May 12, 2020

Axios PM

Good afternoon: Today's PM — edited by Justin Green — is 495 words, a 2-minute read.

  • 📺 Tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET, join my business-side colleagues and Axios editor-in-chief Nicholas Johnston as they host a virtual event around traffic and reader trends throughout the pandemic, and what that means for brand partnerships now and longer-term. Register here.

⚡️ The Supreme Court seems unlikely to grant President Trump the sweeping total immunity he has asked for while fighting subpoenas for his taxes and other financial records. Go deeper.

1 big thing: Michael Flynn in 2 minutes

Flynn and Trump in 2016. Photo: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

Michael Flynn is back in the Trump administration's good graces, a far cry from the days of getting fired for lying to VP Mike Pence and then twice pleading guilty to charges from the Mueller investigation, write Axios' Dave Lawler and Zach Basu.

Why it matters: The prosecutor tapped by Attorney General Bill Barr to review Flynn's case is now working on a sweeping investigation into the origins of the Russia probe that many Trump allies claim will ensnare Obama-era intelligence officials like James Comey and former CIA director John Brennan.

  • Democrats, most notably Barack Obama, fear Barr is weaponizing the Justice Department ahead of an election.
  • Trump, meanwhile, is pushing "Obamagate," the theory that President Obama knew in 2017 that the investigation into Flynn was baseless but directed the FBI to carry on anyway. There is no evidence for that claim.

On May 7, the Justice Department moved to drop the charges against Flynn, which was unusual given Flynn had already pleaded guilty.

  • Lying to the FBI isn't a crime, they argued, unless the statements are “material” — that is, harmful to an investigation.
  • The department contended that Flynn was not interviewed by the FBI in the context of any “viable counterintelligence investigation,” and thus any lies could not have been material.
  • Those determinations were based in part on “newly discovered and disclosed information,” according to the filing.

The Justice Department filing was signed by a longtime Barr ally, but not any of the prosecutors who worked on the case against Flynn.

  • Legal experts note that the DOJ doesn't argue that Flynn was coerced or had his rights violated — more common grounds on which to drop such charges.
  • The former acting head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, whose concerns about the Flynn probe are cited repeatedly by the DOJ as evidence that Flynn should not have been under investigation, wrote that her words were “twisted” in service of a “contorted argument."

Go deeper: The facts on Michael Flynn, the FBI, and Bill Barr’s bombshell

Bonus: Pic du jour
Screenshot: Fox News

Oversight via Zoom: Anthony Fauci testified to the Senate that there will be more deaths from the coronavirus if America does not have adequate testing by the fall.

2. Catch up quick
  1. Congress latest: House Democrats unveil $3 trillion coronavirus relief package — Romney rips Trump's testing czar for framing U.S. testing as a success.
  2. World latest: Russia reports most coronavirus cases outside the U.S.
  3. Space latest: Coronavirus pandemic delays major astronomy projects.
3. 1 helpful thing
The cast of "Hamilton" at the 2016 Grammy Awards. Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

The movie version of "Hamilton," featuring a filmed performance by the original Broadway cast, will stream on Disney+ on July 3.

Why it matters: The move highlights Disney's rush to capitalize on people stuck at home during the coronavirus crisis by handing a prime piece of content directly to its flagship streaming service on a holiday weekend, writes Axios' Jacob Knutson.

  • It's also another bad sign for the theater industry — still shut down amid the pandemic — as "Hamilton" would likely have been a huge box office draw for the studio next year.

P.S. "Unhinged," a thriller starring Russell Crowe, will be the first major new film to hit theaters in a long time when it debuts on July 1 — if movie theater chains are open.

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