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Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Among President Trump’s Twitter bombshells it ranks among the biggest, if not the most surprising: Defense Secretary James Mattis is leaving at the end of February.

The backdrop: Trump framed the news as a retirement. Mattis made emphatically clear it was a resignation. It comes during a week that revealed that what Trump’s top national security officials say — to him, and to the world — doesn’t necessarily matter.

  • Right up through Tuesday, Pentagon and State Department officials were briefing that the U.S. was staying the course in Syria. Then Trump pulled the plug. A day later, Mattis, who reportedly fiercely opposed that move, was out.

From his resignation letter…

  • “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.”
  • “Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”
  • Between the lines: The subjects on which Mattis writes that Trump disagrees with him are supporting allies and standing up to adversaries. That’s quite a statement on how his commander-in-chief views the world. He didn't bother to offer Trump any praise, or thanks.

Mattis was a reassuring presence for allies trying to make sense of Trump’s erratic foreign policy, and considered a brake on some of the president’s worst impulses. But his influence with Trump had reportedly been waning for months.

  • From a front page Washington Post piece this morning: “Once considered among the most influential advisers to a president with no prior government or military experience, Mattis has been repeatedly overruled by Trump in recent months and left out of key discussions as the president pursues his own national security path.”

Early on in the Trump presidency, diplomats from Europe and other allied countries would quietly say that Trump’s fiery rhetoric didn’t always matter because his national security team — Mattis, Tillerson, McMaster — would talk him out of it. That sense faded over time. So did the officials.

The bottom line: What we saw this week on Syria may be a sign of what’s to come from Trump’s foreign policy. No interagency processes, no consultation with the key players. Just Trump’s instincts, and his Twitter feed.

Go deeper

Cuomo asks New York AG and chief judge to choose "independent" investigator into sexual harassment claims

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a press conference on Feb. 24. Photo: Seth Wenig/pool/AFP via Getty Images

A special counselor to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement on Sunday asking the state's attorney general and chief judge to jointly pick an "independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation" to investigate claims of sexual harassment against the governor.

The state of play: The statement is an about-face from Cuomo, who had previously selected a former judge close to a top aide to lead the investigation, the New York Times reported, a move that was widely criticized.

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.