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Michael Milken. Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

Three takeaways from this week's Milken Global Conference, where many of the world's top financiers, politicians and philanthropists gathered to exchange ideas and host dinners:

1. Optimism. So much optimism, about nearly everything. If Mike Milken had decorated the Beverly Hilton with rainbows, it wouldn't have been out of place. Someone actually said to me yesterday that the rules of economic cycles may no longer apply, and this was a senior capital markets professional with a head full of gray.

2. Regulatory confusion, as the venerable playbook has been set on fire without a replacement. Several M&A bankers told me that they feel unable to give reliable regulatory advice right now, either domestically or internationally. Some of this may be resolved this week in Beijing, but it goes further than CFIUS or China's MOFCOM. And even a ruling in AT&T vs. DoJ is unlikely to settle things, as the loser is widely expected to appeal (particularly if that loser is DoJ).

  • But going back to #1, global M&A is still way up over this time last year. So this is really an argument about how a hot market could be a few degrees higher.

3. Less Trump. Last year's conference was dominated not only by talk of Trump, but also by top administration officials on the agenda. This year Trump was more in the background, as not even the tariff spats seemed to particularly irk the free-trading crowd (again, optimism). The official program still included some cabinet bigs like Steve Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross, but it felt like much fewer than the 2017 edition.

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”