Feb 2, 2021

Axios Sneak Peek

🚨 Breaking: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has denounced "loony lies" espoused by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

  • Officials have determined the police officer who shot Ashli Babbitt during the Capitol siege should not be charged, The Wall Street Journal reports. (Subscription.)

Today's newsletter — edited by Glen Johnson — is 736 words, a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Scoop ... Fees helped blow up Trump's legal team

President Trump boards Air Force One for the final time. Photo: Pete Marovich - Pool/Getty Images

Disagreements over legal strategy weren't the only reason Donald Trump's defense team collapsed just days before his second impeachment trial, Axios' Alayna Treene has learned.

What we're hearing: The notoriously stingy former president and his lead lawyer, Butch Bowers, wrangled over compensation during a series of tense phone calls, sources familiar with their conversations said. The argument came even though Trump has raised over $170 million from the public that could be used on his legal defenses.

The two initially agreed Bowers would be paid $250,000 for his individual services, a figure that "delighted" Trump, one of the sources said.

  • However, Trump didn't realize Bowers hadn't included additional expenses — including more lawyers, researchers and other legal fees that would be accrued on the job.
  • He was said to be livid when Bowers came back to him with a total budget of $3 million. Trump called the South Carolina attorney and eventually negotiated him down to $1 million.

In the end, the money dispute added to frustrations Bowers and the other lawyers felt about whether the former president's claims of election fraud should be central to their arguments.

  • "I think there was some problems getting money for it, but it wasn't [just] that," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "Just too many cooks in the kitchen."

Go deeper.

2. Biden's brewing child migrant crisis

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Biden is preparing for his own crisis at the U.S. border, with 5,000 migrant children and counting: The number of unaccompanied minors trying to cross is rising while coronavirus distancing requirements have cut by half the number of useable beds in government shelters, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

Driving the news: Two administration officials tell Axios plans are underway to open an overflow shelter in Carrizo Springs, Texas, which could house another 700 children in its main building under COVID-19 precautions.

This comes as Biden is set to unveil his own immigration and border policies this week, beginning Tuesday, and undo much of his predecessor's hardline approach.

Why it matters: The Trump administration was lambasted for its extended use of the temporary shelters and so-called "tent cities" when holding facilities were overwhelmed during the migrant crisis in 2019. Biden's rhetoric and intentions differ, but that doesn't change his challenge: when apprehensions rise and space runs out, the options are limited.

Go deeper.

3. The 100-day school goal smacks into reality

Joe Biden appears before the Iowa State Educators Association in January 2020. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Some White House political advisers are privately concerned President Biden may not be able to meet his goal to reopen schools within his first 100 days, yet the president himself remains committed to it, people familiar with the matter tell Alayna and Axios' Hans Nichols.

Why it matters: The Republican Party has long struggled to maintain support from suburban voters, and it's betting parents fed up with homeschooling their kids because of COVID-19 will be turned off if Biden is seen as ignoring science or coddling unions. The GOP would portray any backtracking as a political win.

The big picture: Biden's team is grappling with some reopening challenges advisers didn't foresee in December, when Biden made his explicit 100-day promise. They include delays in vaccine rollouts and the emergence of new virus strains.

  • Some White House political advisers fear that if they push schools to reopen and the new variants run rampant, they may be forced to shutter classrooms again, as happened in Europe.

Go deeper.

4. Bipartisanship's growing, ignored power
Data: Quorum; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Some 70% of bills enacted in the last Congress had at least one Republican and one Democrat co-sponsor, highlighting the need for bipartisanship to get things done under current House and Senate rules, according to data from Quorum provided to Axios' Stef Kight.

  • Despite being less likely to get passed, single-party bills and joint resolutions introduced by members have been outpacing bipartisan ones — with greater margins than in the 1990s and early 2000s.
5. Ex-colleague of Hunter Biden's lawyer gets top DOJ post

Joe Biden hugs Hunter and Jill Biden after he was sworn in as president. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Hunter Biden hired a new attorney to assist with his federal criminal defense a month before his father became president. On Inauguration Day, one of that lawyer’s close colleagues was tapped to temporarily lead the Justice Department’s criminal division, Axios' Lachlan Markay reports.

Why it matters: The moves put the new DOJ official atop a powerful arm of the justice system as his former colleague represents a client fending off a criminal probe. While their connection will fuel scrutiny of a politically charged matter, ethics experts say strictly adhering to conflict-of-interest rules can address any legitimate concerns.

What’s happening: In December, Hunter Biden hired former federal prosecutor Chris Clark, a partner at the firm Latham & Watkins.

  • At Latham, Clark worked on multiple cases with Nicholas McQuaid, another partner in the firm's white-collar defense and investigations practice who is now leading DOJ's criminal division.
  • The two were jointly representing at least one Latham client when McQuaid was tapped for his new Justice Department job on Jan. 20.
  • Clark did not respond to inquiries. There’s also no indication McQuaid did any work on the Hunter Biden case.

Go deeper.

6. Pic du jour

Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris tried their hand at bipartisan diplomacy during an Oval Office meeting today with 10 Republican senators.

🙏 Thank you for reading tonight's Sneak. If you want to sign up for this and all the other free Axios newsletters, click here.