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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump stunned his staff back on March 29 when he said spontaneously during an infrastructure event in Ohio: “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.”  That was big (but short-lived) news — within five days, Trump had backed off any insistence on an immediate withdrawal.

What we're hearing: It turns out there’s an incredible backstory to that moment that took place a few hundred miles away in the White House.

We’re told by someone who heard the remarks directly that just before Trump took the podium at 2 p.m. at a union training site in Richfield, Ohio, there was this fascinating exchange back in the West Wing: 

  • White House chief of staff John Kelly was watching walk-up TV coverage in the outer office of his suite.
  • Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin sidled across the hall and stood in the doorway.
  • Indicating the president, Kelly said: “He swore to me that he wouldn’t announce anything on Syria.”
  • Hagin replied: “Well, we’ve heard promises like that before. We really won’t know till he’s done talking.”
  • Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, said: “I think he knows he can’t fuck us on this.”
  • Hagin cocked his head — he'd heard that before. 

Why it matters: The exchange (which Kelly and Hagin denied through a White House aide, but which was recounted for us by an impeccable source) illustrates the challenges for the staff of a president who relishes going off-script.

One source close to the White House explains the dynamic:

  • "The people who thrive in Trumpworld are the ones who commit to following his lead, even if that means turning on a dime."
  • "All any adviser can do is give their recommendation, then let the boss call the play."
  • "Trump recoils from overly structured decision-making on someone else's timeline. He relies heavily on his gut and sometimes makes snap decisions in the moment, when everything suddenly clicks for him. That can even take place while he's giving remarks and feeling the energy of the crowd."
  • "It's part of the reason he's so dialed into [his base's] mood, ... when everyone else seems to miss it until after the fact."

The White House aide, denying such a conversation, said Trump's remarks that day were consistent with his previous statements about defeating ISIS — and that his non-traditional approach is part of his strength.

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Go deeper

14 mins ago - World

Report: "Clear evidence" China is committing genocide against Uyghurs

The scene in 2019 of a site believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, north of Kashgar in China's northwestern Xinjiang region. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese authorities have breached "each and every act prohibited" under the UN Genocide Convention over the treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China's Xinjiang province, an independent report published Tuesday alleges.

Why it matters: D.C. think-tank the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, which released the report, said in a statement the conclusions by dozens of experts in war crimes, human rights and international law are "clear and convincing": The ruling Chinese Communist Party bears responsibility.

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Twitter on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), saying that his office launched an investigation into the social media giant because it banned former President Trump from its platform.

Driving the news: Twitter is seeking to halt an investigation launched by Paxton into moderation practices by Big Tech firms including Twitter for what he called "the seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President," days after they banned him following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

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Senate retirements could attract GOP troublemakers

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Roy Blunt's retirement highlights the twin challenge facing Senate Republicans: finding good replacement candidates and avoiding a pathway for potential troublemakers to join their ranks.

Why it matters: While the midterm elections are supposed to be a boon to the party out of power, the recent run of retirements — which may not be over — is upending that assumption for the GOP in 2022.

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