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. 407 — Sen. Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders first got involved in social justice movements as a University of Chicago student fighting against segregated housing. Today Sen. Sanders is one of the most recognizable figures in Washington, widely credited with pushing more progressive policies into the mainstream of the Democratic party. He joined David to talk about why he believes Donald Trump is the most dangerous president in US history, the trouble he has defending the Electoral College and how young voters...


Ep. 406 — Jeff Daniels

Growing up in small-town Michigan, Jeff Daniels seemed destined to join the family lumber business. But after a teacher spotted his acting talent, his life took a turn down a different path. Jeff’s award-winning career has spanned nearly three decades and more than 80 films and television appearances, as well as highly acclaimed Broadway roles. Through it all, he’s made Chelsea, Michigan his home base, proving he could be a Hollywood success outside of the limelight. Jeff spoke with David...


Best of the Axe Files: Michael Phelps

Everybody knows Michael Phelps as the most decorated Olympian of all time. Phelps’ hard work, determination, athleticism, and competitive drive were on full display in the pool as the world watched him smash record after record. Motived by his own battles with depression, Phelps is now a champion for a different cause: mental health awareness. This week, we revisit our 2018 conversation with Phelps about his tremendous career and why he decided to use his platform to destigmatize mental...


Ep. 405 — Nikole Hannah-Jones

When Nikole Hannah-Jones was a high school student at a predominantly white school in Waterloo, Iowa, she complained to a teacher that the school newspaper wasn’t covering stories that mattered to Black students. He told her she had two options: stop complaining or start writing for the paper and telling her own stories. She joined the paper, launching what became a celebrated career writing for publications like ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine. Nikole is well known for her...


Best of the Axe Files: Vladimir Kara-Murza

Vladimir Kara-Murza was just 10 years old during the Russian Democratic Revolution in 1991. Witnessing a revolution was a formative experience that led to a lifetime of pro-democracy activism. In 2018, Vladimir sat down with David to discuss Putin’s Russia, the importance of the Magnitsky Act and what it’s like to put his life on the line for democracy. See for privacy information.


Ep. 404 — Brian Stelter

Brian Stelter, CNN chief media correspondent and host of Reliable Sources, got his start in journalism at a young age. At just 8 years old he would call up the local news station after a blizzard to report how much snow he had measured in his yard. Later, as a freshman at Towson University, he started a blog tracking the cable news industry, which quickly became a must-read website for those in the media and helped him land a job at The New York Times upon graduation. He joined David to talk...


Ep. 403 — Chasten Buttigieg

Chasten Buttigieg rose to national prominence in 2019 as the husband of presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. He quickly gained attention for his role as the only LGBTQ+ spouse on the campaign trail and his witty Twitter account. He spoke with David about growing up in a conservative small town in Michigan, the importance of family, the unexpected challenges he faced on the campaign trail, and what seeing a gay man running for president would have meant to him as a child. A teacher and...


Best of the Axe Files: Khizr Khan

One of the most moving speakers at the 2016 Democratic National Convention was Khizr Khan, who felt compelled to address a national audience after then-candidate Donald Trump’s attacks on Muslims and immigrants. Mr. Khan, who grew up in Pakistan, spoke lovingly of his adopted country and why he believes so strongly in the promise of America. David sat down with him in 2018 to discuss the experiences that informed his belief in the United States and how he continues to honor his heroic son,...


Ep. 402 — Rep. Jim Clyburn

When Rep. Jim Clyburn was growing up in the 1940s and 50s in segregated South Carolina, his parents had an important message for him: study hard, work hard and dream big. That lesson stayed with Rep. Clyburn, whether he was fighting for civil rights as a college student or winning a 1992 election to become South Carolina’s first Black Congressman since 1897. As a longtime Congressional leader, Rep. Clyburn’s endorsement is one of the most coveted among presidential hopefuls each cycle. He...


