Sep 4, 2018

Axios PM

1 big thing: Trump responds to Woodward

The latest book on the White House will be harder to shake off, even as President Trump claims parts of it "could be just made up by the author."

Why it matters: It's not normal for a president's team to fear he's a national security risk, as Bob Woodward's new book claims — or to keep information from his desk and ignore his orders.

Among Woodward's reported revelations:

  • Gary Cohn and Rob Porter stole or hid documents from Trump's desk, including a draft letter that would have withdrawn the U.S. from a trade agreement with South Korea.
  • James Mattis ignored Trump's request to kill Bashar al-Assad in April of 2017.
  • John Dowd told Trump he'd be wearing an "orange jump suit" if he dared testify to Mueller. (Dowd told Axios he didn't call Trump a "fucking liar," as Woodward reported).
  • Trump called Jeff Sessions "mentally retarded" and "a dumb Southerner" who "couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama."
  • John Kelly called Trump "an idiot" who had "gone off the rails... This is the worst job I’ve ever had." (In a statement, Kelly denied calling Trump an idiot.)

The White House response, via Sarah Sanders: "This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad. ... Sometimes it is unconventional, but he always gets results."

Between the lines, from Axios' Jonathan Swan:

  • The response is slow and muted compared to their thermonuclear response to the Michael Wolff book (though there's still time, of course!)
  • The fact they explicitly say that Trump's style is unconventional and often isn't pretty reads as a tacit acknowledgement that at least some of the key stories are true.
  • The Pentagon, for example, still hasn't gotten back to me to comment on a truly stunning reported conversation between the President and his Defense Secretary. Did Mattis ignore a presidential order to take out Assad? That should be an easy one to deny quickly if it never happened.

Be smart, via Swan: The White House's core problem is that Woodward is a serious reporter with decades of thorough reporting under his belt.

  • Unlike the very sloppy Michael Wolff, you can trust that Woodward has gone to inordinate lengths to get to the best obtainable version of the truth. It will be hard to credibly dismiss this as "fake news."

The bottom line: There's a reason the White House hasn't gone all in on Woodward. They can't.

Bonus: Photo du jour

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

A protester shouts during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Today's hearing was a mess of protests and speeches, with Kavanaugh expected to actually face sustained questions tomorrow.

Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
2. What you missed
  1. Tropical Storm Gordon is showing signs of intensifying as it approaches the Gulf Coast. It is forecast to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane tomorrow in southern Mississippi. Go deeper.
  2. Amazon reached a $1 trillion valuation today, so Axios' Felix Salmon takes a look at the retail giant vs. Apple. Go deeper.
  3. Former Sen. Jon Kyl will fill the late Sen. John McCain’s Senate seat through at least the end of the year. Go deeper.
  4. Axios Podcast Big Guest: ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell came on today to discuss Nike's decision to add Colin Kaepernick as a face of the company. Go deeper.
  5. What we're watching: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg will tell Congress tomorrow that their platforms have taken significant steps to curb foreign election interference — while Dorsey also goes to great lengths to portray his as unbiased. Go deeper.
3. 1 shoe thing

Photo: Ed Zurga, File/AP

"A pair of ruby slippers used in "The Wizard of Oz" and later stolen from a Minnesota museum were recovered in a sting operation after a man approached the shoes' insurer and said he could help get them back, the AP's Steve Karnowski reported today.

  • "The slippers were on loan to the Judy Garland Museum ... when they were taken in 2005 by someone who climbed through a window and broke into a small display case. The shoes were insured for $1 million."
  • "The FBI said a man approached the insurer in summer 2017 and said he could help get them back."
  • "The FBI said no one has yet been arrested or charged in the case, but they have 'multiple suspects' and continue to investigate."