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The Axe Files


David Axelrod, the founder and director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, brings 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.

David Axelrod, the founder and director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, brings 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.
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David Axelrod, the founder and director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, brings 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.




Ep. 362 — Heather McGhee

Heather McGhee is the former president of Demos, a non-profit progressive think tank devoted to racial justice. She joins David to talk about her upbringing in the South Side of Chicago, the evolution of race relations in the United States, the weaponization of race in present-day politics, and the future of inequality in America.


Ep. 361 — Sarah Hurwitz

Sarah Hurwitz, former head speechwriter for First Lady Michelle Obama and senior speechwriter for President Barack Obama, joins David to discuss her early career in politics, the art of speechwriting, and the spiritual journey that culminated in her new book: Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life-- in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There).


Ep. 360 – Richard Stengel

Richard Stengel is the former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and former managing editor of Time. He joins David to talk about his collaboration with Nelson Mandela on Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom; his tenure at the helm of Time, during which he interviewed Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Mohamed Morsi, and Julian Assange; and his efforts in the Obama administration to combat disinformation. His new book, Information Wars: How We Lost...


Ep. 359 – Andrew Yang

Entrepreneur and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang joins David for a live edition of The Axe Files to discuss why he abandoned a career in law to build his own business, how rapid technological growth is shaping our society both socially and economically, the rationale behind his ‘Freedom Dividend,’ how raising an autistic son shapes his perspective in life and on the campaign trail, and much more.


Ep. 358 – Gary Cohn

Gary Cohn served as the Director of the National Economic Council and chief economic advisor to President Trump. He joins David to talk about how an early dyslexia diagnosis shaped his drive to succeed; his tenure at Goldman Sachs, particularly as an executive during the 2008 financial crisis; why he decided to serve under President Trump despite differences on trade, climate, and immigration; his concerns about the absence of dissenters in the White House; and much more.


Ep. 357 – Amb. Dennis Ross

Dennis Ross is a diplomat and author with over four decades of experience in Middle East policy. He joins David to talk about his service under six presidential administrations, how the political climate in the Middle East has evolved, and the status of America’s diplomatic efforts under the Trump administration. His new book, Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny, explores the stories of the founding leaders of Israel—both the challenges...


Ep. 356 – Samantha Power

Samantha Power, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, joins David to talk about the journey from her childhood in Ireland to the halls of the U.N. — and the trials she faced along the way. She shares the experiences that compelled her to become a Balkan War correspondent, how what she saw there inspired her to author a Pulitzer-prize winning book on genocide, and the human rights causes that drew her to then-senator Barack Obama. She also shares her thoughts on the hollowing out of...


Ep. 355 – Cindy McCain (TV)

Cindy McCain joins David for a special televised edition of the Axe Files on CNN to discuss President Trump and the state of the Republican party, her advocacy on human trafficking issues, the toll living a public life took on her and her family, and her mission to carry on the legacy of her husband, the late Senator John McCain.


Ep. 354 – Dikembe Mutombo

NBA Hall of Famer and humanitarian Dikembe Mutombo joins David for a conversation about his upbringing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, how an international science competition ultimately steered him to the Georgetown Hoyas’ basketball team, his decorated 18-season career in the NBA, and his worldwide humanitarian initiatives with the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation.


Ep. 352 – Admiral Michael Mullen

Admiral Mike Mullen, formerly the 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joins David to discuss President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, the state of our alliances today, his historic testimony in support of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and his upbringing as the son of a Hollywood publicist.


Ep. 351 – Harry Reid (TV)

Harry Reid, former U.S. Senator from Nevada and Senate Majority Leader, sits down with David in Las Vegas, NV for a special televised edition of The Axe Files. In this extended version of the conversation, they talk about his tenure as Senate Majority Leader and how the role has changed under Mitch McConnell’s leadership, Reid’s unique relationship with Barack Obama, his take on Donald Trump and the impeachment inquiry, and much more.


Ep. 350 – Gov. Gina Raimondo

Gina Raimondo, governor of Rhode Island and Chair of the Democratic Governors Association, joins David to talk about how her father’s early job loss moved her to enter public service, what Democrats running in 2020 can learn from the governors who ran successfully in 2018, and how her role as governor has changed in the age of Trump.


Ep. 349 – Admiral William McRaven

Admiral William McRaven is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL who served as the commander of U.S. Special Operations from 2011 to 2014. He joins David to talk about his foray into military service, his disagreements with Donald Trump, and his most memorable missions — including the capture of Saddam Hussein, the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, and the raid to kill Osama bin Laden. His new book, Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations, is a look back on over three decades of service. For more...


George Will on Democrats’ Impeachment Efforts

In this clip from Episode 348 of the Axe Files, conservative commentator and columnist George Will discusses how Trump has dismantled political norms and whether a return to civility is possible. He answers whether the Democrats and Speaker Pelosi should push harder for impeachment or if the political waters are too difficult to navigate. The full version of this conversation can be found on and through the free Luminary app.


Ep. 347 – Eric Holder (TV)

Former Attorney General Eric Holder joins David on the CNN edition of the Axe Files to discuss potential impeachment proceedings, his advice for 2020 candidates, the long-term implications of Trump’s attacks on our institutions, and the arc of his historic career which ultimately led him to become the nation’s first African American Attorney General.


The Axe Files goes to Iowa

For this month’s episode of the Axe Files on CNN, we took the show on the road and traveled across Iowa during a whirlwind week of campaigning at the state fair and beyond. We spoke with candidates, organizers, and voters, whose first-in-the nation votes will define the Democratic race. In the podcast version of the show, we hear directly from those voters on the issues that matter to them, what they’re thinking about the race and their role in the process.


Rep. Will Hurd on Trump’s Racist Tweets

In this clip from Episode 342 of the Axe Files, Republican Congressman Will Hurd talks about his own experiences with racism and discrimination and the consequences of sowing racial division for Republicans. To hear the full conversation, sign up for Luminary at and get your first month free!


Pete Buttigieg (TV)

Pete Buttigieg, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, joins David for a televised edition of The Axe Files on CNN. He makes the case for why his executive experience as mayor prepares him for the presidency, talks racial tensions in South Bend and his plan forward, what he learned from his military service in Afghanistan, why he waited until his thirties to come out as gay, and more.


Ep. 338 - David Remnick

David Remnick is a journalist, author, and editor of The New Yorker magazine. He joins the show to talk about the New Yorker’s feature on Hunter Biden, covering Russia as a young reporter for the Washington Post, his philosophy as an editor, and the life lessons he’s learned from caring for his child with autism.


Hacks on Tap – Double-Whammy in Miami: Dem Debate Preview

Hacks on Tap is the latest podcast from David Axelrod, giving listeners weekly insight into the 2020 presidential race. This week the hacks talk Biden and Buttigieg’s tough week with race relations, escalating tensions with Iran, and preview this week’s Democratic debates with guest hack Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. David and Mike also dig into the mail bag, taking listeners’ questions on the electoral college, the relative...