Mr. Swan is the piston of the Axios engine; Mr. Allen likes to call him “bionic.” But that has made him a target for critics of his employer. His Goldman Sachs appearance, though cleared with management, was considered unseemly by rivals, and it echoed past criticisms that Mr. Allen at Politico was too cozy with advertisers. “We’ve got lots of people who have true subject matter expertise and we want to share that,” Mr. VandeHei said.
The HBO series on Axios, set to begin Sunday night, brings a new level of exposure for Mr. Swan, and it was the peg for the 70-second clip on Tuesday featuring his newsmaking moment with the president. “Jonathan, I’m impressed,” Mr. Trump says in the clip, after Mr. Swan raised the issue of birthright citizenship. “Good guess,” the reporter replied, tapping his head.
The exchange was skewered online, though it was the kind of byplay that, off-camera, is typical in interviews. Reporters want sources, even a president, to feel comfortable and keep talking. In his late-night Slack message last week, Mr. Swan, who wrote that he had been trying to confirm the immigration news for weeks, told colleagues that “my brain popped.”
“I’m not used to having my facial expression recorded,” he wrote, adding, “I shouldn’t have been surprised given it’s an inflammatory immigration question and we’re a few days out from the midterms, but what you saw was authentic surprise.”
Three current and former Trump White House officials praised Mr. Swan’s fairness, even as they acknowledged his coverage was often unfriendly. One person said that the White House canceled a presidential interview with Axios after Mr. Swan published a tough piece on the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, and his penchant for snoozing in meetings.
Mr. Swan’s foreign origins have also been wielded against him. Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, recalled Mr. Swan once calling him for comment on a negative story. “O.K., killer, remind me again of your visa status?” Mr. Bannon replied.
Peter Hartcher, Mr. Swan’s former editor at The Sydney Morning Herald, called him “a naturally exuberant human being,” saying in an interview: “At first blush you think, ‘Who does this guy think he’s kidding?’ But it’s completely natural.”