The Axe Files with David Axelrod
David Axelrod, the founder and director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, and CNN bring you The Axe Files, a series of revealing interviews with key figures in the political world. Go beyond the soundbites and get to know some of the most interesting players in politics.
As a young boy, former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and his family escaped Nazi Germany; later, as a soldier with the US military, he helped liberate the Ahlem concentration camp, a searing, surreal moment for a Jewish immigrant. Both revered and controversial, Kissinger is best known as a towering foreign policy figure, guided by his belief in realpolitik. He joined David to talk about working with President Nixon, opening relations with China, the current state of the US-China relationship, how to end Russia’s war in Ukraine, and his new book, “Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy.”
Aug 18, 2022
Ten years after serving in Afghanistan, Jason Kander was a rising star in the Democratic Party, testing the waters for a presidential run. In 2018, he shocked the political world when he ended his campaign for mayor of Kansas City to seek treatment for PTSD. He joined David to talk about falling in love with the Army, focusing on his career as a form of self-medication, trading presidential aspirations for personal healing, and his new book, “Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD.”
Aug 11, 2022
At 15, musician John Legend wrote an essay proclaiming he would one day become a famous singer and use his platform to advance civil rights. His words ended up being particularly prescient; he has since spent his life pursuing dual paths of artistry and social justice. For the 500th episode of The Axe Files, John talks with David about his musical roots in the church, his consulting gig at Boston Consulting Group while waiting for his big break, his focus on fighting for criminal justice reform, his disgust over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and navigating the intersection of celebrity and political activism.
Aug 4, 2022
As we prepare for the 500th episode of The Axe Files, we take a look back at the show’s very first episode featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders. David spoke with Sen. Sanders in September 2015, just a few months after he announced his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. In this episode, Sen. Sanders talks with David about his childhood in Brooklyn, his presidential campaign, and his stance on selfies.
Jul 28, 2022
When David Chalian was in first grade, he memorized the names of all the US presidents—in reverse chronological order. His interest in politics was second only to his love of theater. Chalian later found the intersection of his two passions as a journalist covering the larger-than-life characters and intricate storylines in politics. Now the political director at CNN, and host of the CNN Political Briefing podcast, Chalian joined David to talk about losing his father at a young age, how working ...Show morefor playwright and performer Anna Deavere Smith inspired his career in political journalism, the challenges of covering the 2016 Trump campaign and presidency, and the political climate today—and what it means for Biden, Trump, and the 2022 midterms.
Jul 21, 2022
By the time Colorado Gov. Jared Polis was 16, he was already enrolled at Princeton University. At 23, he became a millionaire after selling the business he started in his college dorm, and at 25, he was elected to state-wide office in Colorado. As a Democratic politician with a libertarian streak, Gov. Polis spent 10 years in Congress before becoming governor. He joined David to talk about volunteering for campaigns before he was a teenager, the impact of the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage and his concerns about the current court, his focus on education and charter schools, how he responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the advice he would give President Biden.
Jul 14, 2022
Sen. Chris Murphy caught the political bug early; he was first elected to the Connecticut state legislature at age 25 while still in law school. He eventually served three terms as a US Congressman before being elected to the US Senate in 2012. Shortly before his term began, he became an outspoken advocate for gun reform after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at his district’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Sen. Murphy joined David to talk about how Sandy Hook refocused his poli...Show moretical career, the new gun safety legislation he helped usher through Congress, what he sees as the politicization of the Supreme Court, why he hopes voters begin paying attention to Senate procedure, and his belief that Sen. Mitch McConnell wants to be part of the paradigm shift on preventing gun violence.
Jul 7, 2022
Kellyanne Conway made history as the first woman to run a Republican campaign for president when she helped Donald Trump win in 2016—a far cry from her days packing blueberries at a farm in New Jersey. As many advisers fell in and out of Trump’s orbit during his presidency, Kellyanne remained a constant presence before leaving the White House in August 2020. She joined David to talk about being raised by four women in blue-collar New Jersey, her relationship with Trump, her disappointment with the Trump 2020 campaign, the difficulties of being a working mother, her predictions for Trump’s 2024 plans, and her memoir, “Here’s the Deal.”
Jun 30, 2022
After more than three decades representing his Michigan hometown in Congress, Rep. Fred Upton announced his retirement in a speech on the House floor in April 2022. He joined David to talk about his famous Michigan family, his focus on bipartisanship, why he supports gun safety legislation, voting to impeach Donald Trump following the January 6 attack on the Capitol, and his decision not to run for reelection in 2022.
Jun 23, 2022
John Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, was directly involved in covering up the Watergate break-in. But he has also been credited with taking down Nixon, thanks to his critical testimony before the Senate committee investigating the scandal. In recognition of Watergate’s 50th anniversary, John joined David to talk about his professional journey that landed him in the White House at just 31 years old, his involvement in Watergate, parallels between Nixon and Donald Trump, his concerns about the present day Republican Party, and his work on CNN’s “Watergate: Blueprint for a Scandal.”
Jun 16, 2022