hot governor’s race and a sizable African-American population."
10. 1 kid thing: Wild West of children's entertainment

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

An explosion of new digital options for kids' entertainment has pulled children's attention away from live TV to instant, on-demand programming, bringing with it new challenges for producers, policymakers and parents, Axios' Kim Hart and Sara Fischer report:

  • Why it matters: Gone are the days of Saturday morning cartoons, Sesame Street and cable shows being seen the as the main attractions for kids-focused TV. Now content is strewn across apps, social networks and streaming platforms — and a lot of kids don't even know what a commercial is.

Children's content is mostly unregulated on many streaming platforms. That's appealing for older children who find more regulated TV content boring — but it can also be dangerous:

  • Ad-supported social media platforms give users an incentive to post salacious content that can be irresistible to kids to rack up likes, views, and shares.
  • Some of the biggest crazes, like online tutorials about how to make slime or “unboxing” videos that show other kids opening and playing with toys, are creating new types of entertainers.
  • Go deeper.
Mike Allen

Thanks for reading. See you on Axios.com for updates all day.