Welcome to the foreign-policy edition of our Axios AM Deep Dive series on the new Washington. Our guide is Dave Lawler, author of our twice-weekly Axios World newsletter, joined by other top Axios specialists.
I am the FIRST
Apple told former Trump administration White House counsel Don McGahn last month that the Department of Justice subpoenaed information about accounts of his in 2018, the New York Times first reported Sunday.
Why it matters: Although it's unclear why the DOJ took the action, such a move against a senior lawyer representing the presidency is highly unusual.
- "The pursuit was under a nondisclosure order until May, indicating the Justice Department went to a judge multiple times to keep it secret throughout former President Donald Trump's years in office," CNN notes.
Driving the news: Accounts belonging to McGahn's wife were also targeted in the action, according to AP and other news outlets.
- The reports come after DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced Friday an internal probe into the department's Trump-era secret subpoenas against Apple for data belonging to House Democrats and its seizure of phone records of journalists working for major media companies.
- AP notes that the other subpoenas were related to a crackdown on media leaks related to possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Of note: Apple said Friday it has tightened rules regarding legal requests following reports that the DOJ requested metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses in a subpoena to tech giant, as part of a February 2018 investigation into lawmakers, staffers and their families.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions should testify before Congress on the use of subpoenas to access data records.
- Representatives for the DOJ and Apple did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CNN Sunday that former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions should testify before Congress on reports that the Trump-era Department of Justice seized Democrats' and journalists' data records.
Driving the news: DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced Friday an internal investigation into the matter, and Pelosi expressed disbelief to CNN's Dana Brash at assertions that neither Barr nor Sessions knew of probes into lawmakers.
What she's saying: "How could it be that there could be an investigation of members in the other branch of government and the press and the rest too and the attorneys general did not know?" Pelosi said to Brash on CNN's "State of the Union." "So who are these people and are they still in the Justice Department?"
- She told Brash that reports that the former administration — "the Justice Department, the leadership of the former president" — subpoenaed tech companies to access Congress members' data "goes even beyond Richard Nixon."
- "Richard Nixon had an enemies list," she noted about the former president, who resigned following the Watergate break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the 1970s. "This is about undermining the rule of law."
The other side: Barr told Politico Friday that he was "not aware of any congressman's records being sought in a leak case" and that former President Trump "was not aware of who we were looking at in any of the cases," nor did he discuss such matters with him.
- Rod Rosenstein, who served as deputy attorney general in the Trump administration, has said he wasn't aware of any subpoenas against Apple for data belonging to House Democrats when Sessions was attorney general, per CNN.
- Representatives for Barr, Sessions and Trump could not immediately be reached.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "The Justice Department has been rogue under President Trump ... This is just another manifestation of their rogue activity." https://t.co/UUezBIMe9q #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/J8yxHCgrhd— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 13, 2021
The CEO of the world's largest container-shipping company cautions that international firms have to be careful of taking political stances.
- What they're saying: "We cannot run a global business if we start to have views on politics in every single country that we are in," Maersk CEO Søren Skou tells "Axios on HBO."
Why it matters: Wanting to avoid political entanglement stands in contrast to the pressure some companies are under from customers, employees or shareholders to take stances on topics like human rights or freedom of expression.
Asked about how his company approaches relationships with Russia and China, Skou said Maersk's commitment is just to employees.
- "What we try to do is to provide good jobs to the people that are employed by us, give them a good wage so that they can live a good life, pay for their training and development, and in general be a good corporate citizen in every single country that we're operating in."
U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Suzanne Clark told me on "Axios on HBO" that the business group was right to endorse vulnerable House Democrats last year, despite the flak that resulted from Republicans.
- Clark, who took over the top job in March, said those House Democrats "had really helped push business's number one priority, which was the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, over the finish line."
- "All of the Republicans that we work with on tax, on regulation — those people are really, really important to us," she added: "So we have to be willing to have a different coalition on every issue."
I asked her how she'd describe the chamber's relationship with Congress.
I challenged that — a headline on the conservative website RedState last month said: "Republicans Tell the Chamber of Commerce to Pound Sand." That reflects many of my recent conversations with Republicans.
- "You asked me how I felt about our relationships on the Hill, and I said 'strong,' she replied. "I'm sticking with it. ... I'm not having the same conversations."
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency tells "Axios on HBO" that it's "essential" to have a nuclear deal with Iran because otherwise "we are flying blind."
Driving the news: Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi sat down with "Axios on HBO" at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, ahead of Iran's June 18 presidential election and a June 24 extension on negotiations seeking to restore curtailed surveillance of Iranian nuclear sites and salvage the 2015 deal.
- The Biden administration wants to re-enter the deal but impose new restrictions. Iran, which has long insisted its nuclear program is peaceful, wants sanctions lifted without opening itself to broader limitations.
Flashback: Former President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal in 2018. Iran has since disclosed enriching uranium at levels that far exceed the deal's limits but technically fall below the 90% considered weapons-grade purity.
What they're saying: Asked whether he believes Iran has an active nuclear weapons program, Grossi responded: "No, there is no information indicating that at the moment."
- But he raised concerns about Iran's stepped-up enrichment combined with the international community's reduced visibility in recent months.
- "This is very serious," Grossi said. "When you enrich at 60%, you are very close. It's technically indistinguishable from weapon-grade material. So when you combine this with the fact that our inspection access is being curtailed, then I start to worry."
The big picture: Grossi also addressed North Korea; Israel's resistance to joining the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT); and the limits of what the IAEA knows about the programs of the U.S., Russia and other nuclear powers.
- As for nuclear threats posed by hackers and criminals: "The reality is that the possibility of misuse of nuclear material is higher than of a nuclear war. ... We have growing alertness on this issue."
