The Axe Files with David Axelrod-logo

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.

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.


United States


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.




Ep. 489 — Shaka Senghor

Growing up, Shaka Senghor wanted to be a doctor. But at age 14, he ran away from his unstable home. By 19, he was in prison. While in prison, he began unravelling his past, seeking to understand how he went from a bright young boy to solitary confinement. Shaka joined David to talk about the overwhelming challenges facing young people in neighborhoods like the one he grew up in, the seduction of drug culture, the injustices of the criminal justice system, being a father, and his new book,...


Ep. 488 — Al Franken

Al Franken has been in the public eye for decades, first as a comedian and then as a senator from Minnesota. Since he resigned from the Senate in 2018 amid sexual harassment allegations—that he has denied—he has mostly stayed out of the spotlight. He talks to David about his transition from comedy to politics, his departure from the Senate and his subsequent battle with depression, whether he might run for office again, and his touring comedy show, “The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on...


Ep. 487 — Amb. Michael McFaul

As a high school student in Montana, Ambassador Michael McFaul became interested in Russian affairs while working on a debate team assignment concerning trade sanctions on the Soviet Union. He first visited the Soviet Union in college and went on to serve as US Ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014. Ambassador McFaul joined David to talk about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s paranoia over the expansion of democracy around the world, the rise of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky,...


Ep. 486 — Sarah Longwell

Inspired by the stacks of books in her parents’ home, Republican strategist Sarah Longwell once thought she might become a poet. But at Kenyon College, she found herself more captivated by political science than writing. Sarah joined David to talk about coming out as gay in a very conservative professional environment, her work to keep Donald Trump from winning in 2020, the struggle to separate true conservatism from the current culture wars, why she believes Joe Biden shouldn’t run for...


Ep. 485 — Maria Ressa

Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa faces 100 years in prison stemming from what she says are illegitimate charges, but that hasn’t stopped her mission of exposing political malfeasance and lies in her home country of the Philippines. She joined David to talk about immigrating to the US as a child and later returning to the Philippines where she built a career, technology’s corrosive impact on journalism and democracy, founding Rappler and finding herself a government target, and...


Ep. 484 — Anne Applebaum

This week’s episode comes from a conversation at the Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy Conference, co-hosted by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and The Atlantic. Journalist Anne Applebaum joined David on stage to talk about how globalization has turbocharged the spread of disinformation, how the Russian disinformation campaign in Ukraine failed, how we lost touch with the truth, and what happened when she found herself at the center of a disinformation campaign. To...


Ep. 483 — Tony Fabrizio

Growing up, GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio spent time helping out at his grandfather’s produce stand in Brooklyn, selling everything from watermelons to Christmas trees. While he was always interested in politics, fostered by an early fascination with Richard Nixon, the idea of politics as a career didn’t take shape for Tony until he moved to Long Island at age 12. Tony joined David to talk about how he got his start in political polling, the story behind the infamous Willie Horton ad, working...


Ep. 482 — Amb. Marie Yovanovitch

Growing up the child of Eastern European and German immigrants, former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch strived to fit in. Learning to navigate other cultures ultimately proved useful during her 33 years in the Foreign Service. In 2019, her diplomatic career ended after a months-long smear campaign led to her recall from Ukraine by then-President Trump. She joined David to talk about lessons learned from her parents, the on-going Russian invasion of Ukraine, her take on Putin’s...


Ep. 481 — Erin Burnett

CNN anchor Erin Burnett grew up on a farm in a small town in eastern Maryland, but her career has taken her around the world, covering major events from the Arab Spring in Cairo to the Bataclan shooting in Paris. She talked with David about how a letter to a stranger helped her get her start in journalism, her relationship with former President Trump, joining CNN at an unpropitious time, and her recent reporting from Ukraine. To learn more about how CNN protects listener privacy, visit...


Ep. 480 — Frank Bruni

One morning in 2017, journalist Frank Bruni woke up to altered vision— he had lost sight in his right eye during the night. As he grappled with this new reality, he began reevaluating his expectations, priorities, and outlook on life. He joined David to talk about how his lost eyesight taught him to approach others with empathy and savor meaningful moments, his thoughts on the politicization of Covid-19 and how President Biden is doing so far, and his new book, “The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision...