Ep. 401 — Jonathan Karl

Jonathan Karl was a young reporter for the New York Post when he first interviewed Donald Trump in 1994, following a tip that the newly married Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley were staying at Trump Tower. Trump gave Jonathan a tour of the tower and answered his questions, insisting Jonathan identify him only as “a source in the Trump Organization.” As the current Chief White House Correspondent for ABC News, Jonathan says his relationship with Trump has changed, but Trump’s penchant...


Ep. 400 — Speaker Nancy Pelosi

For the 400th episode of The Axe Files, David is joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi has never been a stranger to politics—her father served in Congress and later became the mayor of Baltimore, a position her brother also held—and she has weathered countless political storms since being elected to Congress in 1987. Her most recent battle is perhaps the most unexpected: securing funding for the US Postal Service. Pelosi also spoke with David about her expectations for...


Best of the Axe Files: Sen. Kamala Harris

When David sat down with Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) in March of 2017, the last thing she wanted to do was discuss whether she would be a candidate for higher office in 2020. Now, as Joe Biden’s running mate, she’s the first woman of color to be nominated for national office by a major political party. On the first day of the Democratic National Convention, we thought it was fitting to revisit our March 2017 conversation with Senator Harris, in which she and David discussed her personal...


Ep. 399 — Tina Tchen

Tina Tchen, CEO and President of TIME'S UP, didn’t set out to become a champion for women’s rights. But in 1978 she fell into a job in Springfield, Illinois, which happened to be at the center of the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment. Her involvement in the movement helped set the foundation for a long career in law and public service. Tchen joined David to talk about progressive politics, her time as chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, how the Covid-19 pandemic has...


Ep. 398 — Rep. Karen Bass

Rep. Karen Bass is a fifth-term Democratic Congresswoman from California and the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Watching the Civil Rights movement as a child first sparked Rep. Bass’ interest in politics. She got her start as an organizer and activist, eventually leaving her job as a physician assistant to start her own nonprofit addressing the HIV/AIDS and crack cocaine epidemics ravaging her community. Rep. Bass joined David to talk about what she views as racist tactics used by...


Best of the Axe Files: Justice Sonia Sotomayor

This week we revisit our November 2018 conversation with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She joined David 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. See for privacy information.


Ep. 397 — Gov. Larry Hogan

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan grew up around politics—his father was the first Congressional Republican to call for former president Richard Nixon’s impeachment—but spent decades in business before running for governor of his home state. In his first months in office, he navigated protests and civil unrest sparked by the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, followed closely by his own battle with cancer. Recently, he’s been critical of President Trump and the federal government’s handling of...


Ep. 396 — Dr. Anthony Fauci

In his position as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci has become a prominent figure in the fight against Covid-19. He joins David to talk about his early interest in medicine and infectious disease, his pioneering work on HIV/AIDS, and what it’s been like to advise six different presidents on issues of domestic and global health. He and David also discuss how long he anticipates it will be before the country returns to a level of normalcy,...


Best of The Axe Files: Theo Epstein

We revisit our January 2017 conversation with Theo Epstein, President of the Chicago Cubs. He joins David to share why he fell in love with baseball at a young age, how he became general manager of the Boston Red Sox at only 28 years old, why data analytics helped steer the Red Sox and Cubs to curse-breaking championships, and more. See for privacy information.


Ep. 395 — Erik Larson

Erik Larson is a best-selling narrative non-fiction author. His latest book, The Splendid and the Vile, chronicles British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s first year in office during Germany’s bombing blitz of London in 1940. Larson joins David to talk about what lessons we can glean from Churchill about leadership in times of crisis, what Larson learned about writing from his favorite mystery novels, his process for choosing a subject and crafting a narrative, and how legendary...


Best of The Axe Files: Rep. John Lewis

This week we revisit our July 2017 conversation with civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis. He joins David in Atlanta for a special televised edition of The Axe Files to talk about his activism during the Civil Rights Movement, his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his foray into public service, and more. See for privacy information.