What's next: Since taking the helm in December 2019, Grossi has elevated the IAEA's visibility in global efforts to address climate change and pandemics, saying that's part of the agency's job.
- "We have to look into everything nuclear science and technology can do for us ... climate change, societal issues. These are matters that you cannot simply go alone. We need these institutions of global cooperation because when we cooperate, we get good solutions. As simple as that."
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told me on "Axios on HBO" that President Biden will be candid, frank — and tough — during this week's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- "The president will make clear to the Russians that they cannot harbor cyber terrorists and criminals in their country and not be held accountable for it," she added. "And they need to take the responsibility for dealing with this issue."
Between the lines: When I asked the ambassador about the risks of Biden's grand trip, she said: "Look, nothing can go wrong on this trip."
- I interjected: That's a jinx if I've ever heard one!
- "It's not a jinx," she replied. "He's being embraced and he's being welcomed. ... So I'm confident that nothing can go wrong on this visit."
On the "Do not come" message Vice President Harris gave to would-be migrants during last week's Latin America swing, Thomas-Greenfield said the vice president was offering "people hope where they live."
- "Our immigration program is one that works," the ambassador added. "But if you have people trying to cross the border illegally, it can't work for them."
The big picture: Thomas-Greenfield, a career foreign service officer who rose to Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs before becoming part of Biden's cabinet, has been drawing attention to the famine in the Tigray region of Ethiopia — the worst on earth in a decade.
And she's making conflict-driven hunger a top issue.
- "I have been very assertive, particularly in New York and particularly in demanding that my colleagues at the Security Council address this issue in an opening meeting," she said.
- "My view is sovereignty does not come into play when you have foreign troops in your country, when your people are crossing borders into other countries, and we're watching on national TV your people starve to death," she continued. "I will say here as I've said in the Security Council: Don't African lives matter? "
Thomas-Greenfield called her work at the U.N. "a treadmill, every single day."
- "I do four or five meetings with various countries on a daily basis," she said. "I'm working down the list. And hopefully by September, I will have met everyone."
Go deeper: In the video clip below, the ambassador describes her worldwide adventures with "gumbo diplomacy."
If a bipartisan group of lawmakers fails to strike a deal on the infrastructure proposal it's negotiating with the White House, ramming through a package using the partisan reconciliation process isn't a guaranteed solution.
Why it matters: Getting 51 Democratic votes would be a long, uphill battle. And moderates within the party are balking at the cost of President Biden's spending — even as progressives openly lament that the "transformational" change they seek is slipping out of reach.
- "An infrastructure package that goes light on climate and clean energy should not count on every Democratic vote," Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) tweeted Wednesday.
Between the lines: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said a reconciliation bill should include both Biden’s American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan.
- As of now, they carry a combined price tag of nearly $4 trillion.
- Even if the bipartisan "G20" group of 20 lawmakers — or a splinter group of 10 senators who announced a deal Thursday — succeed in finalizing an agreement on the traditional infrastructure portion (most of which is in the Jobs Plan), Democrats insist they'll try to pass the rest (the Families Plan) via reconciliation.
- As of now, it's unclear if party moderates will support that two-step.
Driving the news: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have taken most of the heat for opposing parts of Biden's bill, but several other Democrats also are wary of certain provisions — most notably its steep price tag.
- Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told Axios he hasn't decided on his "upper limit" on spending but said, "There's definitely room for negotiation."
- “I think it's high,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told Axios. “But I'm not prepared to say where I want to change it.”
- "The price tag is very negotiable. We'll see what we do bipartisan and then we can adjust the price," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
The intrigue: An intra-party dispute would create a whole new host of problems for Biden.
- Rather than blaming Republicans if a package collapses, he'd be forced to haggle with members of his own party and accept some blame if they don't come on board.
- Already, some Democratic senators are venting in the open.
- Their vision of remaking America with a once-in-a-generation infrastructure, climate and social services package is colliding with the cold, hard reality of a razor-thin Senate majority and the divisions within their own party.
What they're saying: "Just a gentle, friendly reminder that the executive branch doesn't write the bills," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted.
- He was responding to a Politico report citing Biden climate adviser Gina McCarthy, who said "ambitious proposals to fight climate change could fall out of the infrastructure package."
- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) alsosounded the alarm last week: "I’m now officially very anxious about climate legislation."
The bottom line: "At the end of the day, the reality of a 50-50 Senate is we have to have all 50 Democrats supporting the package we move," Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told Axios.
- "Some of my colleagues may not be as excited, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there," he said — no pun intended.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has argued over her 39-year diplomatic career that educating and empowering women and girls is an investment in peace and security for their nations.
- "I will always push for women to be part of negotiation teams," she told me in the State Department Treaty Room, during an interview for "Axios on HBO."
- "I notice ... when they're not in the room. ... Sometimes I'm the only one," she added with a laugh. "And I will call it out."
The ambassador, who rose as a career foreign-service officer to become Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Africa, told me this story about walking into an overseas room with no other women:
- " I raised that ... before the head of state came in. And the men laughed."
- Then she had a word with the president — and it was different the next time.
The big picture: "When I walked into the State Department in 1982, there were very few people who look like me," the ambassador added. "There were even very few women in senior positions. And we were dealing with a system that didn't necessarily appreciate the diversity that a woman and a person of color would bring to the table."
- "I think that has significantly changed," she added. "We still have some challenges. It's not yet perfect."
- "I would hope that young people who see me — who are Black, who are women, who are people of color — will see me as an example for what they could achieve. And I'm hoping that I can use my voice and my presence to give them a reason to be hopeful."
Go deeper: In the video clip below, the ambassador describes her worldwide adventures with "gumbo diplomacy."