Best of The Axe Files: Justice Sonia Sotomayor

With the recent nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, who, if confirmed, would be the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court, we revisit a conversation with another history maker, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She joined David in November 2018 to discuss her remarkable personal journey from the Bronx to the highest court in the land, how her background as a prosecutor and district judge helped to inform her perspective, the shifting dynamics on the Supreme Court, and more. To...


Ep. 479 — Bianna Golodryga

Growing up in Texas, Bianna Golodryga begged her immigrant parents to avoid speaking Russian in front of her friends for fear of not fitting in. She soon came to appreciate her background, becoming fluent in Russian and pursuing a degree in Russian/East European and Eurasian studies. Bianna, now a CNN senior global affairs analyst, joined David to discuss how watching CNBC with her father led to a career in journalism, the rapidly evolving Ukraine-Russia crisis, and how Russian President...


Ep. 478 — Lotfullah Najafizada

When he was 5 years old, Afghan journalist Lotfullah Najafizada watched as rockets landed in his front yard. He and his family moved around the country to escape conflict, but after the fall of the Taliban following 9/11, a new sense of calm—and a burgeoning media landscape—emerged. Lotfullah became the director of TOLOnews, the country’s most-watched station. He joined David to talk about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, engaging in peace talks with the Taliban, America’s...


Ep. 477 — Sen. Jon Tester

More than 100 years ago, Sen. Jon Tester’s grandfather arrived in Montana, where he homesteaded a vast stretch of farmland. Sen. Tester still makes time to farm that land today, saying his tractor doesn’t care if he’s a US Senator. He joined David to talk about how farming helps him keep perspective when he’s working in Washington, why addressing climate change is imperative to the agriculture industry, his thoughts on political polarization and the filibuster, and why Democrats are losing...


Ep. 476 — Ian Bremmer

In 1998, Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer made a name for himself when he successfully predicted the collapse of the Russian ruble. Since then, Bremmer has turned offering his political science insights into a successful business, helping companies understand geopolitical risk as they shape their global strategies. Bremmer joined David to talk about his rise from Chelsea, Massachusetts to Wall Street, what he believes could happen with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, China, the risks of the US...


Ep. 475 — Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown

The Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown grew up the son of a minister in an industrial Scottish town before ascending the ranks of Britain’s Labour Party to eventually serve as Prime Minister. Since leaving office, The Rt. Hon. Brown has focused on social justice, most recently speaking out on the shortfalls in the international response to Covid-19. He joined David to talk about his concerns over increased nationalism in Europe and around the globe, how he views the United States’ role in world affairs,...


Ep. 474 — Amb. Andrew Young

After graduating from college, Andrew Young had a moment of extreme clarity while standing at the top of a mountain. He suddenly realized that “everything has a purpose,” and he proceeded to channel that purpose in his work as a civil rights leader and confidant to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as a politician, and while representing the United States on the world stage as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He joined David to reflect on his life and career, the legacy of Dr. King, the...


Ep. 473 — Barton Gellman

Journalist Barton Gellman has been questioning power and authority since, as editor of the school paper, he sued his high school for censorship. He has made a career of shining a spotlight on the use and abuse of power, most recently in a series of in-depth warnings for The Atlantic on Trump and threats to American democracy. He joined David to talk about how skepticism towards authority has shaped his career, grappling with the interests of national security versus self-government, and the...


Ep. 472 — Rep. Jamie Raskin

Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin rose to national prominence when he led the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump in January 2021, a proceeding that took place just weeks after two compounding traumas: the death of his son and the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Raskin joined David to talk about losing his son, Tommy, the January 6 insurrection and its aftermath, the cracks in the electoral college, if the country could survive another Trump presidency, and his new...


Best of The Axe Files: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already faced a series of unprecedented crises during her four year tenure in the nation’s highest office. This week, we revisit our June 2021 conversation with the young, progressive Prime Minister who has led her country through a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, and most recently the Covid-19 pandemic. From her rural and working-class childhood to her nation’s highest office, Prime Minister Ardern says her focus has always been on...