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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Think back to the wild conspiracy theories that once floated through your head, or the minds of friends and critics of President Trump: collusion with Russia ... Hidden hush money ... Shady business dealings that only insiders like fixer Michael Cohen knew of — and they'd never tell.

The big picture: Trump has done almost nothing to dispel these theories since taking office.

Now, think about July, 2018: With millions wondering if Vladimir Putin has damaging info about Trump, and suspecting they have a secret pact, the president does something almost unheard of in history: He meets alone with Putin for two hours. Then, with everyone looking for a public signal of Putin's power over Trump, the president shows so much deference at their press conference you would think he was meeting with the Pope. 

  • Then the tape of Trump talking about pre-election payments to a Playboy model surfaces (on CNN, to boot!). The tape + Trump’s admission that he paid off porn star Stormy Daniels = confirmation of what so many thought pre-election happened just as suspected. There was after all a pre-election scramble to silence women — and now it’s on full display for all to see. 
  • Then Cohen, the Trump boot-licker who had claimed he'd take a bullet for the president, indeed takes a bullet — and aims at his sugar daddy, leaking word he wants Robert Mueller to know he will testify that Trump knew of the infamous Russian meeting to discuss dirt on Hillary Clinton. (Trump denies that.) If true — and given Cohen’s jam and reputation, it remains an if — this is the kind of smoking gun that lives in infamy. 

Be smart: Who the hell knows how this wild saga ends? But it’s striking how much of it was foreseeable — and foreseen.

Subscribe to Axios AM/PM for a daily rundown of what's new and why it matters, directly from Mike Allen.
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Go deeper

17 mins ago - Health

Fauci: COVID vaccine rollout needs to prioritize people of color

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci highlighted the need to address racial disparities in the COVID-19 vaccination process, per an interview with The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

What he’s saying: "I think that's the one thing we really got to be careful of. We don't want in the beginning ... most of the people who are getting it are otherwise, well, middle-class white people."

The Mischief Makers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Several Republican and Democratic lawmakers are emerging as troublemakers within their parties and political thorns for their leadership.

Why it matters: We're calling this group "The Mischief Makers" — members who threaten to upend party unity — the theme eclipsing Washington at the moment — and potentially jeopardize the Democrats' or Republicans' position heading into the 2022 midterms.

Obama speechwriter fears Biden unity drive is one-sided

Cody Keenan (right) is shown heading to Marine One in December 2009. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Obama's former speechwriter says he's "preemptively frustrated" with President Biden's effort to find unity with Republicans.

What they're saying: Cody Keenan told Axios that Biden's messaging team has "struck all the right chords," but at some point "they're gonna have to answer questions like, 'Why didn't you achieve unity?' when there's an entire political party that's already acting to stop it."