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Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Trump has clearly soured on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and top Republicans and Democrats both tell me his departure would be particularly costly for the White House — and a disturbing sign for outsiders.

The big picture: A former aide who can read Trump like a book told me: "His tone on Mattis is really striking. ... Will be worth watching whether he's just brushing him back and moving on, or if he launches a sustained effort to get him to quit." And if Mattis departs on anything other than the most cordial terms, confirming a successor will be fraught.

But here's something aides may not have told the president: People who know Mattis tell me that he won't stay around to be abused and humiliated like Attorney General Jeff Sessions has.

  • If "Mad Dog" Mattis, as Trump calls him, is convinced that the president is shorting his stock, the retired four-star Marine general could leave abruptly.

After recent rumblings of frayed relations with Mattis, Trump's comments on "60 Minutes" last night sent a signal to the world — including allies who depend on the U.S. for their defense — that the Pentagon chief may be a short-timer.

  • Based on an early clip from CBS News, we told you yesterday about Trump's devastating remark to correspondent Lesley Stahl that Mattis is "sort of a Democrat, if you wanna know the truth. ... He may leave."

But it turns out there was more:

  • Stahl: "Is it true General Mattis said to you, 'The reason for NATO and the reason for all these alliances is to prevent World War III?'"
  • Trump: "No, it's not true. ... Frankly, I like General Mattis. I think I know more about it than he does. And I know more about it from the standpoint of fairness, that I can tell you."
  • Stahl: "I'm gonna try one more time."
  • Trump: "Lesley, you don't have to try again. I know exactly what you're saying. ... I will always be there with NATO, but they have to pay their way. I'm fully in favor of NATO, but I don't wanna be taken advantage of."

Be smart: Mattis is a linchpin of what we call the Committee to Save America — an unofficial alliance of officials who see it as their patriotic duty to protect Trump and the nation from disaster.

  • When I asked a well-wired Democrat how worrisome Mattis' departure would be, he replied: "Number one by far. Super scary."
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Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”

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