Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus my best scoops. I'd love your tips and feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org. And please urge your friends and colleagues to sign up for Sneak Peek.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
President Trump has never wanted to make a big deal out of the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the CIA reportedly has concluded was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
Behind the scenes: Trump has privately called the assassination "really bad," but immediately adds that other countries America deals with, including China, do "a lot of bad things," according to sources with direct knowledge.
What's next? "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace asked Trump whether MBS lied to him. "I don't know. You know, who can really know?" Trump replied. "But I can say this, he's got many people now that say he had no knowledge."
Wallace then asked Trump whether he'd listened to the tape that recorded the murder.
The exchange is revealing, especially given Trump still stands by the Saudis:
The bottom line: Unless there is a recording of MBS directly ordering the hit, every sign is that Trump will cast doubt over the CIA's reported findings — "who can really know?" — and get back to business with the Saudis.
Trump has locked in meetings with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires for the G-20 summit next week, according to sources with direct knowledge of his plans.
Behind the scenes: All eyes will be on the Trump-Xi conversations at the G-20. It's the first time they've met in person since Trump imposed massive tariffs on Chinese imports, which resulted in Chinese retaliation and a trade war that spooked global markets.
Between the lines: A former senior administration official with a keen understanding of how Trump handles these summits put it this way:
The big question: Will the meeting go well enough — and will the Chinese make enough concessions — for Trump to postpone ratcheting up tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, as he's scheduled to do in January?
Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Was Trump trolling when he offered on Saturday to personally whip votes to help Nancy Pelosi become speaker of the House?
I asked that question to about a dozen current and former White House officials and sources close to the president. None of them knew, including a source who spoke to the president on Saturday.
Most guessed it was partly trolling, but also partly serious (although disingenuous) given he wants to sow chaos in the Democratic Party:
The bottom line: Even Hill Democrats who oppose Pelosi have privately conceded to me that she looks like a lock for the speakership. She'll clear the caucus vote on Nov. 28. Then anti-Pelosi rebels will be able to say they kept their promise to oppose her in the conference and backed her on the floor to keep Kevin McCarthy from becoming speaker. In other words: Trump is a sideshow; she won't need him.
In a rare public rebuke of an old friend, Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo is sharply criticizing a group of conservative lawyers called "Checks and Balances," helmed by George Conway, who argue President Trump is breaking legal norms.
Leo spoke in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the Federalist Society.
Why it matters: Leo, who has known Conway for more than two decades, is one of the most influential figures in the conservative legal world. He is a key outside adviser to Trump on judicial nominations.
I asked Leo if he saw any merit in Conway’s criticism. For example, Conway told Yahoo News he was "appalled" that Trump attacked Jeff Sessions because the Justice Department indicted two Republican congressmen ahead of the midterms.
George Conway declined to comment. Peter Keisler, a former DOJ official under George W. Bush and member of Conway's group, said they have received an "overwhelmingly positive response," including from Federalist Society members.
Leo did have one "bone" he said he was prepared to throw Conway's way. "The one bone I would throw them, a tiny wish bone off the carcass," Leo added, "is that they credit the president with advancing the rule of law through his judicial appointments."
Republican Sen. Rand Paul said on CBS' "Face the Nation" today: "If Senator Mitch McConnell, from my home state, will allow a vote" on the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill pushed by President Trump and Jared Kushner and key Senate Republicans and Democrats will get "65–70 votes in the Senate." Sen. Lindsey Graham, another supporter of the bipartisan plan, "is guessing around 80 votes," reports WaPo's Seung Min Kim.
Between the lines: It's possible they're right that a bipartisan criminal justice bill will pass overwhelmingly, but Senate leader Mitch McConnell does not plan to bring it up for a vote during the lame duck period, citing a lack of floor time, lack of consensus and other priorities like the farm bill and funding the federal government.
A senior Senate Republican aide told me:
Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters is proposing a new direction for the House Financial Services Committee, which she will almost certainly lead in the next Congress, Axios has learned.
Between the lines: As word leaks out about the proposal, it's catching the attention of foreign banks, reports Axios' Courtenay Brown. It's a strong signal that Waters is not just talking about going after the likes of Deutsche Bank, sources familiar with the proposal tell Axios.
Background: Waters has been fixated on going after international financial institutions for their potential roles as laundromats for bad actors like Russia and China.
Other proposed changes to the House Financial Services Committee include dropping insurance from the "Housing and Insurance" subcommittee and renaming it "Housing and Community Development."
The bottom line: It's common for new leaders to shift the agenda of subcommittees, but the proposals are a strong signaling of priorities for Waters.
The House and Senate are out of session for Thanksgiving.
President Trump's schedule, per a White House official:
The president and first lady had lunch this past Tuesday with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginni Thomas, in the private dining room adjoining the Oval Office, Axios has learned.
One moment in the lunch illuminates Trump's fly-by-the-seat governing style:
Straight after the lunch, Trump announced at a White House Diwali ceremony that Rao would take Kavanaugh's vacant seat.